Newspapers and other media organizations will pay for statewide polls for presidential and gubernatorial elections, but their budgets don’t allow for congressional polling. Public polling data for congressional campaigns is hard to come by, which is why the Loras College Poll of Iowa’s four congressional districts is unique.
The latest Loras poll gives us a peek into the four congressional races in Iowa, two of which are competitive open seats. The poll shows that Iowa’s two incumbent Congressmen, Democrat Dave Loebsack and Republican Steve King, currently hold sizable leads over their challengers.
In Iowa’s Second Congressional District, Loebsack gains the support of 49 percent of the voters in the district. Loebsack’s Republican challenger, Dr. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, trails by 17-points. The result may surprise some Republicans as Miller-Meeks has run for congress twice before. What is important to remember is that she is now running in a larger and reconfigured district than when she ran in 2008 and 2010.
While the new Second Congressional District is more favorable to Republicans than the one she previously ran in, she is relatively unknown in ten of the 24 counties in the district. Not only is there a lot of new territory to cover, but those new counties make up 45 percent of the registered voters in the district, which means that, coming into the race, Miller-Meeks was unknown to almost half of the registered voters in the district.
Miller-Meeks has yet to begin her advertising campaign, which is probably another reason why she doesn’t do better against Loebsack. Actually, Miller-Meeks’ number is similar to what the candidates in the 1st Congressional posted. They are also relatively unknown to voters. The downside for Miller-Meeks is that she is running against a sitting member of Congress.
Congressman Steve King is leading his Democrat challenger in the Fourth Congressional District 47 percent to 36 percent. Jim Mowrer has been running television ads for over a month now, while King has yet to run TV ads of his own. King’s 11-point lead is comforting, and King is also leading among independents.
The Loras Poll is really informative in the open congressional races in the First and Third Districts. The race in the First District between Democrat Pat Murphy and Republican Rod Blum is a dead heat. Murphy leads Blum 35 percent to 33 percent, but the poll has a margin of error of almost six percent. The good news for Blum isn’t just that he’s tied with Murphy, it’s that race is close with all segments of the electorate.
Among women voters Blum trails by only three points. He trails with men by one point. The good sign is that there isn’t much of a gender gap between the two candidates. That said, Blum needs to do better with male voters, which Republicans typically do. It’s also important to note that 38 percent of women and 24 percent of men are undecided.
As far as age demographics go, Blum trails Murphy by 11 points with voters age 18 to 34, but Murphy’s advantage then disappears. Murphy leads with voters 35 to 49 by only four points, voters 50 to 64 by just two points, and Blum is winning with people 65 or older by six points. More importantly, Blum currently leads independents by 11 points over Murphy.
Blum is in surprisingly good shape considering he is running for office in Congressman Bruce Braley’s current district. Blum is also the first candidate to be on TV in the general election, which is also an advantage. Television ads will help Blum become better known, but they can also help him target certain demographics of the electorate.
You know that it’s just a matter of time before Murphy and the Democrats unleash negative ads that are designed to scare women and senior citizens. The Democrat playbook is already on display in Iowa’s U.S. Senate race. Blum actually has an opportunity to get out in front of those types of attacks by running ads that feature his wife and family.
His initial general election TV spot sets a perfect tone by talking about his humble upbringing and success as an entrepreneur. With no gender gap to really worry about, Blum might be wise to feature his wife and kids in those ads. In the primary, he ran an ad about his adopted son Malcolm, who he adopted after his mother died. It’s an impressive story that tells you a lot about Blum’s character as a person. I have no doubt that telling that story in a general election campaign would move numbers with female and older voters.
If there is one thing to take away from the Loras College poll, it’s that Rod Blum has a real shot at winning the First Congressional seat. Republicans should be excited about this race.
The picture isn’t quite as bright and hopeful in Iowa’s Third Congressional District. The Loras poll shows Democrat Staci Appel leading David Young 40 to 34 percent. Much of Appel’s six-point lead on Young can be attributed to the fact that she has been running TV ads for over a month now. Young just started running ads of his own, but his “Good Meal” hasn’t been well received.
Appel is leading Young in all the different age groups. She leads him by seven with 18 to 34 year olds, two points with 35 to 49 year olds, seven points with 50 to 64 year olds, and nine points with seniors. Young leads Appel with male voters by two points, but he trails her with female voters by 13.
Appel has a clear advantage in the race as her well-funded campaign has allowed her to run TV ads early and often. Appel also deserves credit for her messaging. Appel is a known liberal Democrat, but her ads have done a good job softening her image by focusing on mainstream issues like jobs, social security, Medicare and spending. This past weekend the Des Moines Register published each candidate’s position on social security. Appel’s answer began with “First, we should focus on growing the economy and putting more people back to work so they are paying into the system again.” That is how every Republican candidate should being talking about Social Security.
Appel might have lost her re-election to the State Senate by 18 points, but she’s a much more disciplined candidate than she was back then. Young needs to step up his game to cut into Appel’s lead on him. In some ways I think his ads, while quirky, do fit with who he is, but let’s also not forget that all the ads that he ran in the primary only got him fifth place on election day.
With less than eight weeks to go, Republicans have plenty of work to do. As I noted earlier, the congressional polling results have a rather large margin of error. While that makes me question the results, I think the statewide sample was pretty good. Still, when you only survey 300 people in a congressional district, there is a lot of room for error.
Overall I think the takeaways from the Loras Poll seem about right, I just question some of the numbers in the congressional polls. Sadly, these are probably going to be the only public poll numbers we will see before election day.