Governor Chet Culver has gone through a couple of very tough months, with the film tax credit scandal breaking in September and low revenue projections prompting a 10 percent across-the-board budget cut in October. Selzer and Co. polled Iowans for the Des Moines Register last week, and Culver's numbers are at an all-time low. He's at 40 percent approve/49 percent disapprove (Selzer's last poll in September pegged his approval at 50 percent). The right direction/wrong track numbers are 34/57, the worst they've been in ten years.
Culver loses a hypothetical matchup with former Governor Terry Branstad 57 percent to 33 percent, and he loses a hypothetical matchup with Bob Vander Plaats 45 percent to 37 percent. Against Chris Rants and Christian Fong, Culver can't break 50 percent. He's ahead of Rants 42-35 and ahead of Fong 42-34.
The last governor to score as low was Branstad. In February 1992, as he grappled with that year's recession and budget crisis, only 37 percent of Iowans approved of his performance.
The economy was in much better shape by the time Branstad had to face voters in 1994. Culver's only got a year to turn things around. There's no guarantee unemployment will be falling by then, especially if President Obama decides to act like Herbert Hoover during the next year. Iowa's unemployment rate, though low by nationwide standards, is the highest it's been since the mid-1980s.
The only good thing I can say about this poll is that it may convince conservative Republicans that Vander Plaats can win the general election. During the summer, Branstad looked like a hail-mary pass for the GOP.
UPDATE: I forgot to mention that Research 2000 found much better numbers for Culver a month ago. Either the budget situation has caused his approval to nosedive in the past month, or one of these polls is an outlier. Unfortunately, I wouldn't bet on a Selzer poll being an outlier in Iowa.
Rasmussen's Iowa poll from September found numbers similar to what Selzer found last week.
SECOND UPDATE: I agree with Tom Beaumont of the Des Moines Register:
Culver has kept up an optimistic tone, predicting Iowa will emerge from the recession in better economic health than most states. Several key statistics show Iowa's overall economy and its state government have weathered the tough times better than other states. A report issued last week by the Pew Center on the States ranked Iowa as tied for second among states in terms of fiscal health.
But that message isn't registering with Iowans.
That Pew report gave Iowa good marks for money-management practices, and put Iowa in the group of states "least like California" in terms of budget problems, but I don't know how Culver can get that message across. Republicans have simple talking points: budget problems = Culver incompetence.