Gov. Janet Mills enters Robbins Lumber in Searsmont to hold a news conference on Maine’s 10-year economic plan in this December 2019 file photo. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

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AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Janet Mills saw a significant approval bump from last fall in a poll released Monday that showed Mainers are more likely to trust the state government to respond to the coronavirus outbreak than the federal government.

The Democratic governor had a 60 percent approval rating in the poll conducted by Critical Insights in March, which was up from ratings of 47 percent in the firm’s last poll in the fall and their previous poll in spring of 2019.

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The poll surveyed 596 registered voters and confirmed that the coronavirus has become the dominant political issue in Maine just over a month since the state recorded its first confirmed case.

The majority of Mainers surveyed — 53 percent — ranked coronavirus as the most important political issue in the state, followed distantly by health care, the economy and unemployment. Fifty-seven percent said they expected the economy to be worse in a year. Last fall, only 32 percent said they expected the economy to get worse.

Respondents overwhelmingly preferred Maine’s response to the coronavirus to that of the federal government with 74 percent of those surveyed saying they approved of the state’s response to the virus so far, compared to 44 percent for the federal government.

While both Republicans and Democrats gave the state government’s response positive ratings so far, Democrats were more likely to say they trusted the state’s response. Seventy-four percent of Democrats said they trusted the state government compared to 50 percent of Republicans. On the other hand, 57 percent of Republicans said they trusted the federal government to respond to the virus compared to just 23 percent of Democrats.

Overall, 38 percent of respondents said they believed that the country was striking the right balance between considering health risks and the economy, while 34 percent said there was too much worry about protecting the economy and 14 percent said people were overly concerned about minimizing health risks.

At the same time, 62 percent of respondents said they agreed “strongly” or “somewhat” that the media bears responsibility for panic around the virus, while 29 percent said that the virus had been deliberately policitized in order to hurt President Donald Trump. Republicans were significantly more likely to view the virus as political than Democrats.

The poll also showed that most Mainers have changed their behavior in response to the virus outbreak, with 80 percent of respondents saying the virus had a large or moderate impact on their daily lives and 88 percent said they have avoided restaurants and other public spaces. Eighty-four percent said they had increased the frequency of hand-washing and 70 percent said they were following the news closer than usual.

The poll showed a further drop in approval for Republican Sen. Susan Collins since last fall, from 42 percent to 37 percent, while the share of voters who disapproved of her performance climbed to 52 percent, though her approval rating with Republican voters continued to rise. Independent Sen. Angus King remained popular, with 59 percent of voters approving of his performance.

U.S. Reps. Chellie Pingree of the 1st District and Jared Golden of the 2nd District, both Democrats, were above-water with constituents. Fifty-one percent of voters approved of Pingree while 19 percent disapproved. For Golden, a freshman, 42 percent of voters approved of his performance while 19 percent disapproved.