Poll suggests tight U.S. Senate, presidential races in Iowa

Results are due to state's 'purpleness'


A poll providing the first post-primary peek at the November general election finds that the race for U.S. Senate seats is a virtual dead heat, and more than half of Iowans’ have unfavorable opinions of both President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden.

The Public Policy Polling survey of 963 Iowans conducted in the days after the June 2 primary shows Iowans leaning slightly toward Trump while also giving newly nominated Democratic Senate candidate Theresa Greenfield a 2 percentage point lead over first-term Republican Sen. Joni Ernst.

In addition to what the poll results say about those particular races, it confirms that Iowa once again is a battleground state, University of Iowa political science professor Tim Hagle said Friday.

That’s due in part to the “purpleness” of Iowa, he said, as well as the large number of voters aligned with neither the Republican nor Democratic parties.

The latest active voter registration numbers in Iowa show 674,456 Democrats, 669,503 Republicans and 653,448 “no party” and “other” voters.

“The near even split between Democrats and Republicans means that it’s almost always the ‘no party’ voters who decide,” Hagle said. “Most of them probably aren’t paying close attention at this point.”

In the Senate race, the poll found voters favored Greenfield over Ernst, 45 percent to 43 percent, with a 3.2 percent margin of error. Twelve percent of those polled were not sure who they would support in the Nov. 3 election.


Ernst’s approval rating is underwater with 38 percent approval and 45 percent disapproval, Public Policy Polling found in the poll conducted for Emily’s List, which backs Greenfield.

Greenfield’s approval rating is 36 percent, but her disapproval rating is just 23 percent. The remaining 41 percent were “not sure,” which may suggest voters don’t know her.

“That’s good in the sense that she can try to define herself, but bad if Ernst or the Republicans manage to do so first,” Hagle said.

Iowa Democratic Party spokesman Jeremy Busch said voters know Ernst “as the corrupt Washington politician she is and they’re categorically rejecting another six years of a senator who puts corporate PACs above the people of Iowa.”

Republicans are skeptical of poll because, in part, it showed six years ago at this time Ernst losing to U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley by 6 percentage points. She won 52 percent to 44 percent.

“There’s only one place to put a PPP poll and that’s straight into the garbage can,” said Republican Party of Iowa spokesman Aaron Britt.

Republicans point to criticism of PPP by the data journalism website for “herding” — producing results that closely match other polls. Last month,, gave PPP a B grade with a slight Democratic bias.

Chris Larimer, University of Northern Iowa political science professor, warns against reading too much into early polling. However, if nothing else, the polls confirm that Iowa remains a battleground state and provides justification for both national parties to pump more resources into Iowa.


Asked about the major party presidential candidates, 52 percent of those polled have an unfavorable view of the president while 51 percent find his challenger unfavorable. At the same time, 45 percent have a favorable opinion of Trump while 37 percent say the same about Biden.

The voters were split on the president’s job performance, with 48 percent approving and 49 percent disapproving.

On the big question — who will they vote for this fall — Trump edged Biden, 48 percent to 47 percent. Only 5 percent were not sure which candidate they would support.

In the 2016 contest between Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton, Trump carried Iowa by nearly 10 percentage points. Among those polled, 50 percent voted for Trump and 41 percent said they voted for Clinton.

The breakdown of those polled shows 35 percent Republicans, 35 percent Democrats and 30 percent other. Fifty percent were contacted by landline and 50 percent by text message.

Looking at how tight both the presidential and Senate races are at the moment, Larimer wondered if that reflects a “permanent and decisive move among voters away from both incumbents” due to recent events — the coronavirus pandemic and attention on racial inequality in the wake of George Floyd’s death while in police custody.

“The head-to-head matchups are quite close,” he said. “But on the other hand, the favorability and approval numbers remain sharply divided along partisan lines.”

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