Most Massachusetts residents are satisfied with Governor Charlie Baker’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic even as his political foes have sharpened their knives, with strong majorities approving of his job performance and the direction of the state, a new poll by Suffolk University and The Boston Globe found.
The survey, along with follow-up interviews, reveals that most Commonwealth residents are giving Baker the benefit of the doubt as he grapples with an unenviable situation, navigating a tight supply of COVID-19 vaccines and a stubborn virus that’s upended nearly every aspect of daily life.
Seventy-one percent of those surveyed said they approved of Baker’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, though he got lower marks — 58 percent approval — for the vaccine rollout in particular, the poll shows.
An intensifying chorus of critics has battered Baker in recent months over the state’s ever-shifting plans for distributing coveted vaccine doses, with some recent polls showing his popularity dipping in response. Democratic legislative leaders, while pressing Baker in often combative legislative hearings, said his administration’s approach is leaving vulnerable constituents behind. Critics have also slammed the administration for the state’s appointment website, which crashed the same day 1 million residents became eligible to book slots.
Still, national data show Massachusetts is one of the top states in the country for share of people who’ve received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and 67 percent of respondents said they approve overall of the job the second-term Republican is doing. Nearly seven in ten residents said they believe Massachusetts has performed as well as or better than other states in getting people vaccinated, the poll found.
Asner Saintima, a 51-year-old insurance agent in Lynn, typically supports Democrats and has never voted for Baker. But he said he doesn’t blame the governor for the flaws in the vaccine rollout, given the limited supply and other challenges.
“I don’t think it’s been going well, but also, it’s a big job, it’s a big ask, [and] it’s not something that anybody was prepared for,” said Saintima. “Everybody is trying to find a way to criticize him — ‘This is what he should’ve done!’ If they were in his job, I don’t think they would do any better.”
Jamie Morison, 51, of Newburyport, said as the pandemic has worn on past a year, it’s easy for people to want to “pick things apart.”
“But when the boat is sinking, it’s not the time to start pointing fingers,” she said. “He’s doing the best he can. I wouldn’t want his job.”
David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center, said the three measures of Baker’s approval — for handling of the pandemic, the vaccine rollout, and overall — tell a clear story.
Any “dip” in sentiment about Baker is tied to the vaccine rollout, Paleologos said. Otherwise, the poll “is also telling us that his overall job approval and overall coronavirus approval are still high.”
Approval for Baker’s handling of the pandemic is down from a high of 81 percent in June 2020, but the current figure, 71 percent, is virtually the same as the share of residents who gave Baker good marks for handling COVID-19 in December, previous Suffolk/Globe polls show.
Baker’s popularity, Paleologos said, is “an unprecedented statistical phenomenon that he’s maintained after being in office for such a long period of time.”
Notably, Baker got higher marks from Democrats than Republicans, as some in his own party have said his restrictions on business go too far. Women, as well as Black and Hispanic residents, approved of Baker at higher rates than men and white and Asian residents.
Even some residents who say they were furious while struggling to book their own appointments now have a different perspective after being inoculated.
Christine Castronovo spent hours a day trying to book an appointment on her laptop, desktop computer, and cellphone all at the same time when she first became eligible — only to repeatedly find herself booted out of the system with no appointment.
“I got angry at everybody. I got angry at Baker at the time because he said everything was going to be smooth. I got angry that the computer people couldn’t handle it,” said the 69-year-old tax accountant from Tewksbury.
But Castronovo, who has now received her first dose of the vaccine, acknowledged there were factors out of Baker’s control.
“Do I wish that it was better? Yeah. Do I think he could’ve done a better job? [Yeah.] ... But I think he was relying on the people that he had working for him.”
Not all residents were so forgiving.
John Tuccinardi, 64, who works in sales and lives in northeastern Massachusetts, said the Baker administration’s companion program, which allowed those who accompanied elderly residents to a mass vaccination site to receive a dose themselves, “was disgraceful, because there was so much abuse and fraud.” He panned Baker for the state’s appointment website, which crashed on the day that 1 million residents became eligible to book slots.
“He did come from the health care industry — that makes it more embarrassing,” said Tuccinardi, laughing. “And I voted for the man, too!”
Alison Kase, a 35-year-old middle school teacher from Arlington, said she frequently travels to California, where she grew up, and has been frustrated by what she described as unevenness in Massachusetts’ testing options, particularly early in the pandemic. She said a colleague helped snag her a vaccine appointment, but only after several days of hunting and struggling.
“I cannot imagine how challenging the organization nightmare is. I have sympathy for him,” Kase said of Baker. “But I also feel like this is your job. I think I will vote more for a liberal Democratic governor next time.”
As widening vaccine availability and warmer spring air bring optimism for a better year to come, the poll also found that a majority of residents, 52 percent, think the country is on the right track — a substantial improvement from December, during the waning days of the Trump administration, when just 33 percent reported feeling that way.
A larger share, 64 percent, think the state currently is heading in the right direction. And more than half of those surveyed said they believe life will return to normal in the United States by the end of this year.
The poll was conducted March 25 to 28 and surveyed 500 Massachusetts residents by landline and cellphone. Its margin of error was plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.
Compared with June 2020, more residents are comfortable venturing out for routine activities. But most are still hesitant, even as Baker has relaxed many restrictions and begun to allow some fans back into stadiums and ballparks.
More than 61 percent said they still were not comfortable attending a sporting event, and residents were split on whether they felt comfortable flying. Nearly 59 percent indicated they did not want to return to riding public transportation. In June, 73 percent were not comfortable attending a game, 75 percent were not comfortable flying, and 78 percent were uncomfortable riding buses, subways, and commuter trains.
Dining out, however, proved more popular. Slightly more than half of residents said they would be comfortable eating indoors at a restaurant or bar, while nearly four of every five said the same about dining outdoors. In June, just 41 percent said they would be comfortable eating at a restaurant, though the question did not distinguish between indoor and outdoor dining.
Fewer residents are feeling pinched with regards to their personal finances, but it remains a concern for many. Forty percent of respondents said they are either concerned or very concerned about their current financial status, compared with 53 percent in December.