Mental Health Closures Destroying Branstad Approval, New Poll Shows

PPP Polls released two extremely interesting Iowa-focused polls on Monday and Tuesday, taking a look both at the presidential race and Iowa issues. The first poll surveyed candidates’ favorables within their party and how they compare for the caucus. The second poll looked at potential matchups for the general, but also took a fascinating look at several Iowa politicians and issues. Here’s some key takeaways I noticed:

Branstad Brand Badly Damaged

It turns out kicking disabled Iowans out of their professionally-run care facilities is an unpopular thing to do. Who knew? Branstad’s overall approval numbers continue to nosedive after the controversial vetoes, now sitting at a 47% Disapprove, 42% Approve. Helpfully, the poll measured reaction to the biggest three vetoes:

Mental Health closures: 63% Disapprove, 20% Approve
$56 Million K-12 funding: 57% Disapprove, 29% Approve
Iowa, ISU, UNI funding: 49% Disapprove, 34% Approve

Those are some pretty stunning numbers – also notable is how few people responded “Unsure” (the most was 18% for the universities funding). That shows Iowans have been closely watching these issues. I was very interested to see that even Republicans disapprove of the mental health closings – 37% approve, 42% disapprove. I wondered if that would be the case, especially after attending so many Republican events where parents (often evangelical-leaning) would bring their disabled adult children out to meet the candidate. Caring for the mentally handicapped is an important topic for evangelical voters, and I wondered if that might override their typical desire for smaller government.

As I wrote about last week, Statehouse Republicans up for election in 2016 have got to be worried about this downward trend for the Governor. Branstad’s popularity has served as a big boost for down-ballot Republicans in the past three cycles. Republican campaigns brutally linked legislative Democrats to the unpopular Chet Culver and his policies for years (actually, they still do). Might Branstad soon take on a Culver-like albatross role for Republicans now?

Rand Paul Imploding

Who would have thought that father Ron Paul would do better than son Rand Paul? The Kentucky Senator is in all-out free-fall right now, only getting 3% of the Republican caucus-going vote. The other big notable from the Republican side is Carly Fiorina has surged to 10% and Donald Trump has now overtaken Scott Walker at 19%. I’ll be doing a Republican Power Ranking next week that covers this more in-depth, but for now check out Bleeding Heartland, who has a good look at this part of the poll.

Matchups: Iowa Close, Clinton’s Favorability A Concern

Even though Obama won Iowa by more than a 9% margin in 2008 and about 6% in 2012, no one has kidded themselves into thinking Iowa isn’t a purple swing state. Accordingly, Iowa appears to be headed toward toss-up territory once again, with Clinton leading head-to-head matchups with Jeb Bush by 4%, Donald Trump by 3%, Ted Cruz by 2%, but trails Ben Carson by 4%, and both Marco Rubio and Scott Walker by 1%. Sanders isn’t too different, besting Bush by 1% and tied with Walker. The margin of error in the poll is 2.5%, so nearly every matchup is essentially a toss-up.

What should be worrisome for Democrats is Clinton’s favorability numbers. Clinton is at 38% Favorable, 52% Unfavorable. Compare that to Sanders, who’s at 34% Favorable, 31% Unfavorable. It seems the never-ending private email server saga and perhaps her refusal to answer certain policy questions has been a major drag. By and large, the campaign has been rather well-run, and not suffered many of the internal or press problems as it did in 2007/2008. But the email problem simply won’t go away.

On the Republican side, Jeb Bush is faring even worse, with only a sad 29% Favorable opinion. Donald Trump’s incessant attacks on Bush has likely severely damaged him with the base.

The poll also reveals that a Trump independent run would crush Republicans’ hopes. A hypothetical three-way race puts Clinton at 39%, Bush at 30% and Trump at 21%. Trump takes away 29% of the Republican vote, while only 8% of the Democratic one.

Martin O’Malley Finally Moving Up

O’Malley staff and volunteers should feel good about the first PPP Poll that showed O’Malley hitting 7% among Iowa caucus-goers, the first time he’s shown real movement and been solidly in third place. O’Malley’s hard work in Iowa is finally starting to see some pay-off. Obviously, 7% is still 7%, but it reflects the reality I’ve seen on the ground – activists who pay attention to the presidential race early on have come away impressed with O’Malley. That’s enough for him to build upon and become a seriously-considered candidate down the stretch. With Clinton’s private email server concerns building, O’Malley may soon find a big opportunity to break out soon.

Good Numbers On Some Democratic Priorities

Iowa voters back Democrats’ positions on a number of key issues, the poll showed. They overwhelmingly support gun background checks and raising the minimum wage. They also mostly realize gay marriage hasn’t had a damaging effect on their lives (perhaps some of those who think otherwise are still confused thanks to what Steve King says).

Support criminal background checks on firearm purchases – 85% Approve, 8% Disapprove

Gay Marriage impact on your life: 56% No Impact At All, 24% Negative Impact, 20% Positive Impact

What would you support the minimum wage at?
37% – $10/hour
18% – $12/hour
17% – $15/hour
13% – stay at $7.25/hour
10% – eliminate minimum wage

However, the poll did not measure how important a priority those issues are to them. I’ve been skeptical of how salient minimum wage is as an election issue after Democrats spoke of it often in 2014 and got clobbered on Election Day. If you’re a swing voter who’s not making minimum wage, is your final vote really swayed on that even if you agree with it? (Obviously I support Democrats’ efforts to raise the minimum wage, but I wonder if it should be the top issue we lead off with when campaigning.)


by Pat Rynard
Posted 8/12/15

Featured photo via Gage Skidmore

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