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Support for Baker amid pandemic plummets in new poll

Governor Charlie Baker.
Governor Charlie Baker.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

Governor Charlie Baker, who for years has been one of the country’s most popular governors, has lost a third of his support amid widespread criticism of the state’s handing of the coronavirus pandemic, according to a poll from UMass Amherst and WCVB-TV released Monday.

Baker’s approval rating plummeted from 78 percent in an August survey by the same pollster to 52 percent this month, and the percentage disapproving of the job he’s doing has nearly doubled in the new survey, jumping from 20 percent to 39 percent, according to a statement from the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

The Republican fares worst within his own party, where he has only 38 percent approval, while 61 percent of Democrats and 43 percent of independents give him a passing grade, according to the statement.

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Baker for years has ranked as the most popular governor in the United States, according to national surveys conducted by Morning Consult. But he has come under additional scrutiny as he has led the state through the deadly pandemic, and in recent months has presided over a vaccination campaign that has left many residents frustrated.

A spokeswoman for Baker, asked for comment on the poll results, defended the governor’s handling of the pandemic.

“The Commonwealth is a nation-leading state in getting COVID-19 vaccines to residents, and Governor Baker remains focused on executing this massive program, reopening our economy safely and getting kids back into schools,” Sarah Finlaw, the spokeswoman, said in a statement.

Tatishe Nteta, a UMass Amherst associate professor of political science and director of the poll, said the drop was no surprise and extended “across all demographic and political groups in the state.”

“Controversies over the vaccine rollout, the return to in-person learning, and statewide lockdowns all did real damage to Baker’s status as America’s most popular governor,” Nteta said in a statement. “However, while he has come under fire for racial disparities in COVID cases, hospitalizations and deaths alongside similar racial gaps in vaccinations, a majority of people of color still approve of his job as governor and do so at a higher level than whites.”

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White poll respondents gave Baker a 51 percent approval rating, while 55 percent of people of other races approved of his job performance, according to the statement.

The poll of 800 Massachusetts residents — 756 of whom are registered voters — was conducted March 5 to March 9. Its margin of error is 4.6 percent.

If Baker seeks reelection in 2022, and if Attorney General Maura Healey, a Democrat, opposes him, there will likely be a tight race, with Baker leading Healey by just three percentage points — 31 percent to 28 percent — in a hypothetical matchup. More than one-third of registered voters said they did not know who they’d support in such a matchup.

In other hypothetical races, Baker led former US representative Joseph P. Kennedy III by 10 percentage points, according to the statement, and he was 19 points ahead of former state senator Ben Downing, who is the only Democratic candidate who has yet declared his intention to run.

Just last week, another poll found support for Baker’s response to the pandemic waning, dropping from 80 percent to 59 percent, according to a report from Northeastern, Harvard, Rutgers, and Northwestern universities.

For that survey, 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.

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Another recent poll showed Baker retaining strong support. The survey by MassINC Polling Group, released Feb. 22, found that 74 percent of respondents approved of the job Baker is doing, with 20 percent saying they disapprove.

A majority of those who responded to the MassINC poll also gave Baker high marks for his overall handling of the pandemic, with 71 percent saying they approve. Those poll results were based on online responses taken from Feb. 9 to Feb. 21 from 1,308 Massachusetts residents.


Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox.