Senators' Approval Ratings Unpredictable. (Polls)

USA TODAY, August 2003 | Go to article overview

Senators' Approval Ratings Unpredictable. (Polls)


Although elected officials may attempt to influence public approval ratings as they look toward reelection, their own tactical maneuvers do not have as much effect as factors beyond their control, a recent study points out. Demographics such as their state's economic performance and size, their own number of years in the Senate, presidential popularity, and the popularity of the other senator from the state have a greater impact on their approval ratings than such things as bill sponsorship and media activity, according to the findings of political scientists Wendy Schiller of Brown University, Providence, R.I., Brian F. Schaffner of Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, and Patrick J. Sellers of Davidson (N.C.) College.

"Senators clearly want to maximize the likelihood that they are reelected, so they seek to build favorable impressions with constituents. Senators' efforts pay off to some extent, but the contextual factors beyond their control tend to exert more influence," note the researchers.

They examined 552 senatorial approval ratings from 1981 to 1997, taken from the U.S. Official Job Approval Ratings website, which captures surveys by commercial, media, and university organizations. The analysis included information on nearly 60% of all individuals serving in the Senate during the 16-year period.

The tactics that are within the control of legislators include introducing legislation; position taking (roll call voting offers the most prominent type); and news coverage. The factors beyond legislators' control are home-state population; home-state economic performance; seniority; popularity or unpopularity of a president; and actions of the other senator in the state's delegation. …

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