New Jersey voters have turned on Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez in dramatic fashion after news of his indictment on federal corruption charges, a decline that was largely driven from within his own party.
Along with making him one of America’s most unpopular senators, the shift also sets up major problems for Menendez as he faces a contested Democratic primary election in June against Tammy Murphy, the wife of Gov. Phil Murphy, and Rep. Andy Kim, a progressive favorite.
Bob Menendez’ approval rating in New Jersey
According to our latest U.S. Senator Approval Outlook, 59% of New Jersey voters disapproved of Menendez’s job performance in the fourth quarter of 2024, up from 38% in the third quarter largely before the Justice Department’s late September charges surrounding his alleged participation in a bribery scheme.
Criminal Scrutiny Weakens Menendez in New Jersey, Especially Among Democrats
Because New Jersey’s independent voters — and, to a larger extent, Republican voters — were already more likely than not to give Menendez negative marks, the bulk of his home-state decline between surveys conducted in the third and fourth quarters of 2023 was driven by his own party base.
Among Democratic voters, our latest quarterly survey shows Menendez’s approval rating fell 31 percentage points (to 37%) while his disapproval rating increased 33 points (to 47%), with the bulk of that movement coming from older and liberal Democrats who make up large shares of the party’s coalition in his state.
As Menendez has publicly defended himself from his charges, he’s suggested without evidence that federal prosecutors are targeting him because of his ethnicity — a claim that was dismissed by a number of Latino leaders. Among Hispanic voters in his state, Menendez’s approval rating fell from 43% to 35% while his disapproval rating rose from 34% to 46%.
America’s most popular and unpopular senators
The enormous decline in Menendez’s standing has made him the most unpopular Democratic incumbent among Democratic voters. His weakness among his own base has placed him behind only Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on the list of America’s most unpopular senators.
Senator Approval Rankings, Q4 2023
In Kentucky, 66% of voters disapprove of McConnell’s job performance, marking his highest level of home-state dissent since the beginning of Joe Biden’s presidency and the political aftermath of the Jan. 6 Capitol attack. He is the most unpopular senator among Republican voters, with his latest decline driven by further attrition among both Republicans and Democratic voters in Kentucky.
McConnell’s standing may not matter that much: He’s not on the ballot this year, and despite his unpopularity with Republican voters nationwide, he has managed to hang on to his post atop the Senate Republican Conference.
That said, two other lawmakers who are due to face voters this November are on the list of America’s most unpopular senators.
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.), who’s yet to say whether she’ll seek re-election in what could be a three-way race this fall, faces negative sentiment from the bulk of voters in her state (45%), driven by underwater approval ratings among Democrats and Republicans alike, while independent voters are almost evenly split.
In Texas, voters are only slightly more likely to approve than disapprove of Republican Sen. Ted Cruz’ job performance (47% to 44%) as he faces re-election this year, similar to his standing at the beginning of 2023.
On the other side of the equation, no senator facing a competitive re-election contest this year is on the list of the 10 most popular senators. Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), the No. 3 in Republican leadership, boasts a 71% approval rating — the best of the Senate — followed by Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), who gets positive marks from 67% of voters in his state.