Feinstein’s approval ratings hit an all-time low; Harris underwater, poll says

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), at a press conference earlier this month. Three in 10 California voters approve of her job performance, according to a new poll.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)
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Views of Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s job performance have tumbled to the lowest point in her three-decade Senate career, with just 30% of California voters giving her positive marks in a new UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies poll co-sponsored by the Los Angeles Times.

Respondents gave similarly unenthusiastic marks to Vice President Kamala Harris, whose popularity is underwater, with 38% approval and 46% disapproval, while they are evenly divided in their rating of President Biden. The assessments of both Biden and Harris dropped sharply from last summer, in line with their slumping poll numbers nationwide.

Amid the broadly pessimistic mood of Californian voters, two-thirds of whom believe the country is headed in the wrong direction, the lagging approval for Democrats Feinstein and Harris stands out, said Mark DiCamillo, director of the IGS poll.

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“I was amazed at the disaffection for both of the women,” DiCamillo said.

The 49% of registered voters giving Feinstein a negative assessment include respondents from core Democratic blocs: those who identify as “strongly liberal,” voters under 40 and Latinos and Asian Americans. In all regions of the state — including the major population centers of Los Angeles and the Bay Area, where she is from — a plurality of voters disapprove of her performance.

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“I’ve never seen those constituencies moving to the negative side in unison as we’re seeing now,” said DiCamillo, who has conducted polls at UC Berkeley and, before that, the statewide Field Poll, on Feinstein’s popularity since she joined the Senate.

Most striking is Feinstein’s loss of popularity among women voters. Feinstein had typically performed strongly with women ever since her 1992 election, when she and former Sen. Barbara Boxer became the first female senators from California. Now, one-third of women surveyed approve of her performance, while 42% disapprove.

“For her to be underwater among female voters is a very significant and ominous sign for her,” DiCamillo said.

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Throughout her tenure, Feinstein generally received positive marks from voters and was elected to the Senate six times. But her most recent campaign, in 2018, when she was 85 years old, rankled some in the state; now, at age 88, she is the oldest sitting senator and has had to swat down speculation about her retirement numerous times.

Her standing frayed in recent years with her party’s progressive flank, which complained that Feinstein, as the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, was not tough enough on former President Trump’s nominees to the Supreme Court. She has made some overtures to strongly liberal voters; namely, softening her support for the Senate’s filibuster rule in order to advance voting rights legislation. But her popularity has been low since January 2021.

Her colleague, Democratic Sen. Alex Padilla, gets slightly higher grades from voters in the IGS poll: 34% approve; 26% disapprove. A plurality of respondents — 40% — have no opinion of his job performance, signaling that Padilla, 48, remains an unknown to many in the state since being appointed by Gov. Gavin Newsom last year to serve the remainder of Harris’ Senate term.

For Biden and Harris, the tepid reception from voters in reliably blue California underscores their larger woes in terms of public opinion.

Respondents are evenly split in their regard for Biden, with 47% approving and 48% disapproving. That marks a two-digit negative shift since the last IGS poll, in July, when his standing was at 59% approval and 37% disapproval.

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While Biden, 79, still has the approval of 72% of California Democrats, that support dropped by 14 points in the last six months. Among voters with no party preference, his approval ratings plunged 15 points in that time, with 50% now disapproving of his performance.

Harris’ polling has followed the same downward trajectory as Biden’s; it is not uncommon for a vice president’s numbers to lag behind those of the president. But there’s little sign Harris, 57, is getting a boost in support that would be expected from voters in her home state.

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Even in the regions of the state where she has a personal connection — the Bay Area, where she spent most of her life, and Los Angeles, where she has a house with husband Douglas Emhoff — her approval is only slightly higher than her statewide average.

“I get the sense from our polling the state hasn’t really warmed up to her as the sitting vice president,” DiCamillo said.

California voters continue to hold the U.S. Congress in low esteem, with 72% of respondents disapproving of its performance and 20% approving. The findings fit in with a long-term trend of dissatisfaction with Congress; for the last 12 years, at least seven in 10 Californians have given it a negative grade.

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Voters in the state also remain glum about the country’s future. Less than a quarter of registered voters believe the U.S. is on the right path, while 67% say it is headed in the wrong direction. The negative assessment holds across all party affiliations, geographical regions and racial groups.

Notably, the state’s youngest voters have a particularly bleak outlook. Just 18% of registered voters between ages 18 and 29 think the country is on the right track. DiCamillo posited that this group has been especially affected by COVID-19.

“There’s frustration with the government and its inability to get a lot of things done,” he said. “I don’t think they warm to this hyperpartisan world that they’re living in, either. There’s really a disaffection with politics that perhaps wasn’t there in the past.”

The Berkeley IGS poll surveyed 8,937 California registered voters Feb. 3-10. The poll was administered online in English and Spanish. The estimated sampling error is plus or minus 2 percentage points.

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