|Selzer & Co interviewed 802 Iowans at least 18 years old between February 3 and 6 for the latest poll, which has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percent for the full sample.
The Register poll tested the approval ratings of these statewide politicians:
Governor Terry Branstad: 56 percent approve, 33 percent disapprove, 11 percent not sure. I find these numbers more believable than Public Policy Polling's latest poll, which put Branstad below 50 percent. Looking ahead to the 2014 governor's race, perhaps the best news for Branstad is that in the Register poll, 58 percent of respondents said things in Iowa are moving in the right direction. Only 28 percent said things are off on the wrong track here. In contrast, just 37 percent think things in the whole country are moving in the right direction; 51 percent said "wrong track" to that question.
Senator Tom Harkin: 55 percent approve, 28 percent disapprove, 17 percent not sure.
Senator Chuck Grassley: 62 percent approve, 22 percent disapprove, 16 percent not sure. Grassley typically has the highest approval rating of Iowa politicians.
Secretary of State Matt Schultz: 38 percent approve, 13 percent disapprove, 49 percent not sure. I'm surprised that many people do have an opinion about Schultz.
President Barack Obama's approval rating in this poll was just 49 percent, with 46 percent disapproving and 5 percent not sure. He polled better with the Iowa respondents on foreign relations than he did on the economy, the budget deficit, or managing relations with Congress.
Regarding policies state lawmakers are considering this year, Iowans are not convinced that commercial property tax cuts should be a priority.
Regarding possible cuts to commercial property taxes, a quarter of Iowans say the governor's plan to reduce the amount property owners pay by 20 percent is the right step, but believe a bigger cut could threaten the state budget. Another 24 percent call the tax cut a step in the right direction, but believe it doesn't go far enough.
Taken together, those figures suggest 49 percent - just short of a majority - support the concept of a tax break for the owners of commercial and industrial properties. [...]
Other Capitol players, though, noted a large slice of poll respondents - 41 percent - say commercial property taxes should not be cut at all.
Senate Majority Leader Michael Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, suggested that opposition stems from a concern that reducing commercial property taxes will force an increase in residential taxes - something he says the Senate plan is specifically crafted to avoid.
"They understand if it's as simple as cutting commercial property taxes, they're probably going to end up picking up the tab," Gronstal said of those who oppose the reduction. [...]
Seventy-one percent of Iowans support reducing taxes on low-income earners, a result that appears to bolster calls from Democrats for expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit. Lawmakers twice approved such an expansion in 2011, but saw the bill vetoed each time by Branstad.
About 63 percent of respondents oppose raising the gas tax "by around 10 cents a gallon to pay for road and bridge repairs." Just 35 percent said they favor the gas tax hike. This is one battle the Iowa Farm Bureau and Iowa State Association of Counties will continue to lose at the statehouse, in my opinion.
A plurality of Iowans support using the state's budget surplus to improve K-12 education, according to the Register poll. About 45 percent of respondents support using the surplus to "devote more money to education reform for kindergarten through high school." Just 22 percent support giving "state taxpayers an income tax credit of around $375 per adult" (the plan Iowa House and Senate Republicans have been pushing). Another 20 percent favored using the surplus to expand Medicaid; the question wording's a bit suspect there, because expanding Medicaid wouldn't cost Iowa anything the first year, and would in fact save the state money by ending the IowaCare program. Just 7 percent of respondents said the state's surplus should be used for cutting commercial property taxes.
Regarding specific education reform proposals,
Four of six initiatives pushed by the governor - higher pay for beginning teachers, financial incentives for teacher leaders, tuition reimbursement for prospective teachers and revamped educator evaluations - receive support from 50 percent or more of Iowans. Iowans think those reforms would make a "major difference" in raising the quality of education in the state's schools.
Two of the initiatives receiving majority support, involving higher pay for beginners and teacher mentors, have the highest price tags of the proposed reforms.
A majority say two other proposals would make at least a minor difference - to expand online education and to pay for college- and career-readiness testing.
The Register's poll found less support for expanding Medicaid than a different recent poll commissioned by supporters of the policy.
In the Iowa Poll, 47 percent of Iowans say the state should expand its Medicaid program, and 46 percent say it shouldn't. Seven percent are unsure. The poll reflects the highly partisan flavor of the debate. Support for the expansion is 80 percent among Democrats, 44 percent among independents and 16 percent among Republicans. Fifty-two percent of women support the expansion, compared with 42 percent of men. [...]
Numerous health care and social welfare groups also are campaigning for Branstad to change his mind on the issue. One of them, the American Cancer Society, commissioned a poll that found Iowa voters supported the Medicaid expansion by 57 percent to 27 percent. That poll, which was done by two independent firms, did not note Branstad's concerns about the state's ability to afford the costs.
The Register's wrong on that last point; the other poll did mention Branstad's concerns about the cost but found the argument unpersuasive.
Although Iowans support certain gun control measures, according to this poll, Republicans who run the U.S. House and Iowa House won't care.
• An overwhelming majority of Iowans (88 percent) favor background checks for all gun sales, including those at gun shows and by private sellers.
• Sixty percent of Iowans support a ban on firearms commonly called assault weapons.
• Nearly the same number - 59 percent - favor limiting the size of ammunition clips to 10 rounds.
In general, women favor tightening gun laws at a greater rate than men, and city residents more than rural residents. For example, 74 percent of Iowa women support a ban on assault weapons, but only 47 percent of men do. Sixty-four percent of Iowans who say they live in cities favor a ban, but only 49 percent of Iowans who say they live in rural areas do.
In rural areas, there's a pronounced split in how men and women view a possible ban: 71 percent of rural women favor it; 30 percent of men do. [...]
While Iowans support changes to federal laws, they show less zeal for sweeping overhauls of state code. Fifty-three percent say gun laws are "about right the way they are," the poll shows.
A third of Iowans support more restrictive gun laws, up 7 percentage points from a year ago, but not a dramatic swing in the wake of recent mass shootings. [...]
Nearly three-quarters of Iowans believe that lack of available treatment for those with mental illness is a major factor in gun violence.
And more than a fourth of Iowans rank mental health issues as the single biggest reason for gun violence, nearly doubling any other factor offered in the poll.