New Iowa poll has mixed news for Culver, Branstad

The Sunday Des Moines Register published results from its latest Iowa poll. Selzer and Associates surveyed 803 Iowans between September 14 and 16 (click here and scroll down to read the questionnaire).

50 percent of respondents approve of Governor Chet Culver’s performance, while 39 percent disapprove. The last Iowa poll for the Register, published in April, found Culver’s approval rating at 55 percent. Culver’s re-elect number continues to drop, which is a bit worrying. In this poll, only 28 percent of respondents said they would definitely vote to re-elect Culver, while 27 percent would consider an alternative and 21 percent would definitely vote for an alternative.

On the other hand, Culver’s approval numbers are still net positive, which isn’t bad given the state of the economy. The right direction/wrong track numbers in this poll are 48/41.

Survey USA has had Culver in net negative territory for most of the year, but it looks to me like that pollster has some kind of negative house effect. The only public polls showing Culver below 50 percent approval this year have been by Survey USA. The Register poll’s approval numbers for Senators Chuck Grassley and Tom Harkin are also more than 10 points above Survey USA’s comparable numbers.

The Register’s new poll may encourage former Governor Terry Branstad to take the plunge, as it shows 70 percent of respondents approve of the job he did as governor. Branstad’s favorability rating is 59 percent, a bit higher than Culver’s 55 percent. Political columnist Kathie Obradovich suggested that these numbers should “incinerate” any doubts Branstad might have about getting back into politics.

I see the results somewhat differently. Today’s numbers are probably Branstad’s high water mark, since no one has campaigned against him for 15 years. Once he becomes a candidate, his real record, as opposed to the Draft Branstad PAC’s version, will get more scrutiny. Yet even today’s poll indicates that just 48 percent of all respondents think it would be a good idea for Branstad to run for governor again (36 percent thought it would be a bad idea).

Among Republicans, 60 percent thought Branstad should run. However, 26 percent of Republicans thought that would be a bad idea. Again, that’s before anyone seriously campaigns against him. I assume Branstad would win a GOP primary by a healthy margin, but he will have to fight for it, and a significant proportion of Republicans won’t welcome his return. Will he be able to count on disappointed party members to vote for him, or activists to volunteer for him next November? He’ll need help to overcome Iowa Democrats’ voter registration advantage, which Branstad never faced in any of his previous elections.

If I were Branstad, the most worrying sign in the Register’s poll would be something else Obradovich mentioned in her column on Sunday:

The former governor’s biggest problem comes from seniors, who are usually dependable voters. Among the 65-and-older set, nearly half think it’s a bad idea for Branstad to run again. Only about three in 10 said it’s a good idea.

It’s telling that Iowans who were adults during the entirety of Branstad’s tenure as governor, and are old enough to remember his predecessor Bob Ray, are the least likely to want Branstad back in politics. In contrast, various polls have indicated that Culver’s support is higher among over-50 Iowans than in the population as a whole. (I didn’t see the age breakdown for Culver’s numbers in this poll.)

Doubts about Branstad are likely to grow when the inevitable negative commercials hit the airwaves, focusing on the Mastercard governor’s two sets of books or his failure to deliver on some key promises made to Republicans.

No wonder longtime political observers like Des Moines Register columnist Marc Hansen and Civic Skinny’s unnamed source think it would be a mistake for Branstad to run for governor again.

Share any relevant thoughts in this thread.

  • Obradovich is wrong, wrong, wrong

    Incinerate Branstad’s doubts? I don’t see how this does anything but increase his doubts.

    First, I don’t understand the big gap between Branstad’s approval ratings as governor and his favorabilty now. Why, if 70% approved of his job as governor, do only 59% approve of him now? What’s going on with that other 11%?

    Second, his good idea/bad idea numbers aren’t very encouraging. The 60% “good idea” numbers among Republicans is encouraging, but the 48% “good idea” numbers among the general public is troubling. There’s an 11% gap between those who approve of him now and those who think him running again is a good idea.

    Is it possible he suffers from John McCain syndrome? Too many people “respect the man” but say he’s “too old to do the job”?

    I’m also very wary of Obradovich’s analysis. She has to be praying every night for Branstad to run. The governors’ race would instantly become a toss-up. It would be on the national media’s radar screen. She, as Yepsen’s heir, might get to go on CNN and MSNBC and get interviewed by the New York Times. The Reg would sell a lot more papers and on and on and on.

    Hansen and Civic Skinny, I think, have a lot less to gain from a Branstad candidacy, so I think their wariness of the “Run, Terry, Run” bandwagon is a little more sincere.

    On Civic Skinny, though, I don’t think the prospects for Branstad post-candidacy or post-governorship are quite so bleak. Branstad is a very youthful 62, for starters. Even if he doesn’t win, I think there are a number of colleges or large corporations that would love to have him onboard (and pay him handsomely for it). He could make a run at the House, particularly in a re-districted 3rd–racking up huge margins in the the suburbs and rural parts of the district. So, running or not, win or lose, I don’t think this is the last we’ll hear of Terry Branstad.

    • I don't think Branstad has any interest in Congress

      or else he would have taken a crack at IA-03 years ago.

      I agree with your other points, but generally speaking, Bob Ray was much more sought-after as an ex-governor than Branstad was. I don’t think corporations were lining up to bring Branstad on board.

      The relationship between approval and favorability ratings can vary for different politicians. Bill Clinton often had higher approval ratings for the job he was doing as president than favorability ratings. I believe Obama’s favorability is usually higher than his approval rating. Like you, I was surprised to see that Branstad had only a 59 percent favorability given that 70 percent said they approved of the job he did. Maybe some of those 70 percent just look back fondly on the 1990s and don’t like Branstad much.

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