Governor DeSantis’ Approval Rating Has Fallen. Will It Last?

Robert Crohan/PantherNow

Robert Crohan/Staff Writer

The fight against COVID-19 has gotten a lot more complicated.

Although vaccinations are being administered at gradually higher rates, the Delta variant has lit the dynamite’s fuse. States like Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi are at the explosion’s epicenter, and per-capita and new daily cases were at their highest points ever.

Naturally, the Democrats and Republicans have been looking for the sources of blame, and some otherwise well-positioned leaders are bearing the brunt. President Biden’s approval rating on the pandemic has taken a nosedive, and neither has Governor DeSantis been spared. In recent weeks, his approval rating has declined to under 50 percent. Majorities oppose his COVID-19 response in particular, and do not want him to launch a White House bid in 2024.

As the blame game and political clamoring between Democratic DC and Republican Tallahassee shows no signs of calming, and as an elections-addicted public gets ready for 2022- with over a year to go- what does all this mean? It depends on who you ask, but I personally see little opening for Democrats to capitalize on Florida’s crisis.

Before COVID-19, DeSantis was quite beloved among Floridians, with 65% of voters approving of him at the end of 2019, including a plurality of Democrats. And in the initial stages of the pandemic, Florida fared relatively well. DeSantis was seen as a conservative champion for the environment, the economy and deregulation.

Although DeSantis has always preferred to take a relaxed approach to recovery, he has opted to take it up a notch, with mixed legal results: his administration banned mask mandates in schools, which was struck down by a state judge. He banned vaccine “passports” in Florida, but cruises have defied him in mandating them. Biden, expectedly, opposes many of these measures. 

As of late, more of Florida appears to be taking the President’s side on schools’ freedom to mandate masks, while not exactly shunning the Governor.

We must keep in mind a few things: while DeSantis’ approval is now in the minority, polls haven’t exactly been the most trustworthy in recent years. In Florida, polls tend to unreasonably skew Democratic by around four points, compared to the election results of 2018 and 2020.

And DeSantis’ reelection seems secure. He has consistently been much more popular than his predecessor, now-Senator Rick Scott, and has often outpolled his Democratic opponents. Plus, DeSantis is more nationally known than Scott was at this point, owing to his fights with the White House and closeness with national GOP leaders. Likewise, Senator Marco Rubio is heavily favored over his Democratic challengers, too.

Florida, which was close in the red wave years of 2010 and 2014, and stayed Republican in the blue wave year of 2018, is notoriously immune to “wave years.”

Going further, the American public sees news go by at breakneck speed. What was a breaking headline last week will be largely forgotten in no time. In this sense, voters might reflect on their overall perceptions of the DeSantis years, and may prioritize what they see as other wins in deciding whether or not he deserves a second term. Right now, slightly more agree than disagree that he does.

Other analysts say that, if the crisis gets bad enough and Tallahassee takes little action in response, DeSantis could very well lose.

However, the numbers could hold some heavy implications regardless. Students might face a more competitive election season than expected, leading to more excitement on campus and more fundraising by both Democrats and Republicans. Democrats could make the case for opposing Republican candidates due to how red states are faring with COVID-19, as they are currently doing in California.

Even more importantly, debates will continue as to what approaches are needed towards the pandemic. Republicans are accusing Democrats of hypocritically pointing fingers at governors now that Biden is President, while Democrats point out the job Biden is doing to control the virus and encourage vaccinations.

For team DeSantis, another possibility emerges: that because his COVID-19 policies have drawn scrutiny from the left, praise from many on the right, and attention towards Florida, he may have an easier time gaining enough support to legitimately challenge Biden come 2024. Biden’s approval in Florida is lower than DeSantis’, further implying the state’s rightward shift.

Although Florida is much more Democratic than most other red states- it was Trump’s second-closest state in 2020- DeSantis could muster up strong turnout and approval in other Republican or Republican-trending states, including Sun Belt and Rust Belt battlegrounds. Even though he is not favored in a general election against Biden, the Republicans who support his policies may feel highly motivated to vote in the 2024 primaries, especially if Donald Trump chooses not to run.

I would argue that DeSantis’ policies have contributed to Florida’s COVID-19 surge. Regardless, he is unlikely to change course, and an inevitable rise in pressure on him may not bear any fruit.

FIU could be politically rattled by this, especially concerning Hispanic voters. In Florida and Texas, Hispanics swung towards the GOP, and many attribute this to Republicans’ anti-lockdown policies. The picture could therefore be mixed. If Hispanics continue to see their businesses suffer and their families unemployed, they might stay with the GOP. However, if they continue to disproportionately catch and die from COVID-19, they might vote Democratic in greater numbers.

Regardless of the immediate outcomes, DeSantis clearly has work to do if he wants to retain any significant popularity and ride it to Pennsylvania Avenue. I hope that he can share more bipartisanship with Biden and set a better example of what kind of leadership the GOP needs. It could mean the world to FIU, Florida, and beyond.


The opinions presented within this page do not represent the views of PantherNOW Editorial Board. These views are separate from editorials and reflect individual perspectives of contributing writers and/or members of the University community

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