Loras College Polls Size Up Iowa House Races

Another institution of higher learning has released political polling data, this time targeting US House elections in one particular state.

Dubuque’s Loras College conducted a statewide poll of the Hawkeye State electorate and divided the respondents evenly among Iowa’s quartet of congressional districts. At least to a degree, all of the campaigns are competitive. The methodology included weighting the responses for demographic characteristics but not political party preference. Therefore, the overall sample appears skewed Democratic by more than two full percentage points.

The pollsters first asked about President Obama’s job approval, and found that only 41 percent of the sampled respondents (300 per congressional district) expressed positive sentiments. A clear majority, 53 percent, disapproves of how he handles his official duties. In a state that twice voted for Obama and gave him six- and 10-point victory margins in 2012 and 2008, respectively, these job performance numbers have to be considered poor.

The survey questionnaire also featured a query about the direction of the country’s policies, commonly referred to as the “right track/wrong track” question. Here, as in all other places around the country, the respondents definitively see a downward trend in the nation’s public policy position. By a margin of 59.5 percent to just 24.8 percent, those participating feel the nation is headed down the wrong track.

District 1

The state’s eastern district, vacated by US Senate candidate Bruce Braley (D-Waterloo), houses the most liberal major population center in the state, Cedar Rapids. The 1st is commonly viewed as the Democrats’ best Iowa district. Therefore, the Loras poll produced some surprising results in the region where the sponsoring college is located.

Here, Republican software engineer Rod Blum is pulling to within 1.6 percentage points of favored Democratic candidate Pat Murphy, a state Representative and former House Speaker. Blum actually leads, by less than a percentage point (25.0-24.8 percent), among those who have firmly decided upon a candidate. Murphy rebounds with a bit more support among probable and leaning voters, 10.8-8.0 percent. The combined totals account for the former state House Speaker’s slight district-wide margin.

If this poll is true, and Blum’s campaign had earlier released some numbers also showing a much closer than expected race but not as tight as these results indicate, then the 1st District campaign is an emerging race, well under the national radar – a very favorable position for a challenger.

District 2

The 2nd District occupies Iowa’s southeastern quadrant and contains the Quad Cities region along with the university town of Iowa City. Rep. David Loebsack (D-Iowa City) seeks a fifth term and has drawn an opponent he has twice beaten.

Ophthalmologist Marianette Miller-Meeks (R) lost to Loebsack in 2008 (37-55 percent) and 2010 (45-50 percent) but returns this year for a third run. Dr. Miller-Meeks has been drawing better candidate reviews this cycle, but still lags in campaign resources with just $375,618 raised through the end of June. An independent expenditure committee has formed to support her effort, however.

Here, the Loras numbers are also a bit surprising because of the strong margin Loebsack posts, an aggregate 49-32 percent advantage and 39-24 percent among those who have firmly decided. This is a stronger performance for the incumbent than expected, and suggests that possibly the unweighted party sample tilts too heavily toward the liberal Iowa City area.

District 3

The Des Moines-anchored seat that captures the southwestern portion of the state and travels all the way to the Nebraska border is the scene of a key open seat race. Though the district tilts Democratic, retiring Rep. Tom Latham (R-Clive) racked up a substantial 52-43 percent victory over fellow Rep. Leonard Boswell (D) when the two were paired in this newly constructed district in 2012. But Latham’s strong victory is more of a credit to him than any Republican voting pattern found in the district history.

This year, in an open seat configuration, it is clear that Democratic nominee Staci Appel has assumed the advantage. Republican David Young, the former chief of staff to Sen. Chuck Grassley (R), finished a poor fifth in the GOP primary but won a district nominating convention because no contender broke 35 percent. With Appel being unopposed for the Democratic nomination, she was able to build a superior voting coalition, therefore seeing Loras place her ahead is not surprising. The District 3 results give the Democratic former state senator a 40-34 percent lead. This race is one of the top Democratic conversion opportunities in the nation.

District 4

Rep. Steve King (R-Kiron) won a big 53-45 percent victory against former Iowa First Lady Christie Vilsack (D) in a 2012 election that ended as the most expensive combined campaign in the nation.

King has drawn lesser but still significant opposition in this election cycle. Iraq War veteran Jim Mowrer (D) had raised $1.12 million through June 30, actually a few thousand more than the incumbent. Still, King showed political strength against Vilsack and is clearly the favorite for re-election under a midterm turnout model in a northwest Iowa CD that is the strongest Republican district in the state. Loras verifies the congressman’s lead, posting him to a 47-36 percent advantage, with a similar 11-point lead among those who have firmly decided.

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