Gov. Brian Kemp has seen a bump in his approval rating following his first legislative session. An Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll showed his favorable rating at 46%. That’s a 9-point jump from a similar poll in January that showed him at 37% as he was entering office. Bob Andres / bandres@ajc.com

AJC poll: Kemp’s approval ratings on the rise; Trump still underwater

Gov. Brian Kemp’s approval ratings are on the upswing after a legislative session dominated by his embrace of an anti-abortion measure, an Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll shows. President Donald Trump, meanwhile, continues to struggle as Democrats target the state as a 2020 battleground.

The poll shows 46% of registered Georgia voters have a favorable impression of Kemp as he nears his third month as governor, 9 points higher than the 37% rating he tallied in the AJC’s January poll as he was sworn into office.

He’s outpacing Trump, who was the model for Kemp’s campaign. About 40% of Georgia voters approve of the president, statistically unchanged from 38% in January. Nearly 56% of Georgians disapprove of Trump, compared with Kemp’s 39% disapproval rating.

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The president was not significantly helped by the end of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation and Attorney General William Barr’s memo clearing Trump and his campaign of collusion with the Russian government but noting that he was not exonerated on the question of obstruction of justice.

Nearly three-quarters of Georgians said Barr’s summary of the report had no effect on their view of the president.

U.S. Sen. David Perdue, a first-term Republican facing a tough re-election in 2020, fared about the same as he did in January, with 47 percent of Georgia voters rating him favorably, compared with 45 percent at the beginning of the year.

Democrat Stacey Abrams’ popularity has dipped over the same span. A majority of Georgians – 52% – had positive views of her in January. That number dropped to 45% in the most recent AJC poll, which comes as she publicly weighs whether to run for the Senate, governor or the White House. Her unfavorable rating grew from 40% to 45% over that three-month period.

The statewide poll was conducted March 24 through Monday by the University of Georgia’s School of Public and International Affairs, and it provides a glimpse of the state’s political landscape as Democrats intensify efforts to flip the state in 2020 and Republicans seek to fortify their grip on Georgia politics. The margin of error is 3.5 percentage points.

It comes after a busy and sometimes contentious legislative session: A divided Legislature narrowly approved a “heartbeat” bill that would outlaw most abortions, gave Kemp new powers to pursue new federal health care funding, overhauled elections policy and granted schoolteachers $3,000 raises.

About 41 percent of Georgia voters polled gave the Legislature a favorable rating, down from 46 percent in January 2018.

It’s also the first AJC survey released since Barr released a four-page investigation summary two weeks ago stating that Mueller found no evidence the Trump campaign “conspired or coordinated” with the Russian government to influence the 2016 election.

‘So far so good’

The AJC poll shows the same fissures that shaped the 2018 election still prevail a year later: Kemp continues to thrive with conservatives, born-again Christians and rural Georgians. And he struggles with independents, liberals, minorities and younger voters.

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But the poll showed Kemp’s difficulties with women and his standing with men improved over the past three months.

His support among men jumped from 44% to 55% over that span, while his reviews among women ticked up 7 percentage points to 38%. About 46% of women rated him unfavorably, compared with less than one-third of men.

“It’s going to take a little more time to see what happens, how he reacts to things. I was not an avid supporter of Kemp, but I was a supporter,” said Diane Bandow, a college professor in Cumming. “I’m waiting to see what else happens and what he does. But so far so good.”

After a campaign intensely focused on rural Georgia, Kemp’s support in metro Atlanta began to grow. His favorability ratings in the Atlanta area rose from just 20% in January to about one-third of the respondents in April.

The political divide is even sharper with Trump. About 62% of women disapprove of the president, along with nearly half of all men. He also struggles with independents, tallying just one-fifth of support. Independents form an important bloc of Georgia voters that historically has leaned toward the right.

He fared better among white voters and older age groups, with a broad majority of voters who are at least 65 years old giving him a favorable review. And he maintained his solid grip on Republicans, who gave him an 83 percent approval rating — consistent with previous polls.

His perception didn’t shift dramatically in the wake of the Mueller findings, which has divided Washington along familiar party lines.

About 72% of Georgians said their view of Trump hadn’t changed since the summary was released. Of those, 11% said they were more likely to support him, while 15% said they were less likely to back him. Most of those supporters identified as Republicans, while most of the critics said they were Democrats.

“You know there’s way more to come. Do I think it will negatively impact Trump’s solid base? No,” said Gloria Clarke, an educational consultant in Marietta. “But the people who were on the fringes in 2016? They’re long gone. And the Mueller report will speed that along.”

Trump’s Georgia supporters, by and large, see it as vindication. Donald Glasser, a Woodstock aircraft mechanic, said he “didn’t think it was an issue to begin with.” And Bandow said it makes her “less likely to believe anything a Democrat says.”

“This looks like a setup,” she said. “And the further they get into it, the further they’re going to see how hard the Democrats worked to take him down.”

As for Abrams, her biggest slip since the last AJC poll came among men, with her favorability ratings dropping from 45% in January to 35% this month. A majority of voters in metro Atlanta, where she trounced Kemp in November, back her. But outside the city, more than one-half of voters disapprove of the Democrat.

Abrams’ supporters, such as Clarke, see her as a trailblazing figure who is a natural for higher office. But she remains an intensely polarizing figure among Republicans, who criticized her decision, when acknowledging that Kemp had won, to refuse to call it a concession because she believed the election was tainted by voter suppression.

“She needs to get out of politics. I don’t agree with anything she says,” said Jan Collins of Leesburg. “And her refusal to concede is part of it.”

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