With the presidential election looming, much of the public discussion is focused on the race for the White House. However, control of the executive branch is not the only important contest this November, as 33 U.S. senate seats are also up for grabs — and popularity among constituents is critical for the incumbents who wish to remain in office.
Senators serve the residents of their home state in Washington by crafting and voting on new legislation and by approving or rejecting cabinet and judicial nominations made by the president. Like other elected officials, their popularity is subject to a wide range of factors, including, but not limited to, their positions on political issues, perceptions of the economic health of their home state, scandals they might be involved in, and their personality.
24/7 Wall St. reviewed public opinion data from research company Morning Consult to rank U.S. senators from most to least popular. Senator approval ratings are based on survey data collected during the fourth quarter of 2019 and range from 34% to 65%. It is important to note that one senator on this list, Johnny Isakson, a Republican from Georgia, left office citing health concerns in 2019 and was replaced by Sen. Kelly Loeffler.
Additionally, because this data was compiled at the end of 2019, it does not reflect any potential shifts in public opinion brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic — which, while first and foremost is a public health crisis, has also become a hot-button political issue. This is how federal funding failed to match each state’s COVID outbreak.
Unlike presidents and governors of many states, U.S. senators are not restricted by term limits and 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.
Maintaining a broad public approval base is the most effective way for senators to remain in office. Still, in areas where many eligible voters do not turn out on election day, controversial and even unpopular lawmakers 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.
Not including Sens. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Mike Enzi of Wyoming, Pat Roberts of Kansas, and Tom Udall of New Mexico, who are retiring at the end of their term, 29 senators are running for reelection this year. And 24 of them have approval ratings below 50%.