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Republican U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley’s lead over Democrat Mike Franken has narrowed to 3 percentage points with less than a month until Election Day, signaling Grassley’s toughest reelection fight in 40 years.
A new Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll shows Grassley leads with 46% of the vote to Franken’s 43% among likely voters. Another 4% would vote for someone else, 4% would not vote and 3% are not sure.
“It says to me that Franken is running a competent campaign and has a shot to defeat the seemingly invincible Chuck Grassley — previously perceived to be invincible,” said pollster J. Ann Selzer, president of Selzer & Co. The poll of 804 Iowa adults, including 620 likely voters, was conducted Oct. 9-12 by Selzer & Co. The questions asked of all Iowans have a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points; it’s plus or minus 3.9 percentage points for the questions asked of likely voters.
Grassley, 89, is seeking his eighth term in the Senate this year. Franken, 64, is a retired U.S. Navy admiral.
The numbers suggest a contest closer than any Grassley has faced since he defeated a Democratic incumbent by 8 percentage points to win his first election to the Senate in 1980.
His closest result since then came in 2016, when he defeated former Lt. Gov. Patty Judge by 24 percentage points.
Many political pundits and party officials had written off this year’s Iowa Senate contest, expecting Grassley to once again cruise to victory. Election analysts for months have rated the race in Grassley’s favor, and national Democratic groups have indicated they don’t plan to spend money supporting Franken, instead focusing on states where they see greater potential for victory.
But the poll indicates weaknesses for Grassley beyond his head-to-head race with Franken.
His job disapproval rating is a record high for him in the Iowa Poll. The percentage of Iowans who view him unfavorably also hit a peak. And nearly two-thirds of likely voters say the senator’s age is a concern rather than an asset.
Franken, meanwhile, is still unknown to more than a third of Iowans. But of those who do know enough about him to form an opinion, more view him favorably than unfavorably.
Franken has improved his performance since July, when a previous Iowa Poll showed Grassley leading by eight percentage points, 47% to 39%.
Franken’s improvement in the head-to-head contest is aided by an advantage among political independents, who back him over Grassley by 11 percentage points, 46% to 35%.
In July, independents were nearly evenly split, with 38% backing Franken and 37% backing Grassley.
Donna Patterson, an 88-year-old independent from Evansdale, said she plans to vote for Franken this year.
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“I do hope he gets in,” the poll respondent said. “I feel he is for the people.”
Patterson, who is retired from working a variety of jobs, said she’s voted for Grassley in the past, but now, “I would vote for anybody that ran against Grassley.”
“When he was younger and first started out in government, he was good,” she said. “He really was. He was very sincere about being for the people, and now he will do whatever the Republican Party tells him to do. And that’s not right.”
Each candidate has nearly universal support among members of their own political parties, with 93% of Democrats supporting Franken and 90% of Republicans supporting Grassley.
Just 4% of Democrats say they would vote for Grassley, while 2% of Republicans say they would vote for Franken.
Those numbers show both candidates consolidating support among their own parties. In July, 88% of Democrats supported Franken and 85% of Republicans supported Grassley.
Among demographic groups, Grassley’s strongest showing comes among evangelicals, with 73% support. He also receives majority support from rural residents (61%); men (56%); and Protestants (54%).
He also gets 53% support among those ages 55 and older, those without a college degree and those who live in towns. And he has 52% support from Iowans in the 4th Congressional District and 51% from Catholics.
Mark Johanns, a Dubuque resident and poll respondent, said he has followed Grassley’s career since he was 16 years old and first met Grassley.
“I think he still represents Iowa,” said Johanns, who is in his late 50s and works in agriculture. “He works tirelessly. He has been around each county this year. I’d see him down at the Iowa State football games. And for a man of his age and character, he carries it off like he’s 30 years old.”
Johanns is a registered independent, but he expects to vote a straight Republican ticket this year.
“The price of my utilities has skyrocketed,” he said. “Food has skyrocketed. The farmers’ costs have gone off the page. And everything was pretty balanced out when (former Republican President Donald) Trump was in order. And I totally disagree with what the current administration is doing with everything right now.”
Franken earns majority support among those with no religious affiliation (62%), those with a college degree (56%), city dwellers (55%), women (54%) and suburban voters (53%).
Grassley faces concerns about his age from a majority of likely voters — including a third of those who say they plan to vote for him.
At 89, Grassley is the second-oldest senator currently in office, behind only Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, who is a few months older. If he is elected and serves out another six-year term, he would be the second-oldest member of Congress ever at 95.
He has served in public office continuously since he was first elected to the Iowa Legislature in 1958.
Grassley has portrayed his longevity as an asset, arguing it gives him clout and influence as he works on behalf of Iowans.
But just a third — 34% of likely Iowa voters — say they believe his longevity is an asset to Iowa. Most — 60% — say his age is a concern. Another 6% say they’re not sure.
Among Republicans, 58% say Grassley’s longevity is an asset. But more than a third, 37%, say his age is a concern.
Independents view his age as more of a concern (64%) than an asset (30%).
And Democrats are overwhelmingly concerned, at 86%. Just 8% see Grassley’s years of service as an asset.
The results send “a strong message that this is a piece of what’s going on with the erosion of support for Chuck Grassley,” Selzer said.
During a televised Senate debate earlier this month, Grassley said he intends to serve out a full six-year term if he’s elected. He said Iowans who wonder whether he’s up to the task should look at his schedule.
“I go to bed at nine, get up at four, run two miles, get to the office by six, sometimes a little bit before six,” he said.
He said he went 27 years without missing a vote in Congress, he completes his committee work in Washington, D.C., and he tours the state’s 99 counties when he’s at home.
“I think that that’s how I’m going to continue for the next term of office if the people will return me to the United States Senate,” he said.
The Grassley campaign has sought to cast Franken as out of touch with everyday Iowans.
Franken is originally from Lebanon, Iowa, and lives in Sioux City. He spent nearly 40 years in the Navy and retired in 2017 as a three-star vice admiral.
He has held a variety of roles in Washington, including as the first military officer on U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy’s staff, at the U.S. Department of Defense and as chief of legislative affairs for the Navy.
He returned to Iowa in 2019 to run for the U.S. Senate seat held by Republican Sen. Joni Ernst, but he finished second in the 2020 Democratic primary.
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He faced accusations of “carpetbagging” in his 2020 race, and some Republicans have echoed that criticism in 2022. After one negative tweet from a conservative blogger, Franken lashed out.
“I was born in Iowa. I will be buried here,” he said in a statement at the time. “To say that I am no longer an Iowan because I put on our country’s uniform is beyond the pale.”
A majority of likely voters, 52%, say Franken’s military career spent outside the state would be an asset to Iowa. That includes 84% of Democrats, 55% of independents and 25% of Republicans.
Another 29% say Franken’s experience means he is out of touch with Iowa issues, and 19% say they aren’t sure.
Among Republicans, 48% say Franken’s experience means he is out of touch, as do 28% of independents and 7% of Democrats.
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For the first time in an Iowa Poll, more Iowans disapprove of Grassley’s job performance than approve.
The longtime senator’s 48% disapproval is his highest ever, 4 percentage points higher than the 44% of Iowans who approve of his performance. Another 9% say they are not sure.
The last time Grassley’s approval was that low was 42% in March 1982, just after he was first elected to the Senate. But Grassley’s disapproval rating was only 22% in that poll, with 36% saying they weren’t sure.
The disapproval/approval margin in the latest Iowa Poll is slightly wider among likely voters: 50% disapprove of Grassley and 45% approve.
Grassley receives 77% approval among Republicans, 36% among independents and 14% among Democrats. Meanwhile, 84% of Democrats disapprove of Grassley, as do 52% of independents and 14% of Republicans.
Grassley is also seeing his highest unfavorable rating in an Iowa Poll.
While the percentage of Iowans who view Grassley favorably has remained steady at 47% since the question was asked in March, the percentage of Iowans who view Grassley unfavorably has risen by 6 percentage points, to 46%.
Those numbers are being driven by an increase in Iowans who view Grassley very unfavorably — jumping from 19% in March to 28% now. Eighteen percent say they view Grassley mostly unfavorably, while 20% view him very favorably and 27% view him mostly favorably.
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Aaron Webber, a 56-year-old Marion resident and poll respondent, said he views Grassley “mostly favorably” and approves of the job he’s doing, though he views some others, like Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds, more favorably.
“I’m all for term limits, and Chuck has been there a long time,” he said. “I think he’s probably done some good stuff, but I just feel like if you’re in Washington that long, you’re going to get sucked into that vortex. I think it’s hard to imagine someone being there that long that’s still looking out for the interest of the citizens.”
Franken, meanwhile, is far less well-known than Grassley, but more Iowans feel favorably toward him than unfavorably. The poll found 36% of Iowans view Franken favorably, while 27% view him unfavorably.
Marlene Klemp, a 64-year-old Democratic poll respondent, said she likes Franken’s military service and believes he has “excellent” leadership qualities.
“Franken is going to stand up for what he believes and not necessarily follow what maybe even the Democratic Party says,” said Klemp, who farms with her husband in Fayette County and is a part-time city clerk. “I feel like he’s got a good head on his shoulders.”
Franken’s positive and negative ratings both have increased from the March Iowa Poll, when 21% viewed him favorably and 11% viewed him unfavorably. Still, 37% said they are not sure how they feel about Franken, compared with 7% who are not sure about Grassley.
Franken’s favorability breaks down to 12% very favorable, 24% mostly favorable, 16% mostly unfavorable and 11% very unfavorable.
Stephen Gruber-Miller covers the Iowa Statehouse and politics for the Register. He can be reached by email at [email protected] or by phone at 515-284-8169. Follow him on Twitter at @sgrubermiller.
Brianne Pfannenstiel is the chief politics reporter for the Register. Reach her at [email protected] or 515-284-8244. Follow her on Twitter at @brianneDMR.
The Iowa Poll, conducted October 9-12, 2022, for the Des Moines Register and Mediacom by Selzer & Co. of Des Moines, is based on telephone interviews with 804 Iowans ages 18 or older. Interviewers with Quantel Research contacted households with randomly selected landline and cell phone numbers supplied by Dynata. Interviews were administered in English. Responses were adjusted by age, sex, and congressional district to reflect the general population based on recent American Community Survey estimates.
Questions based on the sample of 804 Iowa adults have a maximum margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. Questions based on the subsample of 620 likely voters in the 2022 general election have a maximum margin of error of plus or minus 3.9 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 or 3.9 percentage points, respectively. Results based on smaller samples of respondents — such as by gender or age — have a larger margin of error.
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Republishing the copyright Iowa Poll without credit to the Des Moines Register and Mediacom is prohibited.
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