Iowa Poll: Kim Reynolds leads all Democratic challengers in 2018 race for governor
Gov. Kim Reynolds holds the lead among her Democratic challengers in the latest Iowa Poll conducted Jan. 28-31, 2018.
Copyright Des Moines Register & Tribune Co. 2018
If the election for Iowa governor were held today, incumbent Republican Kim Reynolds would defeat all five of the leading Democrats trying to succeed her as the state’s chief executive.
The new Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll suggests two of those would-be challengers — state Sen. Nate Boulton and retired businessman Fred Hubbell — are more competitive with Reynolds than other Democrats in the race, but also indicates a high level of uncertainty and lingering unfamiliarity with the wide field of challengers.
In a Reynolds-Boulton matchup, 41 percent of likely 2018 voters say they’d vote for Reynolds, compared to 37 percent for Boulton — a 4 percentage-point advantage. In a Reynolds-Hubbell matchup, 42 percent would opt for the incumbent while 37 percent would back the Democrat, a 5-point edge.
In each hypothetical matchup, 22 percent of voters say they’d choose someone else, wouldn’t vote or simply weren’t yet sure whom to choose.
Reynolds’ margin is substantially wider against other Democrats tested: She polls 13 percentage points ahead of labor leader Cathy Glasson; 12 points ahead of former Iowa Democratic Party Chairwoman Andy McGuire; and 11 points ahead of former state and federal administrator John Norris.
That said, Reynolds doesn’t garner more than 44 percent of the vote in any of the five matchups — a figure that underperforms both her 49 percent favorability rating and 47 percent job-approval rating among likely 2018 voters.
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Taken together, the results suggest Reynolds will face a competitive battle for re-election in November, but that voters are in a holding pattern awaiting more information on the Democratic field, said Jennifer Duffy, a senior editor for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report who specializes in handicapping governor’s races.
“For the moment, she is benefiting from incumbency. She is getting the benefit of the doubt,” Duffy said. “But she’s got a lot of work to do.”
The results suggest an advantage for Boulton and Hubbell within the Democratic field both among Democratic voters, although Duffy cautioned that advantage may be rooted in name recognition. Only Hubbell, Boulton and Glasson have aired TV ads in the race, and Hubbell and Boulton have largely led the field in organization.
All five of the candidates tested trounced Reynolds among self-identified Democratic voters.
Among Democrats, 81 percent say they would support Boulton over Reynolds and 76 percent would back Hubbell over Reynolds. Democratic support for Norris, McGuire and Glasson in a one-on-one contest against Reynolds, meanwhile, ranges from 63 to 69 percent, with notably higher shares of voters saying they aren’t sure who they’d support, that they’d vote for another candidate or simply wouldn’t vote.
“You’re almost seeing generic numbers when you look at those trial heats,” Duffy said. “I don’t think you’re seeing anybody select Fred Hubbell because they think he’d be a better governor. They’re picking Fred Hubbell because he’s the Democrat they may have heard of.”
Among independents, Reynolds is the favorite no matter who her Democratic opponent is. But in each case, she’s the choice for a plurality, not majority, of would-be voters: She tops Boulton and Hubbell by 5 percentage points, Norris by 10, McGuire by 12 and Glasson by 16 — margins similar to those among all likely 2018 voters.
In every matchup, it should be noted, roughly a third of independent voters indicate uncertainty about who they’ll ultimately vote for, underscoring the dynamism of the race nine months from Election Day.
Poll respondent Jake Hanson, a political independent from Waukee, is one of those uncertain voters. The 25-year-old Starbucks employee is generally pleased with Reynolds’ performance as governor but not quite comfortable with re-electing her to a full term. He’s leaning toward backing Boulton, he said, but is less familiar with the other Democrats and isn’t quite sure what he’d do should Boulton fail to win the nomination.
“I think somebody with a little more experience in government, in law, in getting stuff done, might be a better choice rather than Kim Reynolds,” Hanson said, “but I haven’t seen her do anything that has hurt Iowa yet, either.”
Democrats and Republicans alike face party primaries before the general election matchup begins. Seven Democrats are vying for their party’s nomination on June 5, while Reynolds faces a challenge from two fellow Republicans.
The poll, conducted by Selzer and Co. of Des Moines, questioned 801 Iowa adults Jan. 28-31 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. The above results, though, reflect the subset of 555 respondents who say they’re likely to vote in 2018. Those numbers have a margin of error of plus or minus 4.2 percentage points.
The Iowa Poll shows Reynolds is safely above water when it comes to popularity and job approval among all Iowans, although those measures veered in opposite directions compared to earlier polling.
Forty-eight percent of Iowans hold a favorable view of Reynolds, who became governor last May when then-Gov. Terry Branstad was confirmed as the U.S. ambassador to China. Thirty-two percent view her unfavorably and 20 percent aren’t sure.
Those numbers represent positive developments from the Iowa Poll conducted in December: Her favorables are up 4 percentage points, while her unfavorable rating is down a point.
Poll respondent Bradley Edgerton, a 47-year-old farmer and political independent from Fort Dodge, holds very favorable views on Reynolds, and said he’s strongly inclined to vote for her in November.
“I don’t see where she’s done anything wrong,” Edgerton said. “To me, she’s making progress, and I’d hate to see somebody who’s making progress not have a chance to keep doing the job.”
But even as Reynolds’ popularity is rising with Iowans, her job approval numbers slipped slightly.
Forty-seven percent of Iowans approve of her performance as governor, down from 51 percent in December. The percentage who disapprove, in turn, rose 3 percentage points — to 33 percent. Twenty percent of Iowans aren’t sure what they think about Reynolds’ handling of her job.
Poll respondent Donna Hoadley, 66, a retired teacher from rural Sheldon, is one of those independents who disapproves of Reynolds’ job performance. She faulted Reynolds for the state’s ongoing revenue shortfalls and for not breaking with Branstad on issues like corporate tax incentives and privatization of the state’s Medicaid system.
“I think she’s in over her head,” Hoadley said of Reynolds. “I know she was lieutenant governor for a long time and was in every photo op, but I don’t know that her knowledge and experience are really enough for the situation that we’re in right now.”
Hoadley said she’s never voted a straight ticket for either party, but is inclined to back more Democrats in 2018 because of the directions she’s seen Republicans take the state since taking control of the governor’s office in 2010 and both chambers of the Legislature in 2016.
“Right now with Republicans controlling all three branches in Iowa, it feels like they’re out for retribution of some kind,” she said.
Reynolds’ leading challenger in the Republican gubernatorial primary saw his popularity slip from the last Iowa Poll. Ron Corbett is viewed favorably by 15 percent of Iowans and unfavorably by 18 percent. A wide majority — 68 percent — don’t know enough about him to register an opinion either way.
The figures represent a notable drop from just last December, when 23 percent of Iowa Poll respondents held a favorable view of Corbett, compared to 18 percent who viewed him unfavorably.
The discrepancy may be as simple as the way the question was asked, pollster J. Ann Selzer said. In December, Corbett was identified as the “outgoing mayor of Cedar Rapids”; in the new poll he’s identified only as a Republican candidate for governor. His favorability is highest (26 percent) in the 1st Congressional District, where he is best know, but that is down from 34 percent in December.
Iowans' perceptions of the state’s direction, meanwhile, inched upward.
Forty-nine percent of respondents say Iowa is headed in the right direction, compared to 39 percent who say it’s on the wrong track.
That’s 2 percentage points better than the last Iowa Poll, conducted in late 2017, and the highest measure since February 2015.
Among those who see the state headed in the right direction is Bryan Swink, an independent, self-described constitutional conservative from Mediapolis. He credited Reynolds and Republican lawmakers for moving to curtail government regulations, and cheered the renewed efforts in the Legislature this year to ban traffic cameras.
“We’re getting the government out of normal people’s lives, and I’m always a big proponent of that,” Swink, a 39-year-old safety engineer, said.
About the poll
The Iowa Poll, conducted January 28-31 for The Des Moines Register and Mediacom by Selzer & Co. of Des Moines, is based on telephone interviews with 801 Iowans ages 18 or older. Interviewers with Quantel Research contacted households with randomly selected landline and cell phone numbers supplied by Survey Sampling International. Interviews were administered in English. Responses were adjusted by age and sex to reflect the general population based on recent census data.
Questions based on the sample of 801 Iowa adults have a maximum margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 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 3.5 percentage points. 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 Des Moines Register and Mediacom is prohibited.