Opinion

Burst of polls shows close Iowa races

Pollsters haven't forgotten Iowa after all

Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Theresa Greenfield speaks Aug, 11, 2019, with a reporter at a picnic hosted by the Adai
Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Theresa Greenfield speaks Aug, 11, 2019, with a reporter at a picnic hosted by the Adair County Democrats, (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call via AP)
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Turns out the pollsters haven’t forgotten about our state after all.

There have been two droughts in Iowa this summer. One, the far more serious, made life even tougher on Iowa’s farmers. The other made life tougher on Iowa’s political journalists.

I’ll pause here while you grab a tissue to dab away that tear.

There was a political polling drought in Iowa this summer. After the national conventions in August, there was only one poll conducted in Iowa until this month.

National pollsters, in particular, perhaps made up their minds early that a state that went by nearly 10 percentage points to Republican President Donald Trump four years ago wasn’t worth investing in to see if things have changed, especially when many other swing states — including new ones like Wisconsin and Arizona — demanded attention.

But the clouds have parted in Iowa and the polling rains fell. We were treated this month to three polls, each of them from highly regarded outfits: the gold standard Iowa Poll from Selzer and Co. and the Des Moines Register, the Monmouth Poll, and a New York Times/Siena College poll.

One key take-away was the consistency in the polling on Iowa’s competitive and high-stakes U.S. Senate race. All three polls showed Democratic challenger Theresa Greenfield leading Republican first-term incumbent Sen. Joni Ernst, and all by similarly small margins.

The Iowa Poll had Greenfield up 3 points, the New York Times had Greenfield up 2, and Monmouth had Greenfield up 3 in its high-turnout model and up 1 in its low-turnout model.

That’s noteworthy consistency across three polls on Iowa’s U.S. Senate race, which could play a role in which party emerges from the Nov. 3 election with a majority in the chamber.

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It’s safe to say at this point that the Greenfield-Ernst race is extremely close, and we can say with some certainty at this moment that Greenfield holds a very slight advantage. But with polls showing results that close with just five weeks until Election Day, the race appears destined to go down to the wire.

There was far less unison in polling in Iowa on the presidential race between Trump and Democratic challenger and former Vice President Joe Biden.

Monmouth had Trump up 3 points in the state, the New York Times had Biden up 3 points instead, and the Iowa Poll showed Trump and Biden deadlocked in a tie at 47 percent each.

Based on that data, we can say with much less certainty who leads the presidential race in Iowa at the moment. But we can determine, much like the Senate race, that the presidential race is close. Very close.

That’s the big-picture take-away from this polling deluge: the races at the top of the ticket in Iowa’s general election could go either way.

The Greenfield and Ernst campaigns in particular will spend the next five weeks mining every vote possible, knowing what’s at stake and what little room separates the candidates.

Here’s hoping we avoid any more polling droughts between now and Election Day.

Erin Murphy covers politics and government in Iowa. His column appears Monday in The Gazette. His email address is erin.murphy@lee.net.

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