Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – Buoyed by strong voter approval of her handling of the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is riding high among New Mexico voters.
Despite vocal criticism from some Republicans, 59% of likely general election voters surveyed said they approve of the job Lujan Grisham is doing as governor and 33% said they disapproved, a new Journal Poll found.
“The governor has been in office for a relatively short time period and has a high approval rating,” said Brian Sanderoff, the president of Albuquerque-based Research & Polling Inc., which conducted the poll.
Lujan Grisham, a Democrat who was elected governor in 2018, had lower approval ratings last year in several polls done by national firms.
But her aggressive response to the COVID-19 outbreak – including a face covering mandate and broad travel quarantine order – has been met with approval by most New Mexico voters, though it’s also generated vocal criticism in some quarters.
Among voters who cited the coronavirus pandemic and related health concerns as the biggest issue facing their families in a separate question in the Journal Poll, 74% said they approved of Lujan Grisham’s job performance as governor while just 20% said they disapproved.
“I think her overall job performance is being positively influenced by voters’ perception of her handling of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Sanderoff said.
However, among those who cited economic uncertainty and unemployment as their biggest concerns, the governor’s approval rating was not as high.
A total of 52% of New Mexico voters who cited economic uncertainty as their top concern said they approved of Lujan Grisham’s job performance, while 40% said they did not approve.
New Mexico has had one of the highest per capita coronavirus testing figures in the country since the outbreak began, and the state now has the lowest COVID-19 testing positivity rates in the western United States – at about 2.1% as of this week.
But New Mexico’s unemployment rate rose to 12.7% as of July – it was the eighth-highest in the nation – and the state faces a projected $2 billion revenue decline in the coming year due to the pandemic and falling oil and natural gas prices.
Several small-business relief programs have been launched by the state in an effort to keep impacted businesses afloat during the pandemic, but some economists have warned it could take four to five years for state employment to return to pre-pandemic levels.
Other recent New Mexico governors have also enjoyed strong approval ratings in their first terms, only to see their popularity plummet during their second terms.
Lujan Grisham’s predecessor, Republican Susana Martinez, received the approval of 69% of voters surveyed in a Journal Poll in 2012, nearly halfway into her first term as governor.
Former Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democrat, also had a strong voter approval rating just before the midway point of his first term in office.
But both Martinez and Richardson saw their approval ratings gradually decline, due to a mix of scandals, economic issues and investigations into pay-to-play politics.
The major issues facing Lujan Grisham have been largely related to the COVID-19 pandemic, though the governor has also pushed for expanded early childhood programs, stricter gun laws and an increased state emphasis on renewable energy sources.
About 20 months into her first term as governor, Lujan Grisham, not surprisingly, received a higher approval rating among Democratic voters than registered Republicans.
Among Democrats, 86% said they approved of the governor’s job performance. In contrast, only 23% of Republicans surveyed said they approved of the job the governor is doing.
However, the governor also got strong support among independents, or those who decline to state a political affiliation, with 55% expressing approval and 34% disapproving.
Due to her support of gun control and abortion rights measures, Lujan Grisham has faced criticism from some GOP leaders for being out of touch with rural New Mexico.
The Journal Poll found that just 32% of voters in eastern New Mexico, which is largely rural and has a higher percentage of Republican voters, approved of the governor’s job performance, while 63% of voters expressed disapproval.
Lujan Grisham had much higher levels of support in some of the state’s most populous areas, including the Albuquerque area, where 67% of voters said they approved of her job performance. New Mexico’s urban areas have increasingly trended Democratic in recent years, based on election results.
The Journal Poll is based on a scientific, statewide sample of 457 likely general election voters who also voted in either the 2016 and 2018 general elections – or both.
The poll was conducted from Aug. 26 through Sept. 2. The voter sample has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.6 percentage points. The margin of error grows for subsamples.
All interviews were conducted by live, professional interviewers, with multiple callbacks to households that did not initially answer the phone.
Both cellphone numbers (74%) and landlines (26%) of likely general election voters were used.