By Paul Egan

A poll released to the Free Press on Tuesday suggests that support for Gov. Rick Snyder dropped sharply after he changed course in December and backed the speedy passage of controversial right-to-work legislation.

The poll by EPIC-MRA of Lansing, released exclusively to the Free Press and WXYZ-TV (Channel 7), found 61% of Michigan voters surveyed between Feb. 5 and Feb. 10 gave Snyder a negative job rating, while 36% gave him a positive rating.

Those numbers contrast sharply with the same firm's most recent previous poll, conducted at the end of November, when 51% gave Snyder a positive job rating and 48% gave him a negative rating.

Snyder's favorability numbers also dropped, to 42% favorable and 46% unfavorable in the recent poll from 55% favorable and 32% unfavorable at the end of November.

The live operator poll of 600 likely voters has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points. It included 20% cell phone participation.

Bernie Porn, president of EPIC-MRA, said Snyder's fall from high approval numbers almost entirely can be attributed to the right-to-work issue, which Snyder came out in support of in December after saying for nearly two years the issue was too divisive and not on his agenda. Porn noted his November polling -- released in early December -- projected a drop in support for Snyder if he backed the legislation, which makes it illegal to require financial support of a union as a condition of employment. The latest poll shows that projected drop in support has come to pass, he said.

Sara Wurfel, a spokeswoman for Snyder, said it's not surprising polls will be affected "when you take on big, controversial issues," but "this is just a small snapshot in time," amid a large number of improving trends.

"The governor will continue to make the long overdue, tough decisions that will help move our state forward and build a strong future for all," Wurfel said.

Ron Bowman, 64, a semiretired homebuilder from Shelby Township who describes himself as an independent, said he went from neutral about Snyder to strongly opposed to him over the right-to-work issue.

"The right-to-work thing puts him in the toilet as far as I'm concerned," said Bowman, who participated in the poll.

He said he has not been a union member for 30 years but believes the labor movement helped build a strong middle class and that the right-to-work law will depress wages and hurt the middle class.

Bowman said he didn't like the tax on pensions Snyder pushed in 2011 and the narrowing of eligibility for the homestead property tax credit, but Snyder's backing of the right-to-work law was the first action by the governor that provoked a strong reaction from him.

Snyder, a Republican elected in 2010, saw his approval among independents fall from 59% favorable and 27% unfavorable in November to 40% favorable and 44% unfavorable this month.

The governor maintained a 61% favorable rating among Republicans, down from 78% in late November.

Beverly Ballew, a Grosse Pointe homemaker who writes grants for a nonprofit foundation and leans GOP, said Snyder's action on right-to-work legislation improved her impression of the governor.

"He was strong, and he stuck to his guns" in the face of strong opposition, said Ballew, who also participated in the survey.

"I am totally in support of unions; I think they are good things to have," she said. "But I think they've gotten carried away in their demands, and I think it's hurting Michigan."

Snyder's 2013-14 budget, which included calls for higher gas taxes and vehicle registration fees, was released Thursday, midway through the polling. Porn said the budget could have also been a factor in Snyder's declining numbers, though he does not think it was a significant one.

Snyder has not said definitively whether he will seek a second term in 2014, but has strongly suggested that he plans to do so. No clear Democratic challenger has emerged, with Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer, D-East Lansing, recently announcing she will not run for governor.

Of those who participated in the poll, 42% described themselves as Democrats, 37% as Republicans and 18% as independents.

The EPIC-MRA poll is the third to examine Snyder's approval numbers in the wake of the right-to-work debate, which brought thousands of demonstrators to the Capitol controlled by large numbers of police in riot gear.

A January poll released by Mitchell Research and Communications of East Lansing, a Republican firm, pegged Snyder's approval at 50%, up 3 percentage points from a poll it conducted in December.

In contrast, a December poll by the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling of North Carolina found 38% support for Snyder after the right-to-work debate, down 9 percentage points from an earlier PPP poll just before the Nov. 6 election.

Detroit Free Press