Call it guv love.
An NBC/SurveyMonkey poll, in collaboration with Mississippi Today, found that 67 percent of Mississippi respondents said they “strongly” or “somewhat” approve of the way Gov. Phil Bryant is handling his job.
That’s a better showing in the state than President Donald Trump, who scored 10 percentage points lower, at 57 percent approval. However, more Mississippi respondents polled “strongly” approve of Trump (35 percent) than Bryant (27 percent).
Both U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker (61 percent approval) and retired U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran (59 percent) polled better than the president but behind the governor.
And Bryant has a better approval rating than the Mississippi Legislature, which garnered 56 percent approval among respondents in the state.
The Legislature did get some support — in comparison to the federal government. Asked if they trusted the state government to do the right thing, 26 percent responded “all of the time” or “most of the time” compared to 16 percent giving that answer about the federal government.
And compared regionally, a companion poll of residents of Southern states found that just 21 percent expressed confidence in their state government doing the right thing all or most of the time, putting the Mississippi Legislature above the pack.
Go here to read the NBC News report on the Southern states regional poll. The online survey polled 1,486 people over the age of 18 between March 12 and 25 and was weighted by gender, age, race and education level. The sample error for the poll was plus or minus 4.6 percent.
The poll was conducted in the same period during which Bryant raised eyebrows in mainstream Republican circles by announcing that Cindy Hyde-Smith, the state agriculture commissioner, would replace retiring U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, but that decision did not appear to dent his popularity among his base.
Among those identifying their party affiliation, 91 percent of Republican respondents approved of Bryant’s job performance compared to 44 percent among both Democrats and independents.
Bryant’s 67 percent approval rating closely tracks with the margin by which he won re-election in 2015, when he won 66.6 percent of votes to 32.1 percent of his Democratic rival, Robert Gray. Bryant captured 61 percent of votes in his first gubernatorial victory over then Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny DuPree in 2011.
A staunch conservative, Bryant became known in some circles as the nation’s first tea-party governor when he was elected in 2011. That year, then-Lt. Gov. Bryant also served as chairman of the so-called Personhood initiative, which would have redefined when life begins.
That effort failed, but Bryant has routinely been at the forefront of battles pushing pro-life initiatives, toughening state immigration policies and promoting “religious liberty” efforts that critics say could allowed LGBT persons to be discriminated against.
In his state-of-the-state address, Bryant enumerated accomplishments of his tenure, including record low state unemployment, new economic development projects around the state, a new state trooper school and the opening of the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum and Museum of Mississippi History.
“We’re celebrating it because we believe — and I just heard this morning that in the latest polls … more Mississippians believe we’re on the right track now than they have in any time in recent history,” Bryant said in his remarks at the Mississippi Economic Council’s annual meeting.
During the most recent legislative session, Bryant supported a ban on all abortion after the 15th week of pregnancy, which drew an immediate constitutional challenge from reproductive rights advocates.
Bryant has also staunchly supported President Donald Trump, who won 60 percent of the Mississippi vote over Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016. Bryant campaigned on behalf of Trump and makes frequent trips to Washington, D.C., for events with the president and administration officials.
Andy Taggart, a longtime Republican observer and operative, says Bryant’s popularity is likely higher than his approval rating.
“At times during his two terms, he’s probably been the most popular political figure of my lifetime,” Taggart said.
Taggart, who publicly flirted with the prospect of a U.S. Senate run, said the governor’s popularity will come in handy when campaigning this fall for Hyde-Smith to retain her Senate seat, and possibly carrying the mantel to create a new state flag.
“The governor is uniquely situated to lead us to a new state flag,” Taggart said.
Bryant’s favorability is highest among people over age 65, at 74 percent. He also enjoys above 50 percent approval in most other age categories as well as between genders.
Seventy one percent of men approve of Bryant’s handling of his job compared to 64 percent of women.
Of all the racial groups polled, nonwhites rated Bryant lowest. Among African Americans, who make up 37 percent of Mississippi’s population, just 44 percent of those surveyed approved of Bryant’s job performance. Among those who identified their race as other, only 35 percent approved of Bryant.
Meanwhile, the legislative branch also has approval ratings of over 50 percent, but not as high as Bryant. According to the poll, 56 percent of people “strongly” or “somewhat” approve of how the Legislature is handling its job compared to 40 percent of people who disapprove of the Legislature.
Nonetheless, trust of the state government is low with a combined 26 percent of respondents saying they trust the state government to do what’s right “most of the time” or “just about always.” In addition 23 percent of people polled said they trust the state government to do the right thing “some of the time” and 18 percent trust the state government “almost never.”
Thirty-one percent of people trust the state “about half the time,” the polling revealed.
Contributing: Kendra Ablaza
The NBC News|SurveyMonkey polls were conducted March 12-25, 2018, among a national sample of 15,238 adults (+/- 1.1); a regional sample of 4,132 adults who live in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia (+/- 2.4); a sample of 1,486 adults who live in Mississippi (+/-4.6); a sample of 1,498 adults who live in Alabama (+/- 4.5); a sample of 2,209 adults who live in Georgia (+/- 3.4); and a sample of 1,710 adults who live in Tennessee (+/- 4.1). Respondents for this nonprobability survey were selected from the nearly three million people who take surveys on the SurveyMonkey platform each day. For full results and methodology, click here.