Wednesday, August 27, 2014

What we learned from PPP poll

The big news out of the Public Policy Polling survey of Iowa voters released yesterday wasn't the top of the story.

We already basically know that the US Senate race is a dead heat. Smart Iowa observers knew the day Tom Harkin retired that it was going to be extremely close, and remembered that through the months of the Republican primary. Both sides knew the race would get close as soon as Republicans had their nominee.

And we already knew that Jack Hatch has a good-sized gap to close, 13 percent in this survey.

Both these contests have been polled a lot and shown similar results before.

No, the  interesting part is that PPP also polled the down-ballot statewide races, where there's precious little information available both in terms of polling and for the voters.

Downballot state races often swing with the top of the ticket and with general party ID and mood of the year. Races get lost in the noise of the top ticket races. The constituency is too big for the shoe leather, mailings and local media most legislators use, and the budgets are too small for top of the ticket style TV spots. Name ID gives incumbents a big advantage, and straight tickets and party field work are the key factors in a lot of votes.

In most of this year's races, PPP told us what we already knew. GOP Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey has a big lead over his hapless opponent, Democrat Sherrie Taha. Every cycle, Republicans make a target of eternal Attorney General Tom Miller (who FINALLY has a campaign web site), but late starting Republican Adam Gregg trails by 24.  Sam Clovis got some name ID from his Senate run and is popular with many in the GOP base, but he's 14 points behind State Treasurer For Life Mike Fitzgerald.

It's not terribly surprising that the hottest down-ballot race, Secretary of State, is a dead heat. But consider that Republican Paul Pate is a pseudo-incumbent with residual name ID from his earlier stint in the job, service in the legislature and as Cedar Rapids mayor, and a run for governor.

Also consider that Democrats are way way ahead in field efforts like absentee ballot requests, and are especially motivated in this race by Matt Schultz's antics the past four years, and Democrat Brad Anderson's one point deficit looks more like a winning number this far out.

But the biggest surprise is the state auditor race. Democrat Jonathan Neiderbach trails Republican Mary Mosiman by just 4 percent, 39% to 35%.

In many ways, Pate is more of an incumbent than Mosiman. She's never won or even run statewide; Mosiman was appointed 16 months ago by Terry Branstad on David Vaudt's resignation, and she's never run for office outside Story County where she was county auditor. Neiderbach has never run statewide either, but is at least known in Des Moines from his school board tenure.

So mark state auditor as One To Watch. If Neiderbach wins, it'll be one of Iowa's top upsets of all time. Even in the banner Democratic year 1964, when Iowa threw out five Republican congressmen, the Democrats failed to take state auditor. You have to go all the way back to 1936, the second FDR landslide, to see Charles Storm winning this race for the Dems.

UPDATE: Neiderbach tells me that a lot of source material incorrectly identifies Lorne R. Worthington as a Republican. I thought it looked odd, a one term Republican serving 1964-66. He was in fact a Democrat, so the Dems have held the party TWO years since the New Deal, not ZERO. That's what you need in an auditor, a detail guy.

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