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Are Klobuchar and Franken Exceeding Expectations? MN Senators Receive All-Time High Job Approval Marks

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With an economy still considered unstable at best, with unemployment flirting with 10 percent nationwide, and with a ballooning federal deficit and national debt, many federal and state policymakers of both political parties have seen their approval ratings take a hit throughout 2009 - governors, U.S. Senators, as well as President Barack Obama.

Neither political party has been immune to the public backlash, although Democrats (who control the legislative and executive branches of the federal government and the majority of governorships and state legislatures nationwide) have seemingly endured the brunt of the effects of changing public attitudes. Several pundits predict voter dissatisfaction could create a shakeup of Congress in the 2010 elections, with Democratic incumbents particularly vulnerable.

Despite these trends, the Minnesota U.S. Senate delegation of Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken stands apart from those of the other 12 states tracked by the polling organization SurveyUSA. Not only are Klobuchar and Franken enjoying their highest approval ratings since being elected in 2006 and 2008 respectively, they are also the only two Senators among the 25+ tracked by SurveyUSA who currently enjoy job performance ratings higher than the percentage of voters who elected them into office.

The latest round of monthly SurveyUSA polling, conducted of 600 Minnesota adults September 27-28, finds Klobuchar with an approval rating of 64 percent and Franken with an approval rating of 49 percent.

The 64 percent mark is the highest ever notched for Senator Klobuchar across 31 SurveyUSA polls conducted since she first took office in D.C. in January 2007. Minnesota's senior senator had previously peaked at 63 percent in December 2008.

Franken's approval rating has increased slightly each month in SurveyUSA polling since assuming office earlier this summer - 43 percent in July, 45 percent in August, and 49 percent in September.

But what makes Klobuchar and Franken unique among the 25+ Senators tracked by SurveyUSA each month is that they are the only two who currently enjoy the support from a higher percentage of residents statewide than the percentage of voters who elected them into office.

· Franken's 49 percent approval rating is 7 points higher than the 42 percent of the vote he received last November in his high profile contest against Republican Norm Coleman (and Independence Party candidate Dean Barkley, whose strong 15 percent showing undoubtedly depressed the percentage of the vote received by both Franken and Coleman).

· Klobuchar's 64 percent job approval rating is 6 points higher than the 58 percent of the vote she received on Election Day in 2006 when she won DFLer Mark Dayton's open seat.

Nearly half of the Senators tracked by SurveyUSA have experienced a double-digit decrease when comparing their current approval rating vis-à-vis the percentage of vote they received the last time they were on the ballot. Among these are fellow Upper Midwesterners Chuck Grassley (-20 points) and Tom Harkin (-19 points) from Iowa, and Herb Kohl from Wisconsin (-14).

In one sense, it is not surprising to see such Senators have approval ratings that are lower than the percentage of the vote they received on Election Day. The SurveyUSA polls are conducted of adults, not voters or likely voters, and, as such, the respondents include a number of disinterested, disengaged, or otherwise disgusted residents who did not vote at all the last time the Senator was on the ballot, and are thus perhaps disinclined to support their state's officeholders generally.

This is what makes the numbers of Franken and Klobuchar so remarkable. They have done what many of their colleagues in the Senate have not: improve their standing among their respective statewide population vis-à-vis voter support since their last election. And Franken and Klobuchar have done so in light of continued serious economic challenges facing D.C. and the State of Minnesota, as well as the apparent declining political currency of the Democratic Party nationwide.

For example, in the Upper Midwest region, Democratic Governors Jim Doyle (WI) and Chet Culver (IA) have endured the lowest approval ratings of their respective tenures in recent months, as has Iowa Democrat Tom Harkin - whose 44 percent approval mark in September is down 19 points during the past 10 months (63 percent in December 2008).

The Franken/Klobuchar numbers also hold when looking at the percent change between current approval ratings and percentage of vote received.

U.S. Senatorial Approval Ratings Vis-à-vis Percentage of Vote Received

State
Senator
Elected
Vote
Approval
Diff.
% Diff.
MN
Franken
2008
42
49
+7
+16.7
MN
Klobuchar
2006
58
64
+6
+10.3
MO
McCaskill
2006
50
50
0
0.0
AL
Sessions
2008
63
62
-1
-1.6
VA
Webb
2006
50
48
-2
-4.0
VA
Warner
2008
65
61
-4
-6.2
KY
McConnell
2008
53
49
-4
-7.5
NY
Schumer
2004
71
65
-6
-8.5
KS
Roberts
2008
60
54
-6
-10.0
WI
Feingold
2004
55
49
-6
-10.9
NM
Udall
2008
61
54
-7
-11.5
OR
Wyden
2004
63
55
-8
-12.7
WA
Murray
2004
55
48
-7
-12.7
OR
Merkley
2008
49
42
-7
-14.3
AL
Shelby
2004
68
58
-10
-14.7
NM
Bingaman
2006
71
58
-13
-18.3
WA
Cantwell
2006
57
46
-11
-19.3
MO
Bond
2004
56
45
-11
-19.6
WI
Kohl
2006
67
53
-14
-20.9
CA
Fienstein
2006
59
46
-13
-22.0
CA
Boxer
2004
57
41
-16
-28.1
IA
Grassley
2004
70
50
-20
-28.6
IA
Harkin
2008
63
44
-19
-30.2
KS
Brownback
2004
69
48
-21
-30.4
KY
Bunning
2004
51
35
-16
-31.4
Note: SurveyUSA and election data compiled by Smart Politics.

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