New Iowa Poll finds Franken almost tied with Grassley, Reynolds still far ahead of DeJear

Jordan Sellergren/Little Village

Over the weekend, the Des Moines Register published the results of a new Iowa Poll on the two big races in the Nov. 8 general election. The reported results show the Republican incumbents still lead their Democratic challengers, but in the case Iowa’s longest-serving senator, that lead continues to get smaller. Mike Franken is now within 3 percentage points of Chuck Grassley. But in the governor’s race, Kim Reynolds maintains her substantial double-digit lead over Deidre DeJear.

Grassley and Franken

Mike Franken speaks at a roundtable on Social Security in Cedar Rapids, Sept. 17, 2022. — Jason Smith/Little Village

Until now, Chuck Grassley has never had a close reelection race during his four decades in the U.S. Senate. But what was an unprecedentedly tight race for Grassley in July, when the Iowa Poll showed him leading Mike Franken by 8 percentage points, has gotten even tighter. According to the poll conducted by Selzer & Co. on Oct. 9 and 10, Grassley’s lead has shrunk to 3 percentage points, with him leading Franken, 46 to 43.

Four percent of respondents said they planned to vote for someone else, even though there is no other candidate in the Senate race, and another 4 percent said they do not plan to vote, even though they described themselves as likely voters. The remaining 3 percent said they had not yet made a decision.

Comparing the July poll results to the new totals, Franken has moved up four percentage points from 39 percent and Grassley has declined from 47 percent to 46. It’s generally considered a bad sign for an incumbent’s reelection chances to be polling at less than 50 percent, and Grassley has never reached 50 percent support against Franken since the retired admiral won the Democratic Primary. But worse for Grassley is the decline in his job approval rating.

In the July poll, 46 percent of respondents approved of Grassley’s performance in office, while 44 percent disapproved. It was his the worst approval rating he’s ever received in an Iowa Poll, but his approval rating dropped even further in the new poll. Forty-eight percent of people disapproved of Grassley’s performance, while only 44 percent approved. That was the first time that’s happened to Grassley in the Iowa Poll.

Sen. Chuck Grassley shakes hands during a campaign stop along the Mississippi River. Photo posted to Twitter Oct. 14, 2022. — @ChuckGrassley

Among Grassley’s weaknesses as a candidate this year has been his failure to offer a compelling reason for running again, or explain what he can accomplish in another six years that he hasn’t been able to do in the previous 42 years. During the Oct. 6 Iowa PBS debate with Franken, Grassley addressed why he is running in his first response to a question.

“I’m running for reelection because I love Iowa,” he said. “I love the people of Iowa. And I want to continue to work for the people of Iowa.”

In addition to expressing his love, Grassley said he would oppose President Biden, and generally work “to undo these awful policies of this administration.” He also pointed out that he would have tremendous seniority if reelected. Among current senators, only Democrat Patrick Leahy of Vermont has served longer than Grassley, and Leahy is retiring this year. According to the new poll, voters are not impressed by Grassley’s seniority.

Only 34 percent of respondents said his seniority was important, while 60 percent said the 89-year-old’s age is a concern. If reelected, Grassley would be 95 at the end of the term.

During the debate, Grassley was asked what he would say to Iowans who are concerned about his advanced age.

“I think the only thing I can do is tell you how I lead my life today,” he replied.

Grassley said he maintains a full schedule when the Senate is in session. He described a daily routine of waking up at 4 a.m. and running two miles. Explaining that he is more physically active than most people his age is Grassley’s typical response. In addition to citing his daily run, Grassley sometimes boasts about the number of pushups he can do.

“I can do 20 right now,” he said at a town hall meeting in Greene County last year.

Although incumbents typically have a substantial advantage in Iowa elections, three months before Grassley declared he was running again, there was a strong indication that might not apply to an octogenarian seeking an eighth Senate term. Sixty percent of respondents in a June 2021 Iowa Poll said they felt Grassley shouldn’t run again.

The most important difference between the July and October polls is Franken’s growing support from independent voters. In July, the retired admiral led Grassley by one percentage point among independents, 38 to 37. That has now grown to an 11 percentage point lead, with support for Franken increasing and Grassley declining. Among independents, Franken now leads Grassley, 46 to 35.

Throughout the campaign, Franken has said the key to winning is gaining the support of independent voters.

Reynolds and DeJear

Gov. Kim Reynolds welcomes Iowans back to the Iowa State Fair on Aug. 12, 2021. — video still/We Are Iowa

The distance between the two candidates hasn’t changed since the Iowa Poll in July, but both Kim Reynolds and Deidre DeJear saw a 4 percentage point increase in support in the latest survey. Reynolds went from 48 percent of likely voters saying they would vote for her to 52 percent, while DeJear’s numbers rose from 31 percent to 35 percent. The third candidate on the November ballot, Libertarian Rick Stewart, declined from 5 percent support among likely voters to 4 percent.

Reynolds has overwhelming backing from Republicans likely to vote, with 96 percent of them saying they’ll vote for her. That’s 10 percentage points higher than the support DeJear received from likely Democratic voters in the poll. Eighty-six percent of them said they planned to vote for DeJear.

Reynolds also leads DeJear among likely indepedent voters, 44 percent to 31, an increase from July when the governor led her challenger 37 percent to 28 among that group.

Women voters were the one demographic DeJear has seen notable improvement with since the July poll. In that poll, Reynolds led DeJear among women voter, 40 percent to 37. In the new poll, DeJear now leads among women 46 percent to 40.

The poll indicates that DeJear is still suffering from lack of name recognition. With just three weeks left before Election Day, 51 percent of all respondents said they didn’t know enough about her to form an opinion. That number includes 63 percent of the poll’s independents and 34 percent of its Democrats.

Name recognition has been a problem for DeJear since she launched her campaign in August 2021. Her campaign has received limited support from the state Democratic Party and the national party has played no role, writing off Iowa as possible before any candidate had declared.

At campaign events, DeJear acknowledges the seemingly insurmountable odds against her, but says she believes that a strong get-out-the-vote effort that stresses the values of the Democratic Party offers a pathway to winning.

Deidre DeJear speaking at a town hall meeting in Cedar Rapids on Saturday, Oct. 15, 2022 — Malcolm McDougall/Little Village

“I know we can win this election,” DeJear said at a town hall meeting in Cedar Rapids on Saturday. “We have it in us, if we choose to.”

“The question is: are we willing? Do we have enough gas in the tank? Do we truly believe in our principles, and do we believe that those principles are worth fighting for?”

Other numbers in the new poll indicate the difficulty of relying on that approach. Reynolds reached her highest approval rating of the year in the poll, with 52 percent of all respondents expressing their approval, and a plurality, 47 percent, said the state is currently headed in the right direction.

Reynolds and DeJear meet for their only debate on Monday night, but debate performances seldom result in significant polling changes.

According to Selzer & Co., the October poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points for questions asked of all 804 respondents, and 3.9 point margin of error for questions asked of only the subsample of 620 self-identified likely voters.

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