The headline certainly caught my attention. “In new Iowa Poll, nearly two-thirds say it’s time for someone new,” the Des Moines Register noted.
Senator Chuck Grassley is 87. Among currently serving senators, only Dianne Feinstein is older (by about two months). The Social Security Administration estimates an 87-year-old has a life expectancy of five years. If re-elected to a six-year term at age 89, Grassley’s odds of dying while in office are significant. It makes sense that many would answer this question this way.
So is Iowa’s senior senator really in trouble?
In 2008 there were whispers that at age 84, Senator Frank Lautenberg was too old to run for re-election. That led Monmouth to ask the same question of New Jersey voters that Selzer & Co. asked of Iowans: is it time for someone new? Let’s compare Monmouth’s findings to numbers from Selzer’s new poll for the Des Moines Register and Mediacom.
When asked in the abstract, many New Jersey voters did not want to re-elect Lautenberg. Unlike Selzer, Monmouth directly asked if Lautenberg’s age effected his ability as a senator. The answer was no by a 51 percent to 34 percent margin.
The Des Moines Register poll noted that Grassley’s approval rating was the lowest measured since 1982, early in his first Senate term. In point of fact his numbers are nearly identical to Senator Joni Ernst’s (46 percent approve/42 percent disapprove).
For a senator who had been widely respected among a significant majority of Iowans, this must be a significant disappointment. But I suspect this is a function of the modern reality of polarization, and the reality that the Republican Party’s base demands confrontational tactics.
Those factors probably make it inevitable that Grassley’s approval would decline. But given the overall direction of Iowa and the history of questions like those asked by Selzer, I remain skeptical that Grassley is in any significant trouble.
Top image cropped from a photo posted on Chuck Grassley’s political Facebook page on June 14.