Public Policy Polling’s new poll on the Iowa governor’s race has a lot of bad news for Democratic incumbent Chet Culver. The poll was in the field from May 25 to 27 and surveyed 1,277 Iowa voters, producing a margin of error of plus or minus 2.7 percent.
Former Governor Terry Branstad, the likely Republican nominee, leads Culver 52 percent to 37 percent. Bob Vander Plaats and Rod Roberts lead the governor by smaller margins, 43-38 and 40-38, respectively, but it’s bad for an incumbent to be below 40 percent against all challengers. Only 28 percent of PPP’s respondents approved of Culver’s performance, while 56 percent disapproved.
I don’t have much to add to PPP director Tom Jensen’s comments:
[Branstad] has a 49-33 advantage among independent voters, and wins 20% of the Democratic vote while losing only 7% of the Republicans to Culver. Branstad’s not overwhelmingly popular, with 42% of voters viewing him favorably to 37% with a negative opinion. But more important than the way voters view Branstad may be the way they see Culver, and the current Governor’s approval rating is only 28% with 56% of voters giving him bad marks. His approval with independents is 22% and with Republicans it’s 4%, and even among Democrats he stands only at 56%. […]
It’s a long way until November but for now Republicans are in pretty good shape in this race. Culver can’t get reelected with these approval numbers- he will somehow have to make voters change their minds about him.
To my knowledge, 28 percent is the lowest approval rating ever recorded for Culver by any pollster. Incumbents below 50 percent approval are usually considered vulnerable, and incumbents below 40 percent are highly vulnerable. If Culver’s approval really is 28 percent, calling this election an uphill battle would be an understatement.
Branstad needs to make this race a referendum on the incumbent, while Culver needs to make it a choice. Branstad’s record has yet to come under much scrutiny, and he keeps throwing stones from his glass house. Under Culver and the Democratic-controlled legislature, Iowa’s fiscal health has been strong during difficult times for state budgets across the country. In contrast, “Mastercard Governor” Branstad kept two sets of books and borrowed money to pay bills.
PPP’s numbers on the Branstad-Culver matchup are similar to what Republican pollster Rasmussen found a month earlier (though Culver’s approval rating wasn’t nearly as dismal in the Rasmussen poll). So much for the conspiracy theory about PPP being in cahoots with Iowa Democrats. Unfortunately, the recent Research 2000 poll for KCCI showing Branstad ahead of Culver 48-41, with Culver’s favorability in the mid-40s, looks like an outlier.
I keep waiting for the new Selzer and Co. Iowa poll for the Des Moines Register. The last one was in January, and most years Selzer conducts an Iowa poll in May.
Any comments about the governor’s race are welcome in this thread.
Final note on polling: the Cedar Rapids Gazette’s Todd Dorman fired up the wayback machine and discovered that in the 2002 Republican primary, Vander Plaats significantly outperformed his final poll numbers. He’ll need some GOTV magic to overcome the 46-31 lead PPP found for Branstad in the latest survey. I doubt the one-two punch of James Dobson and Chuck Norris can get the job done for Vander Plaats.