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Poll: Utahns still happy with how Gov. Cox is handling COVID-19 pandemic

But state split on job that President Biden, Dr. Fauci, doing

Gov. Spencer Cox arrives for a weekly briefing on COVID-19 at the Capitol in Salt Lake City.
Gov. Spencer Cox arrives for a weekly briefing on COVID-19 at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, May 13, 2021. Utahns still give Cox high marks for his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, but they are split over the efforts of President Joe Biden and his top medical adviser, Dr. Anthony Fauci.
Laura Seitz, Deseret News

Utahns still give Gov. Spencer Cox high marks for his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, but are split over the efforts of President Joe Biden and his top medical adviser, Dr. Anthony Fauci, in new Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll results.

But Utah’s Republican governor, who took office in January, is seeing his support slide a little, from 68% who approved of what he was doing to combat the deadly virus in March, to 66% a month ago, to 61% now. The number of Utahns who say they disapprove of Cox’s actions has stayed steady at 26%.

When it comes to the Democratic president’s performance, however, Utahns remain divided.

Backing for Biden’s efforts on the pandemic has dropped below 50% in the new poll, to 47%, after reaching 52% a month ago and 50% in March. At the same time, 48% now disapprove of what Biden is doing, up from 43% last month and 45% in March.

Fauci, who also advised GOP President Donald Trump on COVID-19, didn’t fare much better. Just 45% of Utahns approve of his performance, while 47% disapprove, including 37% who say they strongly disapprove. Just 8% of those polled said they weren’t sure how they felt about Fauci.

The poll was conducted for the Deseret News and the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics June 18-25 of 1,000 registered voters by independent pollster Scott Rasmussen and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

While both Republicans and Democrats largely like what they see from Cox, that’s not the case with Biden and Fauci.

The poll found 69% of Republicans disapprove of the president’s performance, including 51% who strongly disapprove, while 94 % of Democrats approve. Fauci’s numbers are similar with 68% disapproval among Utah Republicans and 90% of Democrats approving.

“They do look partisan,” Hinckley Institute of Politics Director Jason Perry said of Utahns assessments of the Washington officials. “It appears that the honeymoon is over. For most of the people who were elected in this last election, now the realities are setting in.”

Perry said Utahns “are starting to feel the economic impacts of the pandemic and some of the relief efforts. They’re seeing inflation, rising gas prices, issues with supplies and they’re being impacted very directly. That’s reflected in these polls but largely, it’s coming along partisan lines.”

President Joe Biden speaks during a visit at the Viral Pathogenesis Laboratory at the National Institutes of Health on Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021, in Bethesda, Md. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and NIH Director Francis Collins listen.
Evan Vucci, Associated Press

That’s because on big issues like the economy, Utahns tend to blame the federal government more, he said, adding that having a Democratic president makes it even easier for residents of one of the most Republican states in the country to take out their frustration with Washington, D.C.

“You look at the disapprovals from the state of Utah and you just really have to put it through that perspective,” Perry said. “This is still a red state, with a Democrat in the White House. That is definitely a factor in these disapprovals as well.”

Rasmussen, who’s based in Florida, said everything about the pandemic has been partisan. He said national polling has shown “a solid, solid majority” of Republicans across the country believe the pandemic is over, but only about 5% of Democrats agree.

Partisanship is staying put, Rasmussen said, as the nation moves into “a tricky phase where political leaders don’t have a clear indication of what to do. The reason for that is the focus is now shifting from pandemic, vaccines, lockdowns, masks and it’s going to how do we reopen — how fast, what are the rules, who sets the rules.”

People who were worried that was happening too fast now see it as taking too long in national polling, Rasmussen said. Unlike the crises Americans have faced before, he said “there’s nothing that’s going to signal the end of the pandemic. I believe that five years from now, there will still be people who think it’s ongoing.”

That may make COVID-19 even more political going forward, the pollster said.

“Every state is to some degree going to be more open than they were six months ago, so the differences are less dramatic than they were,” Rasmussen said. “Sometimes, when the differences aren’t as dramatic and the stakes aren’t as high, people just lock into partisan positions even harder.”

Cox was pleased with the poll results.

“A strong majority of Utahns recognize the progress we’ve made in getting life back to normal, which is great,” the governor’s spokeswoman, Jennifer Napier-Pearce, told the Deseret News. “We’ll keep working hard to get more Utahns vaccinated.”

Biden, too, would appreciate how many Utahns are behind him when it comes to his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, Utah Democratic Party Chairman Jeff Merchant said, given the GOP’s dominance in a state that hasn’t elected a Democratic president since 1964.

“I’m happy with those numbers. I think the president would be happy with those numbers. I think it’s an indicator people recognize the good work that he’s doing,” Merchant said, even though he believes “the far right has really done everything they can to vilify both Dr. Fauci and President Biden.”