A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Senators Missing Votes

Q: Did Barack Obama and John Kerry miss 60 percent to 70 percent of their Senate votes while running for president, as Marco Rubio claimed?
A: Yes. Obama missed more than 64 percent of votes in 2008, and Kerry missed even more — nearly 90 percent — in 2004.



Rubio claimed last night that Obama & Kerry missed 60 to 70 percent of their Senate votes when they ran for president. What are the facts?


Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida has missed nearly 34 percent of the U.S. Senate votes in 2015, partly due to campaigning for the Republican nomination for president.

Some of his constituents are not happy about it.

Southern Florida’s Sun-Sentinel, which endorsed Rubio for the U.S. Senate in 2010, published an editorial on Oct. 27 with the headline “Marco Rubio should resign, not rip us off.”

Sun-Sentinel, Oct. 27: You are paid $174,000 per year to represent us, to fight for us, to solve our problems. Plus you take a $10,000 federal subsidy — declined by some in the Senate — to participate in one of the Obamacare health plans, though you are a big critic of Obamacare.

You are ripping us off, senator.

During CNBC’s Republican debate on Oct. 28, moderator Carl Quintanilla asked Rubio about the newspaper’s criticism. Rubio said that the editorial was “evidence of the bias that exists in the American media today,” and noted that the paper had previously endorsed two Democrats, Secretary of State John Kerry and President Barack Obama, who both ran for president while serving in the U.S. Senate and missed even more votes than Rubio has.

Quintanilla, Oct. 28: So when the Sun-Sentinel says Rubio should resign, not rip us off, when they say Floridians sent you to Washington to do a job, when they say you act like you hate your job, do you?

Rubio: Let me say, I read that editorial today with a great amusement. It’s actually evidence of the bias that exists in the American media today.

Quintanilla: Well, do you hate your job?

Rubio: Let me — let me answer your question on the Sun-Sentinel editorial today. Back in 2004, one of my predecessors to the Senate by the name of Bob Graham, a Democrat, ran for president missing over 30 percent of his votes. I don’t recall them calling for his resignation —

Quintanilla: Is that the standard?

Rubio: Later that year, in 2004, John Kerry ran for president missing close to 60 to 70 percent of his votes. I don’t recall the Sun — in fact, the Sun-Sentinel endorsed him. In 2008, Barack Obama missed 60 or 70 percent of his votes, and the same newspaper endorsed him again. So this is another example of the double standard that exists in this country between the mainstream media and the conservative movement.

A few readers have asked us if Rubio was right about the percentage of votes missed by Obama and Kerry. In short, yes, he was.

While campaigning for the Democratic nomination in 2008, then-Sen. Obama of Illinois missed 64.3 percent of votes in calendar year 2008, according to the website GovTrack.us, which tracks missed votes by members of Congress.

Obama, who announced he was running for president in February 2007, missed 37.6 percent of votes that year. So, over the nearly two years that Obama was a candidate for president, he missed 46.3 percent of votes in the Senate.

And he still got the Sun-Sentinel‘s endorsement in 2008, as Rubio said.

In comparison, Sen. John McCain, who was the Republican nominee for president in 2008, missed 80.5 percent of votes that year, and 55.9 percent of votes the year before that.

John Kerry, who was the Democratic nominee for president in 2004, missed 89.8 percent of the votes that year, while he was still a U.S. senator for Massachusetts. Kerry also missed 64.1 percent of votes in 2003, but he didn’t formally announce he was seeking the Democratic nomination until September of that year.

The Sun-Sentinel still endorsed Kerry over President George W. Bush.

Rubio also mentioned Bob Graham, a former U.S. senator for Florida, who briefly ran for the Democratic nomination for president in the 2004 cycle.

Graham was officially a candidate from May 2003 until October 2003, when he dropped out of the race. He missed 32.5 percent of the Senate votes that year.

But while the Sun-Sentinel may not have complained about Graham missing votes — as far as we could find — other newspapers certainly have been critical of Republican and Democratic senators for missing votes while pursuing the White House, as the Washington Post‘s Philip Bump pointed out on Oct. 30.

Rubio, at 33.7 percent, has missed the most votes this year of the five senators currently seeking the presidency. And Sen. Bernie Sanders, at 3.4 percent, has missed the fewest.

In between them are Sens. Lindsey Graham, Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, who as of Oct. 31 have missed 26.9 percent, 23.8 percent and 4.8 percent, respectively.

We should point out that Rubio gave the percentage of missed floor votes by Kerry and Obama in election years (2004 and 2008, respectively). Those figures — “60 to 70 percent,” as Rubio said — cannot be compared with the percentage of votes missed in an off-election year.

In order to make an apples-to-apples comparison, we calculated the percentage of missed votes through the first nine months of the year before the general election year for the senators currently running for president and those who won their parties’ nominations in 2004 and 2008.

Below is a chart showing those percentages. By this measure, Rubio missed a higher percentage of votes than Obama, but not higher than Kerry.



South Florida Sun-Sentinel. “Marco Rubio should resign, not rip us off.” 27 Oct 2015.

South Florida Sun-Sentinel. “Elect Marco Rubio to the U.S. Senate.” 17 Oct 2010.

South Florida Sun-Sentinel. “Choose Kerry.” 17 Oct 2004.

South Florida Sun-Sentinel. “Make it President Barrack Obama.” 26 Oct 2008.

Bump, Philip. “The problem with Marco Rubio’s defense of his missed votes.” Washington Post. 30 Oct 2015.

Sen. Marco Rubio. GovTrack.us. Accessed 2 Nov 2015.

President Barack Obama. GovTrack.us. Accessed 2 Nov 2015.

Sen. John Kerry. GovTrack.us. Accessed 2 Nov 2015.

Sen. Bob Graham. GovTrack.us. Accessed 2 Nov 2015.

Sen. John McCain. GovTrack.us. Accessed 2 Nov 2015.

Sen. Lindsey Graham. GovTrack.us. Accessed 2 Nov 2015.

Sen. Ted Cruz. GovTrack.us. Accessed 2 Nov 2015.

Sen. Rand Paul. GovTrack.us. Accessed 2 Nov 2015.

Sen. Bernie Sanders. GovTrack.us. Accessed 2 Nov 2015.