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Residents still give Baker strong marks for coronavirus response

Eighty-one percent of residents approve of how Governor Charlie Baker is handling the coronavirus outbreak in Massachusetts.
Eighty-one percent of residents approve of how Governor Charlie Baker is handling the coronavirus outbreak in Massachusetts.Matt Stone/Pool

As Massachusetts continues its gradual reopening, Governor Charlie Baker continues to receive high marks for how he’s dealt with the coronavirus outbreak.

More than eight out of 10 residents said they approve of Baker’s handling of the outbreak, according to a new Suffolk University poll for WGBH News, The Boston Globe, MassLive, and the State House News Service.

A slightly smaller majority, 74 percent, said they approve of the way Baker is handling the state’s reopening, while roughly 20 percent said they disapproved, according to the survey of 500 Massachusetts residents.

Wendy Hubbard, a 64-year-old museum administrator from Maynard, called Baker’s performance on the pandemic “pretty good,” crediting him for being cautious, science-based, and respectful of the advice from health professionals.

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She does, however, believe he’s moving too quickly on the reopening. “On the reopening phases, I think he’s probably getting economic and political pressure. I think we’re reopening one museum on July 11, and I think it’s too early,” said Hubbard, who is a Democrat.

“But I think he’s doing his best. He’s seems to be standing up to the crazy man in the White House. So I give him credit for that.”

Massachusetts residents’ warm feeling toward the state’s chief executive stands in sharp contrast to the dim view they have of how things are going across the country, a perspective numerous respondents linked in interviews to their opinion of the job performance of President Trump.

While 71 percent of those surveyed said Massachusetts is heading in the right direction, nearly the same number — 69 percent — said the United States is on the wrong track.

Trump “acts like a child,” said Tim Barnes, 41, a Democrat who lives in Saugus. “I mean, everything in this country has gotten worse with him being in office.”

On another virus-related topic, about one in four registered voters said they planned to vote by mail in upcoming 2020 elections. More than 60 percent said they still expect to head to the polls in person.

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State lawmakers are still hammering out details of legislation aimed at expanding vote-by-mail options for the Sept. 1 primary and November general elections for people who don’t feel safe voting in person because of the pandemic.

Other data points suggest Massachusetts residents are exhaling a bit as the rate of infection and death ebbs here. About 44 percent said they are practicing “very strict” social distancing, down from 59 percent in late March when cases were spiking.

But people still seem wary of resuming many of the activities of normal life.

Restaurants were allowed to restart indoor dining this week, but more than 56 percent said they’re still not comfortable eating out, according to the survey.

“Nope, nope, nope, cause I’ve worked in a restaurant,” said Hubbard, the Maynard resident. She also doesn’t get takeout food because of virus concerns. “I know how hard it is behind that line. They’re sweating. I know how hot it gets. It’s going to be hard to breathe in a mask.”

Less than one-quarter said they’re comfortable riding on public transportation, getting on an airplane or attending a sporting event.

But half of respondents said they are comfortable going back to an office or school.

The poll was conducted by landline and cellphone from June 18-21 and had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.

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Victoria McGrane can be reached at victoria.mcgrane@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @vgmac. Bianca Vázquez Toness can be reached at bianca.toness@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter at @biancavtoness.