Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine has big lead in reelection bid over Nan Whaley in new poll

Jessie Balmert
The Columbus Dispatch
Gov. Mike DeWine leads Democratic challenger Nan Whaley in a new USA TODAY Network Ohio/Suffolk University poll.

Despite opposition to Gov. Mike DeWine's abortion restrictions, the Republican incumbent still holds a commanding lead over his Democratic challenger Nan Whaley, according to a new USA TODAY Network Ohio/Suffolk University poll.

DeWine led Whaley, 53.8% to 39.2%, in the new poll of likely Ohio voters, which has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points. The 14.6 percentage point gap is in line with the Real Clear Politics' average of recent polls.

USA TODAY Network Ohio includes the Columbus Dispatch, Cincinnati Enquirer, Akron Beacon Journal, Canton Repository and 17 other affiliated news organizations across Ohio.

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The Suffolk University poll indicates DeWine is retaining some crossover appeal from Democrats while mitigating GOP detractors from the heated primary. About 93% of Republicans, 12% of Democrats and 53% of independents backed DeWine. Whaley had support from 84% of Democrats, 4% of Republicans and 35% of independents.

Whaley and DeWine polled similarly with female voters, with 48% saying they would vote for Whaley and 45% saying they would pick DeWine.

Nan Whaley looks to abortion-ban anger to grow support

Whaley's campaign is banking on a sea change after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and Ohio's leaders quickly enforced a six-week abortion ban. The new poll shows abortion rights are on voters' minds − 75% of likely voters cited the issue as a deciding factor in their 2022 picks − but that isn't necessarily translating to support for Whaley.

Whaley launched an ad tying DeWine to a 10-year-old girl who obtained an abortion in Indiana because of Ohio's restrictions on the procedure. The story garnered national attention and led to an arrest. DeWine signed the law that bans doctors from performing abortions after cardiac activity is detected, which is about six weeks into pregnancy.

"The essential function of government is to protect the most vulnerable among us," DeWine said at the time. "The signing of this bill today is consistent with that respect for life and the imperative to protect those who cannot protect themselves." 

Of those polled, 68% said they oppose these restrictions. But will they vote for the Republican governor who signed them into law? Probably.

"Abortion is just one issue," said Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato's Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics. "It’s an important one for a lot of people. However, voters take a lot of other things into consideration."

In the Suffolk University poll, 52% of likely voters had a favorable opinion of DeWine, including 45% of women, 75% of Republicans and 30% of Democrats. Everyone polled had heard of DeWine, who has been in politics for 46 years.

Two months before Election Day, Whaley was still unknown to 28% of likely voters, down slightly from a late May poll, and another 26% remain undecided about her. Whaley has trailed DeWine in fundraising, a key factor in a candidate's ability to get his or her message out. DeWine has not agreed to debate Whaley before the November election.

Ohio governor's race: How DeWine, Whaley responded to Roe v. Wade couldn't be more different

The poll found that 55% approved of the job DeWine is doing, including 50% of women, 73% of Republicans and 34% of Democrats. A Dayton-area pastor who hoped to challenge DeWine from the right didn't make the ballot.

"There’s not really an outlet for Republicans who don’t like DeWine to vote for except for Whaley," Kondik said. "You’d expect them to come home."

Top issues among DeWine supporters were inflation and the economy and immigration, according to the poll. Top issues among Whaley backers were threats to democracy and abortion.

The poll of 500 likely Ohio voters was conducted between Sept. 5 and Sept. 7.

Jessie Balmert is a reporter for the USA TODAY Network Ohio Bureau, which serves the Columbus Dispatch, Cincinnati Enquirer, Akron Beacon Journal and 18 other affiliated news organizations across Ohio

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