While a majority of South Dakotans continue to approve of the overall performance of Gov. Kristi Noem, a new poll shows that women are far less supportive than men of the governor, her handling of health-care issues and the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The poll results come at a time when Noem has become nationally known for her strong resistance to calls by health officials to control the virus by preventing large gatherings, reducing travel, restricting commerce, limiting close personal interaction and urging or requiring the wearing of masks.

In public appearances in recent months, Noem has openly flouted state Department of Health recommendations to socially distance and wear masks to reduce the spread of the deadly virus, and has regularly promoted her hands-off approach to the pandemic in social media posts and advertising campaigns in South Dakota and beyond.

The poll showed that women – who research has shown are enduring a greater financial and emotional burden than men during the pandemic – are far less supportive of Noem’s actions and approaches. Noem, a Republican, is the state’s first female governor.

The poll, sponsored by South Dakota News Watch and the Chiesman Center for Democracy at the University of South Dakota, showed that among all respondents, 53.8 percent strongly or somewhat approved of Noem’s overall performance in 2020, while 40.9 percent strongly or somewhat disapproved.

But while 63.8 percent of men strongly or somewhat supported Noem’s overall performance, only 44.0 percent of women indicated that level of support. Likewise, while only 31.6 percent of men strongly or somewhat disapproved of Noem’s overall performance this year, 49.9 percent of women strongly or somewhat disapproved of her performance.

Women were also less confident than men that Noem has communicated a clear plan of action on the pandemic, and significantly less confident than men that Noem has successfully managed health-care challenges in the state. While 65.2 percent of men said they felt strongly or somewhat that Noem “cares about the safety and health of my community,” only 45.0 percent of women felt strongly or somewhat the same way.

Women also felt less confidence in Noem’s ability to manage economic challenges, with 49.2 percent of women strongly or somewhat agreeing Noem was managing the economy well, compared with 68.0 percent of men in approval.

The largest gender gap present in the News Watch/Chiesman poll was on whether respondents felt the state should be doing more to handle the pandemic, with 40.1 percent of men feeling strongly or somewhat in agreement that more needs to be done, compared with 60.5 percent of women feeling more should be done by the state.

See full story in this week’s Leader-Courier.