Local, state leaders see approval dip but remain popular in latest Bexar Facts poll

UTSA expert cites pandemic fatigue, partisan reaction to ratings drop

Voters give feedback about local leaders in the latest Bexar Facts/ Rivard Report/ KSAT poll

SAN ANTONIO – As the COVID-19 pandemic drags on, local elected officials and the governor are seeing their approval ratings drop.

While San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg, Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff and Gov. Greg Abbott still appear to be popular with Bexar County voters. Each of them had at least a 61% approval rating in the latest Bexar Facts-KSAT-Rivard Report poll released on Tuesday, which was a drop of seven to nine percentage points from the previous poll in April.

UTSA Professor of Public Administration Heywood Sanders attributes the dip to residents’ fatigue over the pandemic and opinions on how the elected officials are handling the crisis.

“A little bit of the bloom is off the rose,” Sanders said.

Bexar Facts Poll leaders ratings June 2020 (KSAT)

The Bexar Facts poll was performed online and over the phone in English and Spanish with 616 registered Bexar County voters from June 10-14.

During the previous poll, conducted April 16-20, Wolff and Nirenberg were suddenly much more in the public eye, Sanders said. Thanks to the perception that they were taking action during a pandemic, the pair saw their approval ratings jump from into the 70s after originally polling in the 50s in January, Sanders said.

Abbott’s approval rating was not included in the original January poll, but he also received a 70% approval rating in April.

However, as the pandemic continues and the debate on how to handle it becomes more partisan, Sanders believes the approval ratings are slipping.

“I think folks begin to say, ‘Wait a minute. I don’t want to have to wear a mask. Wait a minute. Why are we still facing restrictions on what businesses are open and what we can do?’” Sanders said.

Wolff is a Democrat, and though city elections are technically nonpartisan, Nirenberg is also generally seen as a progressive politician. However, they both followed the Republican governor’s lead in lifting restrictions, although it seemed to be with some reservations.

While the June poll was conducted while cases were on the rise following the state’s reopening, it still came prior to the biggest surges in local case numbers and the return of local face mask orders.

There is also some shifting to the extremes since the last poll. In April, 38% of those polled strongly approved of his job performance and 11% strongly disapproved. The latest results show 43% strongly approve of him while 17% strongly disapprove.

Abbott’s approval rating went through some different changes. Still, Sanders viewed them through a similar lens.

“There is a modest slide in the governor’s strongly-approved number and parallel increase in the strongly-disapprove number,” Sanders said. “So it’s dividing. It’s polarizing.”

Although the poll was conducted while police brutality and reform were already hot topics in the city, Sanders believes the issues would have only “modestly” affected the approval ratings. The protests, he said, have been directed at the broader issue of overall police behavior, and he suspects “that that issue is regarded differently at this stage - at this stage - from how those public officials are generally viewed.”

“Now as they begin to take policy positions, as they begin to do things that the public’s going to react to in a substantive way, that may well change, " he said.

About the Authors:

Garrett Brnger is a reporter with KSAT 12.