A new poll released Tuesday shows support among Arizonans for Sen. John McCain has dropped to its lowest level in 21 years, and the number of people questioned about his job performance who rated it as "poor" is the highest ever.
In addition, 67 percent of the 700 heads of household surveyed in a telephone poll this month believe it is time for a new senator.
The drop in public support for McCain has been ongoing since 2006, when he had a 63 percent favorable rating, said Earl de Berge, polling director for the Phoenix-based Behavioral Research Institute. The new poll shows just 26 percent of respondents gave McCain an excellent or good job rating, while 36 percent said he was doing a poor or very poor job.
"I think that one of the patterns that we've seen is that slowly but surely his popularity with Democrats has waned, and then with independents, and now it has waned with Republicans," de Berge said. "When you get that dynamic in all three of the major parties, that begins to have an effect that's kind of hard to reverse."
"Senator McCain doesn't pay much attention to polls -- whether they're up or down," McCain spokesman Brian Rogers said in an email.
McCain, a Republican, has been in Congress since 1983 and a senator since 1987, when he won the seat held by legendary Sen. Barry Goldwater, who was retiring. He was defeated for president by Barack Obama in 2008 and has since focused on issues like immigration, defense and diplomacy.
The Rocky Mountain Poll conducted between April 3 and April 23 has a sampling error of plus or minus 3.8 percentage points.
There are several reasons McCain's standing may be slipping in his home state, de Berge said. One is his focus on national and international issues instead of Arizona-specific issues. Another is his changed views on overhauling the nation's immigration laws, which moved from supporting the overhaul, to opposition during his 2010 re-election campaign, to being a member of the Gang of Eight negotiating a new immigration overhaul this year.
He's also likely been hurt by his professed pleasure at being a maverick willing to buck his party.
"I think the one thing that's pretty clear is when you position yourself as maverick on issues, you may also pay the price for that over time," de Berge said. "Each little constituency has a particular issue that's its concerned with, and he's been proud of his record of taking on the party on some issues, and over time, little by little, that whittles down that base of loyalty."
However, for those politicians pondering a challenge to McCain when's he up for re-election in 2016, de Berge urged caution.
"He is one tough campaigner," he said. "He's shown a lot of people that he can come back from significant difficulties."
A lot depends on whether McCain gets a significant opponent during his re-election effort.
"But right now it's clear that he's not in the best odor with voters that I'm certain he hopes for. And if he's going to make another run for it, he's going to have to probably pay more attention to what's going on in Arizona than what's going on in D.C.," de Berge said.
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