California’s Older Voters Sour on Feinstein Amid Senate Absence

Younger voters in California have made up for a decline in Feinstein’s support among older voters since her shingles hospitalization
May 09, 2023 at 5:00 am UTC

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California Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s monthslong health-related absence from the Senate has done little to change overall sentiment about the 89-year-old Democrat’s job performance, but it does appear to have weighed on the minds of the Golden State’s older voters — including those in her own party.

Older California Voters Sour on Feinstein’s Job Performance

Shares of registered voters in California who approve or disapprove of Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s job performance
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Surveys conducted Feb. 21-March 2, 2023, and April 21-30, 2023, among representative samples of roughly 2,000 registered voters in California, with unweighted margins of error of +/- 2 percentage points. “Don’t know/No opinion” responses not shown.

Dianne Feinstein’s approval rating in California

  • According to Morning Consult Political Intelligence tracking surveys conducted April 21-30, 46% of California voters approve of Feinstein’s job performance, a figure that’s unchanged from surveys conducted before the March 2 announcement of her hospitalization for shingles. Another 39% disapprove, up 1 percentage point. 
  • But while her overall approval rating has hardly moved, there has been some souring on Feinstein among California’s older voters. The share of California voters ages 45 and above who disapprove of her job performance has increased 5 points since March 2 (44% to 49%) and 16 points among voters 65 years old and up (45% to 61%).
  • The dip in Feinstein’s support among older voters has been offset by gains among younger voters. Feinstein’s approval rating among voters under age 45 has increased 5 points (45% to 50%) since March. 
  • The percentage of Democratic voters who approve of Feinstein’s job performance has also fallen 4 points since before her hospitalization, driven by a 10-point decline among Democrats 45 and older.

Feinstein’s absence highlights age debate in Congress

Feinstein’s weakening approval among some California voters comes amid an awkward debate among Democrats about age. The party is looking to re-nominate an octogenarian for the presidency and has a razor-thin majority in the Senate, where Feinstein’s absence has stalled confirmation of some of President Joe Biden’s judicial picks. 

Feinstein, who’s already announced she will not seek re-election, has provided no timeline for her return. Over the weekend, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said Democrats “need her” and called it a challenge “to do our business” without her presence in Washington.

Along with her illness, there has been reporting of hushed concerns about Feinstein’s mental health, which she previously defended herself from. A number of lawmakers have called for her resignation, with Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) saying “it is obvious she can no longer fulfill her duties” in the Senate. Others meanwhile have defended Feinstein, with Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) saying: “I’ve never seen them go after a man who was sick in the Senate in that way.”

Feinstein is the oldest senator, three months older than the 89-year-old Iowa Republican Chuck Grassley. Their prominence alongside 80-year-old Biden has highlighted the advanced age of some of America’s most powerful political figures, something that national surveys show does weigh on many Americans. 

Nationwide, 3 in 4 Americans believe there should be a maximum age requirement in which someone who is older than a certain age can no longer serve in Congress, according to a Morning Consult/Insider survey conducted in September. A similar share (78%) said the current age of political leaders is a problem.

The latest Morning Consult survey was conducted April 21-30, 2023, among a representative sample of 2,094 registered voters in California, with an unweighted margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points. 

A headshot photograph of Eli Yokley
Eli Yokley
U.S. Politics Analyst

Eli Yokley is Morning Consult’s U.S. politics analyst. Eli joined Morning Consult in 2016 from Roll Call, where he reported on House and Senate campaigns after five years of covering state-level politics in the Show Me State while studying at the University of Missouri in Columbia, including contributions to The New York Times, Politico and The Daily Beast. Follow him on Twitter @eyokley. Interested in connecting with Eli to discuss his analysis or for a media engagement or speaking opportunity? Email [email protected].

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