Anyone who doubted that senators could suffer political fallout for their opposition to expanding background checks on gun buyers may want to talk to Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ).
The Arizona Republican who took office in January was one of five senators whose popularity at home has declined in the wake of their votes against the gun bill, according to a survey released Monday from Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling. The measure, which was co-authored by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Pat Toomey (R-PA), fizzled in the Senate earlier this month despite polls showing staggering public support for strengthening background checks.The backlash appears to be the harshest for Flake, whose standing in Arizona cratered following his “no” vote on background checks. With an approval rating of 32 percent, Flake is already among the least popular senators in the country, according to PPP. Fifty-one percent of Arizona voters said they disapprove of Flake, while a majority of 52 percent said that his opposition to the gun legislation makes them less likely to vote for him in the future. Moreover, a plurality of 45 percent of Arizona voters said they trust Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who was one of only four Republicans to support the measure, more than Flake on guns.
Flake’s vote drew even more scrutiny last week after the New York Daily News unearthed a letter he sent to the mother of a shooting victim in which he pledged to support stronger background checks.
It’s not much better for Alaska’s two senators, both of whom voted against the background checks legislation. There, the once-popular Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s (R) numbers have taken a huge dip. Forty-six percent of Alaska voters said they approve of Murkowski while 41 percent said they disapprove. That’s down from a 54 percent approval rating found in PPP’s February survey, when the pollster rated her as one of the most popular members of the Senate.
Her fellow Alaskan Sen. Mark Begich (D), who was one of four red state Democrats to vote against the background checks legislation, fared much the same. The poll showed the junior senator with an approval rating of 41 percent, while 37 percent said they disapproved of his job performance. In February, PPP showed Begich with a 49 percent approval rating.
Thirty-nine percent of Alaska voters said the vote made them less likely to support Begich, who is up for re-election next year. The same percentage said they are less likely to support Murkowski because of it. Meanwhile, about a third said the failed gun legislation will make no difference on future support of either candidate.
In Nevada, the backlash against Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) appears less severe. His approval rating dipped to 44 percent in Monday’s poll, down three points from PPP’s survey conducted right before last year’s election. Forty-one percent said they disapprove. Still, a plurality of 46 percent of Silver State voters said they are less likely to back Heller for re-election as a result of his “no” vote.
Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), whose national profile rose last year after he emerged as a possible running mate to GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, has seen an 18-point drop to his approval rating in the last six months, according to PPP. In October, 35 percent of Buckeye State voters said they approved of Portman while a quarter said they disapproved. Today, his approval rating is under water: 26 percent said they approve of his job performance in PPP’s latest, while 34 percent said they disapprove. Fortunately for Portman, a plurality of 39 percent of voters there said his vote against background checks will make no difference on whether or not they support his next re-election bid in 2016, although 36 percent said it is now less likely that they will back him.
The poll represents the latest piece of evidence that lawmakers could indeed pay a political price for thwarting gun control legislation. A PPP survey released last week showed that Sen. Kelly Ayotte’s (R-NH) approval rating slipped under water following her no vote on the gun bill, while a majority of New Hampshire voters said they were less likely to support her re-election bid. Conversely, a poll from Quinnipiac University indicated that Toomey has drawn a bounce in Pennsylvania after his sponsorship of the legislation.
For his part, Flake, who was elected to the Senate last year, has expressed skepticism that a single vote on gun control could hurt his re-election chances in 2018.
“That’s the beauty of a six-year term,” he said earlier this month, according to the Los Angeles Times. “I truly want to do something on this, but what has been a little upsetting is to hear people try to maintain that we were just caving to pressure, discounting any issues that we had with the legislation, with the language. That’s just not right.”