WASHINGTON — About half of Kentucky voters frown on the job done by Kentucky's two U.S. senators — figures that track a national trend of voter dissatisfaction with Washington incumbents and the federal government, according to a new Kentucky poll.
Forty nine percent of respondents said they disapprove of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's performance, up from 45 percent in the most recent Kentucky Poll, conducted in October 2008. Forty one percent approve of his job performance in the latest poll, compared to 48 percent two years ago.
Similarly, 53 percent of those polled disapprove of Bunning's job performance and 38 percent approve. There are no comparable numbers for Bunning in 2008.
It has been a tough year for Washington incumbents and lawmakers across the country are experiencing similar drops in approval ratings, said Jennifer Duffy, senior editor at the Cook Political Report. In McConnell's case, his position as senate minority leader makes him a large target for a disgruntled electorate.
"Democrats are furious at him for what they call obstructing a Democratic agenda and some Republicans are furious at him for compromising too much," Duffy said.
Still, a solid majority of Republicans approve of the performances by McConnell and Bunning, although McConnell's rating among Republicans is down 7 points since 2008. The latest poll shows McConnell with a 68 percent approval rating among likely GOP voters and Bunning with a 64 percent approval rating.
"In terms of the party brand they are fairly respected," said Del Ali, president of Research 2000 of Olney, Md., which conducted the poll.
The two senators have recently endorsed opposing candidates in Kentucky's Republican U.S. Senate primary election, but political experts say the endorsements will likely cancel each other out. Bunning endorsed Bowling Green eye surgeon Rand Paul. McConnell endorsed Secretary of State Trey Grayson.
"People interested in this race have assumed all along that McConnell is for Grayson. McConnell's endorsement of Grayson this week didn't surprise anyone except those who know McConnell rarely endorses in primaries," said Joe Gershtenson, director of Eastern Kentucky University's Institute of Public Governance and Civic Engagement.
McConnell's endorsement of Grayson was made public early Tuesday, the last of three days on which the telephone survey of 600 likely Kentucky voters was conducted. The poll, which has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points, was commissioned by the Herald-Leader, WKYT-TV and WAVE-TV in Louisville.
Although McConnell's approval rating is down, the decline is much less severe than what some other incumbent lawmakers are facing this year. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who is facing a tough re-election bid, has hovered around the 40 percent favorability mark in several polls.
"In terms of high profile U.S. Senators he fairs a heck of a lot better with his voters than Harry Reid," Ali said. "McConnell was very vulnerable in 2008 and he pulled it out. Reid could be in the same situation."
Since winning re-election, McConnell has taken stands on several high profile bills that have left many Democrats and Republicans disgruntled.
McConnell helped broker bipartisan agreement on the $700 billion Wall Street bailout in 2008 — much to the chagrin of staunch fiscal conservatives like Bunning. The bailout is now a key rallying cry for change used by anti-establishment candidates such as Paul, who holds a double-digit lead over Grayson in the latest Kentucky Poll.
During contentious debates over the $787 billion economic stimulus package backed by President Barack Obama, McConnell urged his fellow party members to hold the line, but was ultimately forced to watch as three moderate Republicans joined Democrats on key votes and took a lead roll in helping shape the legislation.
The Kentucky Republican was both vocal and uncharacteristically forthcoming about his strategy on the health care bill — kill it. When the bill passed anyway, McConnell vowed that Democrats will rue their efforts on the issue this fall.
"Right now, being a party leader is a thankless task." Duffy said.
Bunning, whose approval rating is slightly lower than McConnell's, chose to not seek re-election last year after publicly sparring with McConnell for several months.
In March, he stoked the ire of Democrats and many within his own party by temporarily blocked a spending bill that extended jobless benefits for millions of unemployed Americans. The deadlock lasted for several days.
Still, his outspoken criticism of the government's financial policies as the nation's banking and financial crisis took hold made him a folk hero of sorts among many fiscally conservative Republicans and members of the state's Tea Party movement.