A new poll shows a sharp decline in the approval ratings of both Alaska Democratic Sen. Mark Begich and Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski over the last couple of months, according to a telephone survey of more than 1,000 Alaskans. At the same time, the Public Policy Polling (PPP) numbers attempt to link the drop to each senator's recent vote against expanding background checks for firearm buyers to include purchases made at gun shows and online.
The poll, which asked 1,166 Alaskans on April 25 and 26 their take on whether or not they approved or disapproved of Begich and Murkowski's performances, also surveyed Alaskans on whether or not they would support the expanded background checks. On April 17, the Senate opted not to adopt the Manchin-Toomey amendment, which would have led to those more extensive checks. Both Alaska senators voted against the measure, which failed 54-46.
According to PPP, 60 percent of Alaskans support the expanded checks, with 35 percent opposed and 5 percent unsure. The respondent pool was reported as 25 percent Democrat, 30 percent Republican, and 45 percent independent or other affiliation.
Murkowski's approval numbers came in as 46 percent approving of her performance and 41 percent disapproving. The remaining 13 percent reported that they weren't sure. PPP had last measured approval ratings in February, and reported that Murkowski was then "one of the most popular senators in the country with a 54 percent approval rating."
For Begich, the numbers were similar: in February, 49 percent of Alaskans approved of the job he was doing in Washington, while the recent numbers have dropped him to 41 percent. The number of voters who disapproved of his performance went up by 2 percent, from 37 to 39 percent.
Thirty-nine percent of respondents said that they would be less likely to vote for either Murkowski or Begich in the wake of their recent vote against expanding background checks. Twenty-two percent said they would be more likely to cast a ballot for Begich after his vote, with 26 percent reporting the same for Murkowski.
Murkowski spokesman Matt Felling downplayed the connection between Murkowski's vote and the new approval numbers in an email on Monday. "We believe it to be poor analysis to overinterpret any pair of numbers into a 'cause and effect,' particularly when they are at odds with the enormous balance of feedback we received from Alaskans on this bill," Felling said.
In an email from Begich sent to a constituent who had written the senator to express their disappointment with his vote on the Manchin-Toomey amendment, Begich said:
"I voted against this amendment because of the concerns I heard from many Alaskans. While some, like you, supported the amendment, the vast majority of Alaskans who contacted me voiced strong opposition."
A Begich spokesperson supported that statement on Monday:
"Leading up to the Senate vote, the vast majority of Alaskans who contacted our office were asking Senator Begich to protect Alaskans' Second Amendment rights. Hearing their concerns and staying consistent with his long-held position, Senator Begich told Alaskans from the start that while there are things we can do to keep our communities safe, he would not undermine Alaskans' fundamental rights in the process."
Contact Ben Anderson at ben(at)alaskadispatch.com