No consensus in polls on Iowa retention vote

The Des Moines Register’s new poll by Selzer and Co is the latest survey to give no clear sign of whether voters will retain Iowa Supreme Court Justice David Wiggins on Tuesday.  

Jeff Eckhoff reported the retention findings in the Sunday Des Moines Register:

Thirty-eight percent of likely voters say they will vote to retain Wiggins in Tuesday’s election. Thirty-four percent say they will vote to remove Wiggins; 22 percent say they are unsure of how they will vote; and 6 percent don’t plan to vote on that ballot question.

The percentage of undecided voters was more than two times larger than it was in a similar poll conducted in September, when Wiggins appeared to be on firmer footing. Then, 49 percent of likely voters surveyed said they planned to vote for Wiggins’ retention; 41 percent said they planned to vote against retaining the justice; 9 percent weren’t sure; and 1 percent said they didn’t plan to vote. […]

(One difference between the September poll and the recent poll: The most recent version, which sampled 800 likely voters, identified Wiggins only by his name and job title; the September questioning reminded voters about his involvement in the same-sex marriage decision.) […]

Poll numbers show the campaigns on both sides of Wiggins’ retention have roughly equal support among likely presidential voters. Results show that 57 percent of voters who support Barack Obama for president intend to vote in favor of retaining Wiggins, while 57 percent of likely Mitt Romney voters say they’ll vote to oust Wiggins.

However, 24 percent of Obama voters are undecided on the retention issue compared to 19 percent undecided among Romney voters. Nineteen percent of Romney voters want Wiggins retained, 13 percent of Obama voters want the justice booted and 5 percent on each side of the presidential race say they intend to skip the retention question.

Retention is modestly favored over removal by younger and older Iowa voters. Poll results show a plurality of 44 percent of voters age 55 and over intend to vote to keep Wiggins – up from the 34 percent of that age group who said they’d vote for retention for all three justices in the last poll of the 2010 campaign. Thirty-two percent of voters younger than 35 intend to vote for retention, according to the poll, which is higher than the 28 percent who want to unseat the justice. Among this group, 30 percent are not sure.

A recent Public Policy Polling survey indicated that 37 percent of Iowa likely voters were inclined to vote yes on Wiggins, 43 percent planned to vote no, and 20 percent were unsure.

Last week, the University of Iowa released results from its Hawkeye poll, which were the most favorable I’ve seen toward Wiggins. Cautionary note: the poll had a relatively small sample of 320 respondents statewide and had a margin of error of plus or minus 5.6 percent. Key findings:

With the election just one week away, 52.9 percent of Iowans who plan to vote on the retention question say they will vote in favor of retaining Wiggins while 30.4 percent plan to vote against retention, and 16.7 percent indicate that they are not yet sure how they will vote. Of Iowans surveyed, 76.8 percent and 83.2 percent of self-reported likely voters in the upcoming election say that they plan to vote on Wiggins’ retention.

“It’s a little surprising that only 76 percent of the respondents said they planned to vote in the judicial retention,” says Tim Hagle, associate professor of political science in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and an expert on judicial politics. “It may be that many don’t bother to vote in retentions when they aren’t familiar with the judge or justice involved.”

A similar Hawkeye Poll survey 18 months ago found that nearly one in two Iowans was not sure how they would vote on Wiggins’ retention.

I’m not at all surprised that a quarter of respondents don’t plan to vote on retention. In the 2008 general election, 1,543,662 Iowans cast ballots for president, but just 950,050 people voted yes or no on retaining Iowa Supreme Court Justice Mark Cady (pdf). A 76 percent participation rate in this year’s vote on Wiggins would be significantly higher than that level. The advertising campaigns and publicity surrounding the retention vote have clearly raised Iowans’ awareness of their ability to retain or oust judges, but not everyone has a strong opinion on the matter.

More from the Hawkeye poll:

Support for retention is strongest among self-identified Democrats, with 84.5 percent of those planning to vote on the matter preferring retention and only 4.4 percent planning to vote against. Among self-declared Republicans, 54.1 percent plan to vote against retention while 32.1 percent plan to vote for retention. A plurality of independents, 49.3 percent, said they would vote for retention, compared to 28.7 percent who plan to vote against retention. […]

Opinions shaped by views on same-sex marriage

Voters’ opinions on same-sex marriage had a great influence on their preference for or against retention. Among voters who prefer no legal recognition of a gay couple’s relationship, 45.2 percent plan to oppose retention while 28.1 percent plan to support it, and 26.7 percent are still undecided. […]

Voters who support civil unions but not legal marriage were more evenly divided with 44.8 percent planning to vote against retention and 41.4 percent planning to vote for retention. Finally, among voters who expressed support for legal marriage by gay couples, 79.8 percent plan to vote for retention compared to 7.1 percent who plan to vote against it.

Overall, a slim plurality of Iowa voters­-38.2 percent-support same-sex marriage while 34.3 percent support civil unions but not marriage­ and 23.8 percent expressed a preference for no legal representation. Only 3.7 percent were undecided. These results show a continued shift in Iowa toward increasing support for civil unions and same sex-marriage and a decrease in those expressing support for no legal representation.

A poll commissioned by The Iowa Republican blog and conducted by Voter/Consumer Research in September found a plurality of respondents support same-sex marriage rights (49 percent), but less support for retaining Wiggins.

The TIR/VCR poll found that 40 percent of Iowans plan on voting to retain Justice David Wiggins, while 32 percent planned on voting not to retain Wiggins.   A healthy percentage of Iowans, 28 percent, did not know how they would vote in November.

The poll also asked Iowans why they were voting one way or another on the retention of Wiggins. Twenty-seven percent of respondents said they support gay marriage and also plan to vote to retain Justice Wiggins.  Sixteen percent said that they oppose gay marriage, and will also vote to remove Wiggins from the court.

Twenty-two percent of those surveyed said that gay marriage should have been decided by the legislature not the Supreme Court, and that they will vote to remove Wiggins from the court.  Twenty-five percent said that their vote on retention will not be based on the gay marriage issue in any way.  Instead, other issues will shape their decision.

There were some problems with the question wording on that part of The Iowa Republican poll, noted here, and Craig Robinson did not provide details about the sample or the margin of error. The blog opposes retaining Wiggins because of his supposed “career of activism” on the bench.

The Cedar Rapids Gazette’s Todd Dorman took a close look at the independent expenditures on the retention campaign.

All together, through today, the groups have spent $679,000 on the judicial struggle, according to my humble calculations. That’s considerably less than was spent two years ago on a successful effort to throw out three justices. But more money may flow in any minute now.

The judge-hunters are outspending the judge-retainers $434,788 to $244,212, so far. And they’re pursuing different spending strategies.

Iowans for Freedom and NOM have pumped just less than $300,000 in to TV ads, while the Bar Association and Justice Not Politics have purchased no TV time. Wiggins backers have, instead, spent $181,000 on postcards and other direct mailings.

Iowans for Freedom spent $23,000-plus on web advertising, including more than $10,000 for ads on Google and Facebook. Pro-retention groups report no online spending, but did put $18,000 into telephone-based efforts.

And I have to say, if you’re going to tour the state in style, you have to go with the judge hunters. The No Wiggins bus tour cost $62,772, compared to just $10,995 spent by the Iowa Bar Association for its own truck tour. Hands down, the best way to throw a judge under the bus is by motor coach. You simply must try it.

I’ve received several robocalls reminding me to turn the ballot over and vote yes on Iowa judges. The latest featured the voice of Zach Wahls, Iowa’s most famous child of two moms.

During the past week, I’ve seen the second No Wiggins commercial during several programs on Des Moines television stations.

Any comments about the retention election are welcome in this thread.

Final note: for whatever reason, lots of Iowans are inclined to vote against retaining judges, even in years when there is no campaign to oust anyone. None of the three Iowa Supreme Court justices on the ballot in 2008 received even 75 percent yes votes.

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  • Wiggins

    I certainly wish Wiggins the best, but having a general inclination to vote against retaining judges even when it isn’t a live political issue seems like a tough obstacle to overcome.  

    • typically

      between 20 to 30 percent vote no on judges. So the “No Wiggins” side only has to persuade an additional 20 to 30 percent. The “yes” side needs to raise awareness among people who don’t have any animus toward judges but also don’t typically fill out that part of the ballot.

  • Indeed, many always vote no

    “typically between 20 to 30 percent vote no on judges”

    This is why it was inappropriate for those upset about the 2010 retention votes to cast a wide net of criticism, calling those who voted NO on the three justices unfortunate names.

  • Not all people

    voted against retaining the three justices were voting based on the Varnum decision.  Half of the “No” voters always vote no on justices every year.

    Those 20-30% of consistent “No” voters should not be swept up in a net of criticism by “Yes” voters unhappy with the outcome last time.

    • point taken

      I think the criticism has been mostly directed at the Chuck Hurley/Bob Vander Plaats/NOM crowd, though.  

  • The evolution of anti-Wiggins ads

    I don’t watch much TV, so this is the first time I’m seeing these ads.

    Does anybody else find it interesting that the second ad doesn’t directly mention gay marriage?

    Sure, you can see NOM’s name on the final screen, but I never would have noticed had I not been looking for it.

    The first ad is loud and proud. The second not so much.

    Did their first ad get negative reviews? Was it felt to be counterproductive?

    Is this a small sign of progress?