Senate Approvals

By Jim Ellis

Jan. 14, 2019 — The Morning Consult firm just released their quarterly ranking of Senate job approval scores. All 100 senators are surveyed, and the numbers cover the fourth quarter of 2018. Several categories are of interest.

First, a number of ratings are similar for both senators in a particular state. Vermont respondents were particularly pleased with Sens. Bernie Sanders (I/D-VT) and Patrick Leahy (D). The duo placed first and second nationally, with approval ratings of 64:28 percent and 62:23 percent favorable to unfavorable, respectively.

They were closely followed by Republican senators John Barrasso (R-WY; 62:26 percent) and John Thune (R-SD; 59:27 percent). The two senators’ state mates, Sens. Mike Enzi (R-WY; 56:27 percent) and Mike Rounds (R-SD; 56:29 percent), were also in the top 10.

Now-former Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) recorded the worst rating in the body, with a 28:49 percent negative ratio. Two Senate leaders, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY; 38:47 percent) and Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL; 36:39 percent) were also in the Bottom 10.

Since this is the fourth quarter 2018 report, the five senators who lost re-election along with those who won competitive races are included. Below are their favorability scores

followed by election percentage in the order of those with the strongest positive ratios listed first:

  • Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) – 51:41% – Won (50-47%)
  • Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) – 43:44% – Won (50-46%)
  • Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS) – 42:34% – Won (54-46%)
  • Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) – 33:45% – Won (54-43%)
  • Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) – 42:45% – Lost (44-55%)
  • Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) – 40:41% – Lost (49.9 – 50.05%)
  • Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-IN) – 39:39% – Lost (45-51%)
  • Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) – 36:49% – Lost (46-51%)
  • Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) – 35:45% – Lost (45-50%)

Below are the job approval scores for the senators standing for re-election in 2020 from most favorably viewed to least. The average spread between these senators’ positive and negative rating is 14 percentage points. Only two are upside-down, and both are Senate leaders.

  • Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) – 54:23% (+31)
  • Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) – 51:22% (+29)
  • Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY) – 56:27% (+29)
  • Sen. Mike Rounds (R-SD) – 56:29% (+27)
  • Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) – 49:27% (+22)
  • Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) – 47:25% (+22)
  • Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) – 49:29% (+20)
  • Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) – 46:26% (+20)
  • Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) – 51:32% (+19)
  • Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) – 51:32% (+19)
  • Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) – 49:30% (+19)
  • Sen. David Perdue (R-GA) – 46:28% (+18)
  • Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) – 43:25% (+18)
  • Sen. Tina Smith (D-MN) – 43:26% (+17)
  • Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) – 47:31% (+16)
  • Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) – 46:30% (+16)
  • Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) – 53:38% (+15)
  • Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) – 47:33% (+14)
  • Sen. Jim Risch (R-ID) – 43:29% (+14)
  • Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) – 42:30% (+12)
  • Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) – 44:33% (+11)
  • Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS) – 42:34% (+8)
  • Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK) – 40:33% (+7)
  • Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI) – 33:27% (+6)
  • Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL) – 40:35% (+5)
  • Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) – 36:32% (+4)
  • Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) – 40:37% (+3)
  • Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) – 38:35% (+3)
  • Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) – 37:35% (+2)
  • Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) – 36:39% (-3)
  • Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) – 38:47% (-9)

Since the election is two years away, these approval ratings don’t carry a great deal of weight. It is interesting, however, that so many senators were recording positive ratings in the pre-election period, especially with an electorate that clearly possessed anti-Washington sentiments and just before a large number of incumbents were defeated.

Therefore, it is difficult to discern an indicative pattern from the approval ratings other than agreeing with certain analyses that deduced a large 2018 vote driver was to make a national statement through voting, presumably to express support for or opposition to President Trump.

Though it is noteworthy to scan the ratings for the 2020 in-cycle senators, it is clear from the election results that neither positive nor negative approval ratings, even close to an election, don’t independently predict electoral victory or defeat.

In a presidential election year such as 2020, the individual job approval ratings will likely prove even less relevant since a national tide usually develops within and around a presidential race that typically proves to be the stronger vote-influencing factor.

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