There have been rumblings that Bernie Sanders might draw a serious challenge next year from State Auditor and ex-Democrat Tom Salmon but our newest Vermont poll finds that Sanders is one of the most popular Senators in the country and wouldn't be vulnerable no matter who Republicans put up against him.
Sanders' approval rating is 67% with only 28% of voters disapproving of him. That +39 spread ranks him third in popularity out of 85 sitting Senators PPP has polled on, behind only Hawaii's Daniel Inouye (+46 at 69/23) and Wyoming's John Barrasso (+44 at 69/25). Sanders enjoys near universal popularity with Democrats (93/5), is extremely well liked by independents (68/25), and even has an unusually high level of crossover popularity with Republicans. 25% of them approve of him to 69% disapproving.
Salmon has been the most discussed potential challenger to Sanders next year. He is not terribly well known, with 47% of voters saying they don't know enough about him to have an opinion. He is viewed favorably among those who are familiar with him by a 30/23 margin. In a head to head he trails Sanders by 34 points at 62/28, facing a 41 point deficit with independents and losing 14% of the Republican vote while picking up only 5% of Democrats.
There are other Republicans who would come closer than Salmon, although none of them make it competitive. Former Governor Jim Douglas is very popular, with 56% of voters rating him favorably to 29% with a negative opinion. But he still trails Sanders by 18 points at 56-38. Last year's losing Republican nominee for Governor, Brian Dubie, is also pretty well liked at a 48/33 favorability spread. He nevertheless trails Sanders by 26 points at 60-34. And Lieutenant Governor Phil Scott, although a blank slate to 55% of voters, has an outstanding 33/12 breakdown with those who do have an opinion about him. He nevertheless finds himself down by 31 points at 61-30.
We also polled a trio of lesser known potential candidates- Mark Snelling, Randy Brock, and Thom Lauzon- whose name recognition falls into the 23-35% range. They all trail by even wider margins than Salmon- Brock and Snelling are each down 37 points and Lauzon's deficit is 39.
Bottom line: Bernie Sanders has nothing to worry about. There is a broader takeaway though- Vermont loves its politicians. There aren't a lot of states where 5 potential Senate challengers would all have positive favorability ratings yet still get trounced in head to heads because the incumbent is so transcendently popular. We've seen similar things in states like Wyoming and Delaware- smaller states just tend to be a lot more kind to their politicians than the bigger ones.
Full results here