© 2022 | WUWF Public Media
11000 University Parkway
Pensacola, FL 32514
850 474-2787
NPR for Florida's Great Northwest
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Florida News

Polls: Floridians Are Pushing Back Against Governor's School Orders

Ron DeSantis
Wilfredo Lee
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, waves as he arrives, Monday, June 14, 2021, at the Shul of Bal Harbour, a Jewish community center in Surfside, Fla. DeSantis visited the South Florida temple to denounce anti-Semitism and stand with Israel, while signing a bill into law that would require public schools in his state to set aside moments of silence for children to meditate or pray. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

Most Floridians, according to a new Quinnipiac University poll, support requiring face coverings in schools; a like amount believe the recent COVID-19 surge could have been prevented, and that Gov. Ron DeSantis is taking hits for both.

“[It’s] a time when the country’s still divided and a frightening time in Florida; people are starting to put the masks back on — this is not over, and the buck stops in Tallahassee to some degree. That’s the way it looks,” said Tim Malloy, who handles polling in Florida for Quinnipiac.

The survey shows that 60% of Floridians favor required mask usage for students, teachers, and staff compared to 36% against.

“Everything in this poll tells us that the people in this state is more and more cautious. More and more concerned, and not in line with the directives the governor has issued,” Malloy said. “Especially the masking and certainly the treatment of supervisors of schools that defy his recommendation. Yeah, it’s a rough poll for the governor at the moment, and telling all of us that Floridians are really quite frightened.”

What’s helping drive that fright, contends Malloy, is the danger of kids catching COVID at schools which are banned from issuing a mask mandate because of DeSantis’ threat to withhold state funding if they act contrary to his executive order.

“You talk about having it hit home, that’s it,” said Malloy. “We all have sorrowful stories about people and beloved relatives; but we have kids who are being hospitalized and even dying. That sort of changed the temperature of the water [and] that’s exactly what’s going on with this.”

Schools should be able to require masks for all students, say 54 percent in a separate question on the poll, while 44% say that parents should decide whether or not their kids will mask up. Some critics contend that DeSantis is touring the state promoting the use of the treatment Regeneron, because a major donor to his campaign is a major investor in the company that makes it.

“Anything, any scandal, can hurt any politician; and as you know, he is the rising star in the [Republican] party,” Malloy said. “He is odds-on the guy, a year from now, who a lot of people want running for president. I can’t speak to that, but I can speak to ... he needs to be crisis-free, scandal free, and right now he’s limping a little bit because of COVID.”

A second Quinnipiac poll released Wednesday shows most Florida voters don't want DeSantis to run for the Republican president nomination in 2024. Fifty-nine percent of those surveyed want the governor to sit it out. That includes 61% of independents and 96 percent of Democrats. And 67% of Republicans do want him to run in 2024.

“His overall approval rating as governor is actually up a bit since a year ago during the pandemic. But the glaring concern right now is masking mandates, and that’s sort of a ‘third rail,’” said Malloy. “When it comes to him and schools, 51% disapprove, 44% approve. For a once pretty popular governor, that shows he’s bleeding a little bit right now.”

While much of the focus on Ron DeSantis’ political future is on a possible run for the White House, before that is a reelection bid for governor. Looming above both races, is the spectre of the 45th president of the United States.

“There is a question there, and would Donald Trump support him if he decides to run? Is Donald Trump going to run?” Malloy asked. “There’s a lot of ifs here. Florida — again — is the state that everybody’s watching. Just the way it works. [Democrat] Charlie Crist and he are pretty close; there’s the first hurdle. But is he really going to be a national candidate?”

As mentioned, Quinnipiac polling also shows the pandemic putting a hurt on DeSantis’ approval numbers. Currently, 47% believe he’s doing a good job, while 45% disapprove. That is better than the 41% in July 2020, but still far below his pre-COVID high of 59% in March of 2019.