Poll suggests Iowa Supreme Court justices "poised for victory"

The first statewide poll on the 2012 judicial retention elections suggests that the four Iowa Supreme Justices who will be on the ballot this November have good chances of being retained. However, the pollster does not distinguish between support for retaining the justices as a group and support for Justice David Wiggins, whom opponents of same-sex marriage rights are trying to defeat.  

The Justice Not Politics coalition commissioned the poll by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, which surveyed 600 “likely voters” between August 22 and 26. The polling memo is here (pdf). James Q. Lynch reported for the Cedar Rapids Gazette,

The Republican wave in 2010 and “asymmetrical spending” by the opponents of marriage equality created an unusually hostile electorate in 2010, according to Anna Greenberg of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, which conducted the poll Aug. 22-26.

“The environment is quite different today; the Iowa Supreme Court Justices are poised for a victory in November,” Greenberg predicted.

The poll, which has a margin of error of +/- 4 points, found a plurality of voters – 47 percent – now favor retaining the four justices who will be on the ballot this fall. Another 24 percent favor ousting the justices and 25 percent are not sure.

The poll found a “massive” shift in public support for same-sex marriage since the 2010 vote, Greenberg said.

She found 48 percent of Iowans now support the Varnum v. Brien decision and marriage equality. That’s an increase from 37 percent in 2009.

Also, Greenberg found little anger at the Supreme Court as a result of the decision. The court gets a net positive rating – 41 percent favorable, 18 percent unfavorable – and a plurality approve of its job performance.

Cautionary note: this poll appears to have asked respondents how they would vote on all the justices. However, social conservatives plan to focus their campaign against Justice David Wiggins, the only justice up for retention who concurred with the 2009 Varnum v Brien ruling. (Governor Terry Branstad appointed the other three Supreme Court justices on the ballot in early 2011.) Wiggins is almost guaranteed to receive a lower proportion of “yes” votes than Edward Mansfield, Thomas Waterman, and Bruce Zager. Among Iowa Bar Association members, Wiggins has the least support for retention, and the “No on Wiggins” campaign is likely to persuade some Iowans who don’t yet know who he is.

According to the polling memo,

awareness of the retention election is quite low. Only 32 percent know that the Supreme Court Justices will be on the ballot this fall, more think they will not (46 percent). Among the most informed voters, 57 percent would retain the justices.

That suggests that the anti-retention position has lots of room to gain as Iowans who oppose marriage equality become aware of the retention vote. A “No Wiggins” bus tour kicks off on September 24, sponsored by “CitizenLink, the Family Leader, the National Organization for Marriage and CatholicVote.org.” If the 2010 campaign is any indication, so-called “activist judge” Wiggins will also be the focus of statewide television advertising.

Justice Not Politics Action, led by former Lieutenant Governor Sally Pederson, will run a “Yes on Retention” campaign, starting with “grassroots voter outreach […] events in Iowa City on Saturday and Indianola on Sunday.” Many Democrats will descend on Indianola this Sunday for Senator Tom Harkin’s annual Steak Fry.

The Greenberg Quinlan Rosner poll indicates that the leader of the No on Wiggins crowd isn’t very popular. O.Kay Henderson reported for Radio Iowa,

The poll found 36% of those surveyed have an “unfavorable view” of Bob Vander Plaats, the leader of Iowans for Freedom.

That’s the group that led the successful 2010 campaign against the three justices and have revived their effort for 2012.  According to the polling firm, the “negatives” for Vander Plaats have climbed 20 points since 2009. Nineteen percent said they had a favorable view of Vander Plaats, a three-time Republican candidate for governor who now is the executive director of The Family Leader.

Here’s how support for the Varnum v Brien Iowa Supreme Court decision breaks down in the new poll:

Among all respondents, 35 percent strongly favor the decision and 13 percent somewhat favor it; 35 percent strongly oppose the decision and 8 percent somewhat oppose it.

Among Democrats surveyed, 59 percent strongly favor the decision and 15 percent somewhat favor it; 12 percent strongly oppose the decision and 7 percent somewhat oppose it.

Among Republicans surveyed, 7 percent strongly favor the decision and 9 percent somewhat favor it; 63 percent strongly oppose the decision and 11 percent somewhat oppose it.

Among independents, 35 percent strongly favor the decision and 16 percent somewhat favor it; 33 percent strongly oppose the decision and 7 percent somewhat oppose it.

UPDATE: Forgot to mention that in every general election, a certain percentage of Iowans cast ballots without completing the reverse side, where the judicial retention lines are located. For that reason, I wouldn’t assume that every “likely voter” will cast a vote for or against retaining the four Iowa Supreme Court justices. If opponents of Varnum are more energized about the retention vote, Wiggins could lose despite the fact that a majority of voters either support his retention or do not care.

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