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New poll: Is DeSantis's war on 'woke' Disney falling flat?

Disney is suing the Florida governor, saying it was subjected to "a targeted campaign of government retaliation."

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis listens to a speaker at a press conference.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis at a press conference at the American Police Hall of Fame & Museum in Titusville. (Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

A new Yahoo News/YouGov poll shows that most Americans care far less about the so-called war on woke than Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has aimed to make his ongoing battle with the Walt Disney Co. over LGBTQ issues a centerpiece of his likely campaign for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.

The survey of 1,584 U.S. adults, which was conducted from May 5 to 8, finds that fewer consider “wokeness” (41%) a “big problem” in America today than any other option provided, including inflation (74%), breaching the debt ceiling (58%) and border security (58%).

Racism (50%) also outranks wokeness, as do new abortion restrictions (46%) and book banning in schools (47%) — issues on which President Biden plans to focus his reelection bid.

For months now, DeSantis has been dueling with Disney, his state’s largest employer, over the company’s decision last year to criticize a Florida law that bans discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in classrooms. In response, DeSantis tried to abolish the special tax district that has enabled Disney World to essentially function as its own county government since 1967, then took control of the board overseeing the district.

“We will never surrender to the woke mob,” DeSantis said in a January speech kicking off his second term as governor. “Florida is where woke goes to die.”

Now Disney is suing DeSantis, saying it was subjected to “a targeted campaign of government retaliation.”

Partisans are divided — but few Americans are invested in the fight

In broad strokes, Americans are divided along the usual partisan lines over the Disney-DeSantis scrap. More think the courts should ultimately rule in favor of Disney (42%) than DeSantis (32%) — but more also think Disney’s actions in criticizing Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law were inappropriate (42%) than appropriate (39%). A similar number say DeSantis’s response to Disney was inappropriate (40%) rather than appropriate (38%).

These numbers reflect America’s ever-deepening polarization. Two-thirds (66%) of Democrats, for instance, say that Disney’s criticism of the Florida law was appropriate — while a nearly identical share of Republicans (67%) say the same about DeSantis’s response to Disney.

But even though some of those Republicans may reward DeSantis for his efforts in a potential GOP presidential primary, the poll also offers three clues as to why continuing to obsess over Disney is unlikely to give DeSantis a big boost if he makes it to next year’s general election.

First, more independents think the courts should side with the former (38%) than the latter (32%), suggesting that swing voters are disinclined to award the governor political points for continuing this fight.

Second, not many Americans (just 34%) say they’ve heard “a lot” about the Disney-DeSantis battle, and the ones who have heard a lot are much more likely to be viewers of MSNBC (62%) than of Fox News (29%) or CNN (31%) — and much less likely to be DeSantis voters as result.

Finally, only 28% of Americans take DeSantis’s side on the questions about Disney’s initial criticism and his subsequent response; more either take different sides on different questions (18%) — suggesting they aren’t particularly animated by the issue — or say they’re “not sure” about one or both questions (28%).

In other words, few Americans are really invested in DeSantis’s crusade here.

Most Americans still have favorable view of Disney

Crowds line Main Street USA, with Cinderella Castle on the horizon, at the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World.
Crowds line Main Street USA at the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., in 2020. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

DeSantis’s top rival for the GOP nod, former President Donald Trump, seems to have sensed the disconnect. “DeSanctus is being absolutely destroyed by Disney,” Trump wrote last month on his Truth Social network. “This is all so unnecessary, a political STUNT.”

The good news for the Florida governor is that the Americans who are invested tend to be the ones who vote in Republican presidential primaries. Nearly two-thirds (64%) of voters who identify as Republicans or Republican-leaning independents now see Disney unfavorably; just 27% have a favorable view of the company. Even more say Disney is “too political” (71%). And by a huge margin, the same voters now believe that Disney is more “liberal” (77%) than “conservative” (9%) — or “neither” (6%).

While Disney maintains a net positive rating among Americans in general — 52% favorable to 34% unfavorable — its negative standing among potential Republican primary voters means that DeSantis would be unlikely to suffer much for bashing the company during a GOP nominating contest.

The same goes for wokeness, with a full 71% of potential Republican primary voters naming it a “big problem” — nearly the same number who feel likewise about breaching the debt ceiling (74%), and far more than the number who see racism that way (29%).

In contrast, racism ranks first as a big problem (73%) among voters who are Democrats or Democratic-leaning independents, followed by new abortion restrictions (72%) and book banning in schools (66%). Inflation (64%) ranks fourth.

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The Yahoo News survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,584 U.S. adults interviewed online from May 5 to 8, 2023. The sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, education, 2020 election turnout and presidential vote, baseline party identification and current voter registration status. Demographic weighting targets come from the 2019 American Community Survey. Baseline party identification is the respondent’s most recent answer given prior to March 15, 2022, and is weighted to the estimated distribution at that time (32% Democratic, 27% Republican). Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel to be representative of all U.S. adults. The margin of error is approximately 2.7%.