California US Senator Dianne Feinstein Hits Career-Low Job Rating

A poll released Thursday shows the senior U.S. senator at an all-time low in her job approval ratings.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., speaks during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing examining liability during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak on May 12, 2020 on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Carlos Barria/Pool via AP)

(CN) — For the first time in her nearly three decades in office, U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein’s job rating is at a record low. 

The senior senator from California has been in office since 1992 and a poll released Thursday by the Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies (IGS) shows the Golden State has soured on her performance, with just 35% of registered voters approving of her work in office.

“More voters also believe Feinstein is now less effective than she has been in the past,” said Berkeley IGS Poll Director Mark DiCamillo in a statement.

The poll of 10,300 registered California voters who were questioned online shows 45% think Feinstein is less effective now, with a majority of those being Republicans at 63% versus 41% of Democrats. Just 22% think she is just as effective now as she was in her previous time in office.

Feinstein, 87, is the oldest sitting U.S. senator. Her storied career includes being the first woman to serve as the mayor of San Francisco and the first woman to chair both the Senate Rules Committee and Select Committee on Intelligence. If she remains in office through November 2022, she will become the longest-serving woman in Senate history.

The sinking job score comes three years after Feinstein scored a 48% approval rating and 37% disapproval rating among registered California voters, according to the pollsters.

Political analyst Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, co-host of the podcast “Inside Golden State Politics,” said Feinstein was running for office around that time. Her name was likely in political ads during the election year and voters probably heard it often enough to recognize she was the incumbent.

But there’s also the fact that Feinstein has a long, proven track record of being a centrist, someone who is willing to compromise for the sake of passing legislation.

“Feinstein is a moderate Democrat, which is radical now in California,” Jeffe said. “Ageism probably plays a role in the low approval rating. She’s used to reaching across the aisle, to compromise and get things done and while that may seem like an old school way to do politics, it’s not in line with the way things are done now in the Senate.”

Feinstein was re-elected in 2018, despite some of her policy decisions that pulled away from the more liberal wing of the Democratic Party.

Feinstein has opposed single-payer healthcare, supported raising the Social Security retirement age and did not receive the California Democratic Party’s endorsement. Instead, the party went with then California State Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, the more progressive candidate.

While Feinstein defended her seat from de León, she has weathered criticism for some of the bipartisanship that Jeffe pointed out. In 2020, Feinstein shared a hug with Republican Senator Lindsey Graham after the confirmation hearing of Amy Coney Barrett, a gesture that received national attention. 

Barrett, a favorite among religious conservatives, was nominated by President Donald Trump just eight days after Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died. The opposition to Barrett’s confirmation from Democratic lawmakers was palpable throughout the confirmation hearing and the hug with Graham catapulted Feinstein into the doghouse with liberal voters.

Jeffe said the concept of a progressive senator is not one that Feinstein can ever truly achieve because of her long time in office.

“She is of the Senate. She is of the institution,” she said. “She has the longest career and so there’s going to be more to prod.”

The IGS Poll prods several other California lawmakers.

Vice President Kamala Harris, just a heartbeat away from the presidency, received a 56% rating and is deemed the most likeable officeholder from California by the IGS poll, despite now working in Washington. She received 83% approval among Democrats and just 10% among Republicans.

She’s followed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who secured a 48% favorable rating. Pelosi is followed by California’s newest U.S. Senator Alex Padilla, who was appointed to Harris’ vacant senate seat by Governor Gavin Newsom. Padilla was sworn in as the first Latino U.S. Senator to represent California this past January. He received a 44% approval rating, with 66% approval from Democrats and just 12% from Republicans.  

Padilla and Harris received higher approval ratings than Feinstein, but the two have only been in their new positions for a short time.

Efren Pérez, professor of political science at UCLA, said this could be described as the honeymoon phase, when these new politicians are able to get by on their proven track records.

“Some of it for Harris is that honeymoon period, but in California she is someone who advocates for highly progressive issues,” Pérez said.

For Padilla, his appointment caps the developments that have been brewing in California with not just demographic growth among Latinos, but a growth matched by Latinos seeking office. Padilla was elected to the Los Angeles City Council at 26 and served as the council president at 28. Padilla, like Harris, is the child of immigrants.

“Alex has been one of the centerpieces in political representation for Latinos and by Latinos,” Pérez said. “An even more generous and accurate representation of his appointment is it signals in some ways that different communities of color are OK with having people who understand them and their concerns and have them not be specifically from their same racial group.”

A resounding 54% of voters polled by IGS said it was important to have a Latino fill the vacancy left by Harris.

“The stark differences in support for Feinstein and Padilla reveal ongoing trends in the broader California electorate, as younger generations and communities of color, especially Black and Latino voters, become more vocal about the need for a multi-racial vision of democratic leadership,” IGS Co-Director Cristina Mora said in a statement.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra received a 44% approval rating and so did Newsom. Becerra was nominated by President Joe Biden to be the next U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services. The only two elected officials in California to receive worse ratings than Feinstein were LA Mayor Eric Garcetti (33%) and Republican Senator Kevin McCarthy (30%).

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