Register poll finds Branstad favorability above 50 percent

Governor Terry Branstad’s approval ratings were mediocre during the first year of his fifth term, but the latest Des Moines Register poll by Selzer and Co found that 56 percent of Iowa respondents approve of the job Branstad is doing, while 58 percent have a favorable impression of the governor.

The Des Moines Register has been releasing its latest Iowa poll in bits and pieces since Selzer and Co surveyed 800 Iowa adults between February 12 and 15. Monday’s newspaper covered the findings on Branstad’s approval. About 56 percent approved of "the way Branstad is handling his job," while just 36 percent disapproved and 12 percent were not sure.

The latest Selzer poll also included a question about favorable impressions, as opposed to job approval (“I’m going to mention some major political figures. For each, please tell me if your feelings are very favorable, mostly favorable, mostly unfavorable, or very unfavorable”).  About 58 percent of respondents had favorable “feelings” about Branstad (16 percent said “very favorable,” 42 percent said “mostly favorable”). Just 33 percent had unfavorable feelings about the governor (15 percent “very unfavorable,” 18 percent “mostly unfavorable”). About 9 percent said they were unsure.

To my knowledge, no previous public poll has found Branstad’s approval above 50 percent since he was elected to a fifth term. A February 2011 poll by Selzer for the Des Moines Register found that 45 percent of Iowans approved of the job Branstad was doing, 35 percent disapproved and the others were unsure.

If Selzer or some other pollster were measuring Branstad’s approval more frequently, we’d have a better idea of when his standing started to rise. Unfortunately, shrinking news budgets have prompted media organizations to commission fewer polls in recent years. Survey USA polled Governor Chet Culver’s approval ratings every month for more than two and a half years but stopped in the fall of 2009. Research 2000 used to conduct occasional Iowa polls for Des Moines-based KCCI-TV, but that ended after statistical analysis called that firm’s results into question.

Public Policy Polling conducted several Iowa polls in 2011. In January, just before Branstad’s inauguration, PPP found 40 percent of Iowa respondents had a favorable impression of Branstad, while 44 percent had an unfavorable impression. By June 2011, PPP found Branstad in even more negative territory with 39 percent approval and 47 percent disapproval. An August 2011 PPP poll found Branstad in slightly better shape with 41 percent approval and 44 percent disapproval. Finally, an October 2011 PPP survey found that 43 percent of Iowans approved of Branstad’s performance, while 43 percent disapproved.

The latest Des Moines Register poll asked about U.S. Senators Chuck Grassley and Tom Harkin, as well as Iowa Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal. As usual, Grassley was the most popular politician, but he wasn’t far ahead of Branstad at 60 percent approval of job performance and 28 percent disapproval. Grassley’s favorability numbers were 18 percent very favorable, 43 percent mostly favorable, 17 percent mostly unfavorable and 9 percent very unfavorable.

Harkin’s numbers were somewhat lower but still in net positive territory: 52 percent approve/33 percent disapprove of the job he’s doing, 15 percent very favorable feelings, 38 percent mostly favorable, 16 percent mostly unfavorable, and 14 percent very unfavorable.

More than half the respondents (53 percent) were unsure of their opinion about Gronstal. The rest were divided: 7 percent very favorable, 17 percent mostly favorable, 12 percent mostly unfavorable, and 11 percent very unfavorable.

About 46 percent of respondents were not sure whether they approve of the way Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds is handling her job. 39 percent said they approve of her work, while just 15 percent disapprove. For the record, I still believe Branstad will seek a sixth term as governor and is not planning to pass the baton to Reynolds.

Branstad used part of his weekly press conference today to lobby fellow Republicans in control of the Iowa House to increase funding for the three state universities. The Iowa House version of education reform is missing some major components of the governor’s reform package. The Iowa House Republican approach to cutting commercial property taxes also differs from the governor’s plan, and House Republicans left the governor’s requested economic development incentive money out of their initial budget bills.

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