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Republican US Sen. Chuck Grassley leads Democrat Mike Franken by 8 percentage points among likely Iowa voters, according to a new Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll — a first look at what could be Grassley’s most competitive election since 1980.
Grassley leads 47% to 39% against Franken, a retired US Navy admiral, in the latest poll, conducted July 10-13 by Selzer & Co. Another 7% of likely voters say they would vote for someone else, 2% say they would not vote and 5% say they are not sure.
While Grassley leads Franken, the margin is narrower than in any Iowa Poll matchup involving Grassley since he was first elected to the US Senate. Grassley has not polled below 50% in a head-to-head contest since October 1980, before he went on to defeat incumbent Democratic US Sen. John Culver.
“It is his weakest showing since 1980,” pollster J. Ann Selzer said of Grassley.
Still, election forecasters say the race is solidly positioned in Grassley’s favor.
More:Can Mike Franken defeat Chuck Grassley in US Senate race? Franken confidant; skeptical experts
Since Grassley’s 1980 victory over Culver, which he won by 8 percentage points, a Democrat has not won even 40% of the vote against Grassley. His closest result since then was in 2016, when he defeated former Lt. Gov. Patty Judge by 24 percentage points, taking 60% of the vote to Judge’s 36%.
“It’s a solid lead,” Selzer said. “But it’s just not as huge as we’ve seen in the past.”
The new poll of 811 Iowa adults — including 597 likely voters — has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points for questions asked of all Iowans and 4 percentage points for questions asked of likely voters.
Which groups of voters support Grassley, Franken?
Franken has the support of 88% of self-identified Democrats in the poll, while 85% of self-identified Republicans back Grassley. Political independents are split, with 38% choosing Franken and 37% choosing Grassley, but 14% of independents say they would vote for someone else.
Few likely voters show a willingness to cross over to the other political party. Just 4% of Republicans say they will vote for Franken and 6% of Democrats say they will vote for Grassley.
Franken’s showing improves on the performance of former US Rep. Abby Finkenauer in a hypothetical matchup in a September 2021 Iowa Poll, when Grassley led Finkenauer 55% to 37%. Franken defeated Finkenauer in the June Democratic primary.
More:Mike Franken wins Democratic US Senate primary; to take on Chuck Grassley in November
Grassley holds advantages among men, with 56% to Franken’s 33%, and among voters ages 45 and over, 53% to 40%.
He has a strong lead among evangelical voters, 73% to 17%, and Protestants, 58% to 30%, but a narrower lead among Catholics, 46% to 44%.
Grassley leads Franken among voters without a college degree, 49% to 35%, but narrowly loses among voters with a college degree, 43% to 44%.
Geographically, Grassley holds his strongest lead among rural voters, 59% to 28%, and carries voters living in towns, 51% to 32%. But Franken leads Grassley among city dwellers, 51% to 37%, and holds a narrow lead among suburban voters, 43% to 41%.
Franken leads Grassley among women, 44% to 38%. And he leads among likely voters under age 35, 40% to 30%, and with those who have no religious affiliation, 54% to 19%.
But some of those groups, like voters under 35 and those with no religious affiliation, make up small shares of Iowa’s electorate.
Republican likely to vote: Grassley has ‘done a good job’ in the Senate
Tim Wolfe, a 56-year-old Republican poll respondent from Ankeny, said he agrees with Grassley’s stances on most issues.
“I think he’s done a good job in his career there,” he said.
Wolfe, who works for a flooring distributor, said he likes the work Grassley has done on the Senate Judiciary Committee and appreciates Grassley’s anti-abortion stance.
“I like the fact that he’s for having a judge who follows the Constitution,” Wolfe said. “And that’s the way it should be. It shouldn’t really be a political (decision) one side or the other. It should be follow the Constitution as it was written.”
More:Restricting travel for abortion would be ‘unconstitutional,’ Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley says
When Republicans controlled the US Senate, Grassley held a high-profile role as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, where he was instrumental in blocking President Barack Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the US Supreme Court and confirming two of President Donald Trump’s justices, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh. Grassley also voted for Trump’s third pick for the court, Amy Coney Barrett, although he did not chair her confirmation hearings.
Last month, the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the landmark case that guaranteed a nationwide right to abortion. Grassley has been a longtime opponent of Roe and called for it to be overturned.
Democratic likely to vote: Franken is ‘fresh blood and fresh thinking’
Robyn Knapp, a 55-year-old Democratic poll respondent from the Cedar Rapids area, said she disagrees with Grassley on gun laws, abortion and LGBTQ issues. On top of that, she said, she doesn’t think Grassley “has any clue with what Iowans really want.”
“I don’t feel that somebody that’s been a lifelong politician can accurately be in touch with the constituents and reflect the state of Iowa residents today,” she said.
Knapp said she hasn’t heard a lot about Franken. However, she likes what she knows about him.
“It sounds like he has his priorities in line and is fresh blood,” she said. “It would be fresh blood and fresh thinking.”
Jeffrey Seyller, a 47-year-old Democrat and poll respondent from Colo, said Grassley hasn’t been outspoken enough in condemning the Jan. 6 attack on the US Capitol and members of the Republican Party who minimize that event.
More:Democratic Senate campaigns keep spotlight on Jan. 6 ace Chuck Grassley pushes to move on
Seyller, a software engineer, said he’s voted for Grassley in the past, but won’t do so again.
“Obviously then it was a different time, much less partisan,” he said. “A lot of the problems we have now — in terms of the insurrection, in terms of Roe v. Wade, all those — didn’t exist. And so now, when all these problems occur and he comes out on the wrong side of them, then there’s no way I would vote for him now.”
Seyller said he intends to vote for Franken, although he’s not familiar with the Democratic challenger.
“I know nothing about him,” he said. “I’ve seen his name on a sign and basically the fact that he’s not Chuck Grassley is why I would vote for him.”
More Iowans approve of Grassley than disapprove, but the reverse is true among likely voters
By a narrow margin, more Iowans approve of Grassley’s job performance than disapprove, although Grassley’s disapproval number is the highest recorded for him in an Iowa Poll.
Forty-six percent of Iowans say they approve of the job Grassley is doing, while 44% disapprove. Each of those numbers has risen by 1 percentage point since the last Iowa Poll in March.
Among likely voters, more disapprove of Grassley, at 49%, than approve, at 46%.
Grassley’s approval remains in positive territory, but the newest poll continues a stretch since March 2021 that has found fewer than 50% of Iowans approve of Grassley’s performance.
Grassley’s standing among Republicans has improved since the last Iowa Poll in March. Now 76% of Republicans approve of the way Grassley is doing his job, compared to 68% in March. Disapproval of Grassley among Republicans has dropped to 18%, from 21% in March.
Grassley is underwater among independents in the latest poll, with 39% saying they approve of the job he’s doing, and 46% saying they disapprove. That’s nearly the reverse of the March results when 47% of independents said they approved of Grassley and 39% disapproved.
More:Chuck Grassley sails past Jim Carlin in Republican US Senate primary; moves on to run for 8th term
Among Democrats, 14% approve of Grassley’s job performance and 81% disapprove. Those numbers have each risen by 1 percentage point since March.
Kirk Wiggs, a 52-year-old political independent who tends to vote for Republicans, disapproves of Grassley’s job performance but plans to vote for him this fall.
“I’m a little reluctant with Grassley just because he’s been there so long,” said Wiggs, a poll respondent from Sloan who owns a hobby shop.
But he’d like to see control of the federal government move back to Republicans, whom he wants to do something to rein in spending.
“My hope is the Republicans are going to win in the midterms,” he said. “And then here in a couple more years they’ll win the presidency back and maybe they’ll do something.”
About the poll
The Iowa Poll, conducted July 10-13, 2022, for the Des Moines Register and Mediacom by Selzer & Co. of Des Moines, is based on telephone interviews with 811 Iowans ages 18 or older. Interviewers with Quantel Research contacted households with randomly selected landline and cellphone numbers supplied by Dynata. Interviews were administered in English. Responses were adjusted by age, sex and congressional district to reflect the general population based on recent American Community Survey estimates.
Questions based on the sample of 811 Iowa adults have a maximum margin of error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points. Questions based on the subsample of 597 likely voters in the 2022 general election have a maximum margin of error of plus or minus 4.0 percentage points. This means that if this survey were repeated using the same questions and the same methodology, 19 times out of 20, the findings would not vary from the true population value by more than plus or minus 3.4 percentage points or 4.0 percentage points, respectively. Results based on smaller samples of respondents — such as by gender or age — have a larger margin of error.
Republishing the copyright Iowa Poll without credit to the Register and Mediacom is prohibited.
Stephen Gruber-Miller covers the Iowa Statehouse and politics for the Register. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 515-284-8169. Follow him on Twitter at @sgrubermiller.