Washington • Sen. Jeff Flake’s vote against expanded background checks on gun sales earlier this month caused his approval ratings to drop, making him one of the “most unpopular” U.S. senators, a new poll says.
Public Policy Polling looked at approval ratings of five senators from four states — Alaska, Arizona, Nevada and Ohio — who voted against the background-check measure. The poll, released April 29, said 51 percent of Arizona voters disapproved of Flake’s performance, while 32 percent approved.
“He’s already the most unpopular senator in the country,” said Public Policy Polling Director Tom Jensen of Flake, the former Arizona state legislator from Mesa who has only been in office since January.
But a spokeswoman for the Arizona Republican questioned the worth of the Public Policy Polling findings.
“If early PPP polls were accurate, Senator Flake wouldn’t be in office right now,” said spokeswoman Genevieve Rozansky.
The automated telephone survey of 600 Arizona voters was conducted recently and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
The poll was conducted for Americans United for Change, which describes its goal as challenging the “conservative far right.” Spokesman Jeremy Funk said that even more than the immediate impact on Flake’s popularity, the organization saw that votes on background checks would affect future voting trends in Arizona the most.
Jensen said Flakes’ sharp drop reflected his vote on the so-called Manchin-Toomey amendment that would have required background checks on gun sales at gun shows and on the Internet. The amendment still has “overwhelming” public support even after it failed in the Senate earlier this month, he said.
“It’s very clear that these senators are really paying a political price,” Jensen said of those who voted against the amendment and then saw a decline in their approval ratings.
But one political science professor said it would be hard to pin the change in political fortunes solely on gun control.
“I think it is too much of a leap to say his position on just this one thing is responsible for that,” said Rudy Espino, a professor at Arizona State University. “Arizona is still pretty much a pro-gun state.”
Arizona’s other senator, Republican John McCain, also voted against Manchin-Toomey.
Espino said that gun control did get some attention in Arizona because of advocacy for it by former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, a Democrat who was wounded in 2011 shooting in Tucson that killed six people and severely injured her and 12 others.
Rozansky declined further comment last week on the gun vote, pointing to Flake’s Facebook post from earlier which said he opposed the Manchin-Toomey amendment because it went “too far.”
But Flake is also getting a lot of attention because of his push for immigration reform, which is a big issue in the state, Espino said.
Public Policy Polling is one of the more reputable pollsters, Espino said, even though it works primarily for Democrats. He said the results seem accurate, and Republican challenges to them should not be a surprise.
“People like Flake and people on the right would be dismissing this result, but of course they are going to do that,” he said.
Despite the drop in popularity, Flake can relax for now because he will not be up for re-election for more than five years, Espino said.
“Five years is a long way off,” Espino said. “This one poll number might make a lot of hay, but I wouldn’t worry about it too much.”