Senators represent the interests of the residents of their home state on Capitol Hill by crafting and voting on new laws and by approving or rejecting cabinet and judicial nominations made by the president. Though not listed among their official duties, remaining popular is also an important part of their job.
Unlike U.S. presidents and most state governors, senators do not have term limits. As a result, they can keep their job as long as they remain popular and in good health. Throughout history, dozens of senators have served for multiple decades. Nine senators, including one sitting senator, Patrick Leahy of Vermont, have served for over 40 years.
24/7 Wall St. reviewed public opinion data from research company Morning Consult to rank all 100 U.S. senators from most to least popular. Senator approval ratings are based on survey data collected during the third quarter of 2019 and range from 33% to 65%.
Each state has two senators — and even though both are representing the interests of the same people, perceptions of how effective they are can vary considerably. For example, the two senators from Vermont — independent Bernie Sanders and Democrat Patrick Leahy — have the two highest approval ratings in the country, at 65% and 63%, respectively. In contrast, Angus King, an independent from Maine, is one of the most popular senators with a 57% approval rating. Meanwhile, Maine’s other senator, Republican Susan Collins, is one of the least popular, with an approval rating of just 43%.
One factor that seems to be largely affecting senators’ approval rating is economic conditions — even though the state of the economy is often out of the control of elected officials. Of the 20 Senators with approval ratings of at least 50%, 16 are from states where the annual unemployment rate is below the 3.9% national average. Meanwhile, only six of the 20 least popular senators are from states with lower than average unemployment. These are the states where it is hardest to find full-time work.
Aside from economic reasons, dissatisfaction with a senator can have any number of other causes — including a personal scandal or public gaffe. But a major scandal or loss of public approval doesn’t necessarily mean a senator will lose their job. In areas where large swaths of eligible voters do not turn out on election day, controversial and even unpopular leaders can still win elections. In 24 states, voter participation rates were below 50% in the November 2018 midterm elections. Here is a list of the 50 states ranked by voter turnout.