Approval of Governor Charlie Baker’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic has dropped significantly since the early days of the pandemic last spring, according to survey results released Friday.
“Governor Baker has seen a gradual decline in approval for his handling of the COVID-19 outbreak throughout the pandemic, starting at a remarkably high 80 percent approval ... and suffering a gradual decline to 59 percent,” according to a report from Northeastern, Harvard, Rutgers, and Northwestern universities.
The Republican governor, who has led the state through the deadly pandemic for the past year, has been presiding over a vaccination campaign that has left many residents frustrated. David Lazer, a Northeastern University political science and computer science professor who worked on the report, said researchers found that approval ratings for governors’ handling of the pandemic had declined across the country.
At the same time, “Massachusetts did have a particular challenge in January and February with the vaccine rollout. And you do see Baker suffer a particular drop in this last round. One would guess that was because of the bumpy rollout of vaccines. I think he’s taken a hit as a result.”
Researchers from the COVID-19 Consortium for Understanding the Public’s Policy Preferences Across States looked at Massachusetts results gathered during multiple waves of a 50-state survey from April 2020 until March 1, 2021.
The governor’s office on Friday pointed to several measures that suggest Massachusetts is doing a better job than many other states in vaccinating people. Citing data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the office said that Massachusetts leads the nation among states with more than 5 million people in total vaccine doses administered per capita.
Among other survey findings: approval of former Republican president Donald Trump’s handling of the pandemic among Massachusetts residents dropped from 35 percent in April 2020 to 21 percent in January 2021, just before he left office.
As of March 1, Democratic President Biden had three times that approval rate in Massachusetts, with 68 percent.
The researchers also asked about people’s social distancing behaviors during the pandemic, finding that for most behaviors, “people in Massachusetts were at their strictest adherence in the spring, followed by a gradual relaxation until the early fall.”
“Perhaps because of the increase of cases through the fall, social distancing became stricter in late fall and carrying into winter,” the report stated.
One pronounced trend was that “going to a cafe, bar, or restaurant saw an increase in the winter jumping from 10 percent in January to 17 percent in February, despite the cold weather making outdoor dining difficult. This uptick in eating out likely reflects the fact that restaurant capacity limits were raised from 25 percent to 40 percent in early February.” Percentage-based capacity limits were dropped on March 1, while masking and social distancing rules remain in effect.
Lazer speculated that in the days since the last survey, people have relaxed their behaviors, which he warned “does create the risk of another wave or a slowdown in the decrease” in cases.
To take a deeper dive into the data for Massachusetts and other states, researchers have created this interactive dashboard.
In another report issued Friday on their survey data, researchers found that Massachusetts had the lowest level of vaccine resistance among the 50 states, with only 9 percent of the people saying that they would not get their shots. At the other end of the spectrum, 33 percent of residents in Oklahoma and North Dakota said they would not get shots.
Martin Finucane can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.