Shifting views on Varnum ruling

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There's a poll out this week of 600 likely voters commissioned by Justice Not Politics, the non-profit that's launched a campaign against efforts to remove Iowa Supreme Court Justice David Wiggins. Wiggins, as you may know, was among seven justices who ruled unanimously in Varnum v. Brien, striking down Iowa's ban on same-sex marriages.

Three were knocked out in 2010. Now. the usual suspects, and the Republican Party of Iowa, are gunning for Wiggins.

The poll seeks to guage support for retention, but as desmoinesdem over at Bleeding Heartland points out, it's sorta flawed. There are four justices on the ballot, including three newly appointed justices and Wiggins. But the poll does not ask specifically about Wiggins. Odd. And polling retention is notoriously difficult, no matter how you ask.

More interesting to me is the shift in opinion on the Varnum ruling itself (chart above). Since May 2009, overall opposition to the ruling has dropped 15 points while support is up 11 percent. That includes a huge shift among independents, from 67 percent opposed in 2009 to 51 percent supporting the ruling now.

I know the Bob Vander Plaats' playbook is gin up the base, make sure they vote and benefit from a fact that a considerable number of less interested voters will skip retention entirely. So zealotry, plus apathy, equals victory.

But I think these numbers may suggest that Wiggins hunters might need to do more than just wave Varnum in the air and yell tyranny. This will be a bigger electorate than in 2010, and if they want any support beyond the base, they'll need a broader argument.

That goes for Wiggins backers as well. What else, besides Varnum, should we like about his record? I know Justice Not Politics folks would argue that retention was not intended to work like that, but there's no going back now.


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