IA-Gov: No joy for Culver in new Register poll (updated)

The Des Moines Register’s new Iowa poll shows Republican Terry Branstad leading Governor Chet Culver by 52 percent to 33 percent among likely voters. Selzer and Co surveyed 803 Iowa adults, of whom 550 were classified as likely Iowa voters, between September 19 and 22. The margin of error is plus or minus 4.2 percent.

I expected Branstad’s numbers to drop somewhat following the Republican primary, but his margin over Culver is almost exactly the same as the Register found the last time it polled this matchup in February. At that time Branstad led Culver 53-33, and Culver’s approval rating was 36 percent.

The new Selzer poll has no good news for Culver. His approval rating is 35 percent. Not only is Branstad polling above 50 percent, he leads “with voters from communities of all sizes, in all congressional districts and from all age groups and income levels.” No-party voters support Branstad by a 46 percent to 27 percent margin.

Culver’s campaign issued this statement on September 25:

“We believe that this poll serves as wake up call to Iowa voters,” said Governor Culver’s campaign manager, Donn Stanley. “When all is said and done, we believe that Iowans will ultimately choose Chet Culver, a leader who stands for Iowa values.

“The fact is,” Stanley continued, “all one has to do is look back as recently as Tom Vilsack’s race against Jim Ross Lightfoot in 1998 to see that this poll is not a harbinger of things to come. At this point in the race, Tom Vilsack was down a full 20 points in the Iowa Poll. I’m sure Governor Lightfoot would be happy to tell you the degree to which the Iowa Poll predicts the outcome of the race.”

That’s true, but Vilsack was not an incumbent with low approval ratings in a tough economy. Only 59 percent of likely voters said their minds were “firmly made up,” but I don’t know how Culver can convince the other 41 percent to give him another chance. It’s not as if no one ever heard of Branstad’s shortcomings:

Overall, 53 percent of likely voters say the candidate they are supporting is someone they can most easily tolerate, while only 36 percent say he is the best person for the job.

I hope the Culver campaign has budgeted well enough to stay up on television from now through election day. I doubt the Democratic Governors Association will spend any more money in Iowa this year.

UPDATE: More findings from the Register’s new poll are after the jump.

Tom Beaumont’s piece in the Sunday Des Moines Register has more on the issue questions asked in the poll. The Republican case against I-JOBS clearly has not resonated with Iowans.

Two-thirds of the Iowa electorate believes that investing in improvements to public infrastructure would attract new business, according to the new Iowa Poll. Similarly, 59 percent say that during difficult times, it is wise to use the state’s borrowing power to make those investments.

These are the philosophical underpinnings of Culver’s $875 million public works program, a measure enacted last year to help the state recover from the 2008 floods, renovate public buildings and rebuild roads and bridges. Tax revenues from the state’s casinos finance the bonds for the program.

Culver’s Republican challenger, Terry Branstad, has railed against I-JOBS, saying it unwisely drains money away from specific road, bridge and other public works projects. […]

A majority of voters agree with Culver’s beliefs that retaining a commitment to stem-cell research will enhance the state’s image in biotechnology and that preschool for all Iowa children will create a better work force. […]

Amy Lang, a certified nursing assistant from Swea City, disagrees with Branstad’s contention that tax cuts generate economic activity and that the state’s tax and regulatory structures are unattractive to business.

Lang, who has two children, agrees with Culver about the benefits of preschool. But the 32-year-old political independent plans to vote for Branstad.

“Culver doesn’t seem to get it. There are people without jobs, and more losing them every day,” Lang said. “Politicians don’t seem to get that there’s no middle class anymore.”

J. Ann Selzer, who conducts the Iowa Poll for The Des Moines Register, said the disconnect between voter feelings toward Culver and his policy assumptions has an element of personality to it.

“You sort of have the Culver case here, but he’s not winning,” Selzer said. “There’s more to being an elected official. It is not just about the agenda or what you’ve accomplished. There is an element to the way you handle the office apart from all that.”

It must be frustrating for Culver to see a person like Lang conclude that Branstad would do more for the middle class. Helping the middle class was never Branstad’s priority during his four terms as governor.

Regarding the disconnect, Kathie Obradovich notes in her column today that despite the broad support for state borrowing to invest in infrastructure, “more than 60 percent of likely voters rate Culver, a Democrat, as being weak on job creation and management of state finances.”

Republicans have been repeating lies about a “billion-dollar budget deficit” for the better part of a year now, and rarely have journalists ever fact-checked that talking point. I’m not surprised that many Iowans believe Culver hasn’t managed state finances well.

The Culver campaign has criticized Branstad for months, but they haven’t convinced enough Iowans that he is an unacceptable alternative. If they had, the Register’s poll would have found greater support for third-party candidates:

If the election for governor were held today and the candidates listed on the ballot were as follows, for whom would you vote? (Candidate names are rotated.)

Terry Branstad for the Republicans, 52 percent

Chet Culver for the Democrats, 33 percent

Jonathan Narcisse for the Iowa Party, 3 percent

Eric Cooper for the Libertarians, 2 percent

David Rosenfeld for the Socialist Workers Party, 1 percent

Gregory James Hughes with no party affiliation, 1 percent

None of these/someone else (volunteered), 2 percent

Not sure, 6 percent

The Libertarian Party’s strategy for future growth depends on Cooper winning at least 2 percent of the vote this November. That would give the Libertarians major-party status in Iowa, making it easier for them to nominate candidates for other races in 2012. If I were Cooper, I would tell conservatives, “Branstad expanded the size of state government and doesn’t need your vote to beat Culver. A vote for me is a vote for lower taxes and smaller government.” A surprisingly strong showing for Cooper would get noticed.

If Narcisse clears the 2 percent threshold, his “Iowa Party” would also gain major-party status for 2012. It would be interesting to see whether outside groups try to step in and take control of the party.

SECOND UPDATE: On September 27 Rasmussen Reports released results from its latest poll of the Iowa governor’s race, conducted on September 23. Branstad led Culver 55 percent to 37 percent, with 4 percent of respondents undecided and 4 percent favoring some other candidate. Rasmussen’s previous Iowa poll had Branstad ahead 52 percent to 36 percent.

  • My thoughts

    The race will be somewhat closer than this poll for sure, that’s obvious.  I don’t think the NRA endorsement will help Culver much which is too bad because even though I do support groups like EMILY’s list most of the time, I do like it when one issue-groups aren’t knee jerk partisans.  Groups like WISH List are fading fast however on the federal level.  

    I don’t think Mr. Narcisse will reach the two percent threshold, but I suspect the Libertarians will with Branstad as the GOP nominee and a small group of teabaggers still mad about how some of the other primaries went down.

    “Iowa Party” certainly is a good name for a party, it doesn’t have any biases or scary connotations attached to it.    Di the Greens get included in debates in places like Johnson County because the only way “Iowa Party” goes anywhere is if they get included in the debates.    

  • My thoughts

    The race will be somewhat closer than this poll for sure, that’s obvious.  I don’t think the NRA endorsement will help Culver much which is too bad because even though I do support groups like EMILY’s list most of the time, I do like it when one issue-groups aren’t knee jerk partisans.  Groups like WISH List are fading fast however on the federal level.  

    I don’t think Mr. Narcisse will reach the two percent threshold, but I suspect the Libertarians will with Branstad as the GOP nominee and a small group of teabaggers still mad about how some of the other primaries went down.

    “Iowa Party” certainly is a good name for a party, it doesn’t have any biases or scary connotations attached to it.    Di the Greens get included in debates in places like Johnson County because the only way “Iowa Party” goes anywhere is if they get included in the debates.    

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