Loras College in Dubuque released its first-ever set of polls on Iowa Congressional primaries this week. Click here for the polling memo and here (pdf) for further details, including the full questionnaires.
After the jump I've posted my thoughts on what these polls tell us about the front-runners (or lack thereof) in each primary. Unfortunately, a big methodological flaw makes it more difficult to interpret the results.
First, a note on methodology from the Loras College press release (emphasis in original):
The inaugural Loras College Poll surveyed 300 likely primary voters in each of these congressional primaries, and results carry a 5.65 percent margin of error. The Republican surveys were conducted April 8-10, 2014, and the Democratic survey was conducted April 10-11, 2014. Surveys were conducted using telephone interviews, including both landlines and cell phones. In addition, the survey was balanced using historical voting patterns for age, gender and geography. Script development and methodology used for the survey received input from Republican campaign consultant, Steve Grubbs, and Democrat campaign consultant, Dave Heller.
The margin of error of plus or minus 5.65 percent assumes perfect random sampling methods. Looking through the data, I see an immediate problem: only registered Democrats were included in the sample for the IA-01 Democratic primary, and only registered Republicans were included in the samples for the three competitive GOP primaries.
Trouble is, Iowa has same-day registration for its "closed" primaries. Voters can show up on June 3, change their registration, and cast a ballot in their new party's primary. A few candidates in some of these races are sure to be targeting supporters who are are now registered independents or members of the other party.
So I am not convinced that the Loras poll samples reflect the likely voter universe on June 3. If not, the findings could be off by much more than the statistical margin of error.
That said, let's look at the toplines on the GOP primaries in IA-01 and IA-02.
In the Republican Congressional District 1 primary, the results are:
Blum 17 percent
Rathje 12 percent
Boliver 2 percent
Undecided 68 percent
In the Republican Congressional District 2 primary, the results are:
Miller-Meeks 17 percent
Lofgren 11 percent
Waldren 1 percent
Undecided 68 percent
The Loras polls suggest the primaries are wide open, but I think they mostly show respondents aren't focused on these races yet.
Rod Blum received about 47 percent of the vote in the 2012 GOP primary to represent IA-01, despite being outspent during the campaign. He is the only candidate in the current field with the financial resources to get his message out to voters district-wide before June 3. I would be shocked if he doesn't win the primary easily.
Ditto for Miller-Meeks in IA-02. Perhaps she has some baggage from losing to Democratic incumbent Dave Loebsack twice before, but she is the only Republican who will be able to run a real campaign before this year's primary. In 2010, she gained about 50 percent of the vote in a four-way primary. I expect her to defeat Lofgren and Waldren by a wide margin.
Moving to the competitive GOP primary in IA-03, Loras found:
Zaun 17 percent
Schultz 8 percent
Cramer 7 percent
Shaw 5 percent
Young 3 percent
Grandanette 2 percent
Undecided 58 percent
For some reason, the Des Moines Register headline on this news read, "Poll: Zaun the favorite of 6 GOP candidates." I read this as a terrible poll for State Senator Brad Zaun. As a longtime office-holder in Polk County and his party's 2010 nominee in IA-03, he is by far the best-known candidate in the field. He should be way ahead on name recognition alone. He won the 2010 primary with roughly 40 percent of the vote, but fewer than one in five respondents are leaning his way now.
That finding suggests to me that GOP voters are inclined to choose new blood for this race.
GOP donors appear to feel the same way, judging from the fact that Zaun has far less money to spend before the primary than Robert Cramer, Monte Shaw, Matt Schultz, and David Young. He should have gone into this race with the largest network of campaign contributors.
The 58 percent undecided number proves that the primary is wide open, but I'll be surprised if momentum flows toward Zaun.
A significant number of registered independents and perhaps even some Democrats may end up voting in the this GOP primary, given that there are no competitive Democratic primaries for U.S. Senate, governor, or IA-03. I have no idea how no-party or crossover voters would break among the Republican candidates, and the Loras poll doesn't give us any hint, as anyone not identifying as a registered Republican was excluded from the survey sample.
The most interesting Loras poll finding was for the Democratic primary in IA-01:
Murphy 30 percent
Kajtozovic 11 percent
Dandekar 9 percent
Vernon 9 percent
O'Brien 6 percent
Undecided 34 percent
All five Democratic campaigns in IA-01 spent money on polling during the first three months of this year, but only Murphy released the toplines. I would guess that most of the internal polling shows Murphy ahead of the rest of the field, if not knocking on the door of the 35 percent threshold.
Engaging in some blatant wishful thinking, John Deeth sees this race "wide open" with 30 percent for former Iowa House Speaker Pat Murphy and 70 percent for "anyone but Murphy." I wouldn't assume that Murphy can't pick up undecided voters at this point. But even if he is stuck at a ceiling a bit below 35 percent, it hardly matters. He would be in the driver's seat if the nomination goes to a district convention, with more than a dozen labor union endorsements and a long history building relationships with Democratic activists in northeast Iowa.
The other four candidates in IA-01 need to overtake Murphy and clear the 35 percent threshold in order to win this primary.
Deeth also comments,
[A]s in other polls, the three women in the race seem to be splitting about evenly. There's strong sentiment among Democratic activists and primary voters that Iowa is way overdue for a woman in congress, so let's assume a big chunk of that undecided is struggling over which woman to support.
Let's also assume that this race may break late. We're one or two good polls away from one of these three women becoming the Not Murphy candidate, and at that point the other two women lose their soft support.
I don't see it that way at all. Cedar Rapids City Council member Monica Vernon and former State Senator Swati Dandekar may appeal to similar groups of voters: those wanting a woman who's moderate and experienced. I could see support flowing from one to the other, depending on who appears more viable going into the primary election.
State Representative Anesa Kajtazovic seems to be exciting a lot of younger voters and, along with Dave O'Brien, is going after the progressive niche in the primary. Given her age and relatively few years in politics, I don't see her as a likely second choice for anyone leaning toward Vernon or Dandekar, nor do I see any of her supporters moving to Vernon or Dandekar before the primary.
As I mentioned above, including only registered Democrats in the survey sample is a big flaw in the Loras methodology. You can be sure some Linn County no-party voters or Republicans will turn out to support Vernon or Dandekar. Those campaigns have money to spend, and they'd be crazy not to spend some of it identifying supporters who are not currently registered Democrats.
Any comments about Iowa's Congressional races are welcome in this thread.
UPDATE: Nate Willems pointed out a detail I should have mentioned: the poll of Democrats in IA-01 asked respondents whether they had heard of each candidate. (For some reason, similar questions don't appear to have been asked in any of the Republican polls.) About 31 percent of respondents had never heard of Murphy, and he's the best-known candidate. Meanwhile, 51 percent had never heard of Vernon, 59 percent had never heard of Dandekar, 65 percent had never heard of Kajtazovic, and 68 percent had never heard of O'Brien. If almost a third of respondents haven't even heard of Murphy, you can't conclude that they will support "anyone but Murphy" on June 3.
The other IA-01 candidates urgently need to define themselves in a positive way with the Democratic electorate.