Iowa Poll: Republican Joni Ernst pulls ahead of Democrat Theresa Greenfield in closing days of U.S. Senate race – Des Moines Register

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Brianne Pfannenstiel
 
| Des Moines Register

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© Copyright 2020, Des Moines Register and Tribune Co.

Republican U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst has pulled ahead of Democrat Theresa Greenfield in the closing stretch of a contentious U.S. Senate race, according to a new Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll.

Ernst leads 46% to 42% over Greenfield, the Iowa Poll shows. Another 3% say they plan to vote for someone else, 1% do not plan to vote in the Senate race, 3% are unsure and 4% already voted but did not want to say which candidate they support.

The poll of 814 likely Iowa voters was conducted by Selzer & Co. of Des Moines from Oct. 26-29. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points. 

“It’s really both a matter of Ernst rising and Greenfield fading a little bit,” said J. Ann Selzer, president of Selzer & Co. “There’s sort of an equilibrium in terms of what’s happening.”

This is the final 2020 Iowa Poll before the election, and it’s the first time Ernst has led in the poll this year. 

In June, Greenfield led Ernst by 3 percentage points, 46% to 43%. In September, Greenfield maintained that 3-percentage-point lead, 45% to 42%. The margin of error for both of those polls was plus or minus 3.8 percentage points.

Eighty-nine percent of likely voters who say they plan to vote in the Senate race say their minds are made up. That includes 93% of Greenfield supporters and 92% of Ernst supporters. Seven percent say they still could be persuaded, and 1% are not sure.

Neither candidate has secured a majority, Selzer noted, indicating there’s still some give in the numbers. 

As early voting surges amid the pandemic, 51% of likely voters say they have already cast their ballots — surpassing the 34% who said they had already voted at a similar point in the 2016 general election and the 42% who had done so in 2012.

Among those who have already cast their ballots, Greenfield leads 55% to 33%. And Ernst leads 60% to 29% among those who have yet to vote.  

‘Trump core’ of voters boosts Ernst

Since September, Ernst has grown her lead with groups that have been core supporters of the Republican president.

The Republican senator now leads with men overall, 56% to 33%; with white men who do not have a college degree, 65% to 24%; with white evangelicals, 72% to 19%; and with those who live in rural areas, 65% to 27%.

“This is certainly the Trump core that’s coming to her,” Selzer said.

Previously: Joni Ernst has embraced President Donald Trump. Will that hurt her or help her as she runs for a second term?

But the biggest change since September is Ernst’s standing with Iowans who identify as independents.

In September, Greenfield had a 15-percentage-point lead with independents, carrying them 47% to 32%. But today, Ernst has an 8-point advantage, earning 45% of the independent vote to Greenfield’s 37%.

In the closing weeks of the campaign, Ernst has played to her base, appearing with President Donald Trump at a rally in Omaha earlier in the week, airing television ads that falsely accuse Greenfield of calling police officers racists and doubling down on her arguments that Greenfield is far too liberal on issues like the environment and health care.

The campaign also has targeted those who are less partisan, arguing in a range of ways that, aside from Greenfield’s politics, she can’t be trusted as a person. The campaign has hit the Democrat for rescinding her candidate paperwork during the 2018 election after discovering her campaign manager had forged signatures to get her onto the ballot. Ernst’s campaign also has zeroed in on Greenfield’s business record, claiming she is a failed businessperson who hurt small businesses. 

Greenfield’s business record: What actually happened with Colby Interests and Rottlund Homes

And, the Ernst campaign has tried to tie Greenfield to a fake email circulated on social media that appeared to be from the Audubon County Farm Bureau retracting its endorsement of Ernst. Although Democrats shared the fake email, there is no evidence that Greenfield was connected to it. 

Many Iowans are focused on Senate control 

The Iowa Senate race is among those viewed across the nation as most likely to determine which party holds the majority in the chamber.

Democrats need a net gain of four seats to claim the majority outright. But if former Vice President Joe Biden wins the presidency, his vice president could act as the tie-breaker in the Senate, and Democrats would need to net just three seats to control the chamber. 

Republicans are expected to pick up a seat in Alabama. Democrats have set their sights on Colorado, Arizona, Maine, North Carolina and Iowa as among the most likely to flip.

Control of the Senate is on many Iowans’ minds as they choose the candidate to support in this election. A majority of Ernst’s supporters and a plurality of Greenfield’s say their votes are more about which party controls the Senate than they are about their enthusiasm for the candidate.

Among Ernst’s supporters, 54% say their vote is more about Republicans maintaining control of the Senate, and 35% say it is more about their enthusiasm for her. Six percent say it’s about something else, and 4% are unsure.

Among Greenfield’s supporters, 48% say their vote is more about gaining Senate control, and 41% say it’s more about enthusiasm for her. Ten percent say it’s about something else, and 2% are unsure.

Mike Gamm, a 45-year-old Des Moines resident and poll respondent, said he identifies as an independent and has already cast his vote for Ernst.

“Between Ernst and Greenfield, it was always kind of a coin flip for me, as far as to which one I thought would do a better job for us,” he said. “So I went with the bigger picture on that, as far as wanting to keep the majority of the Senate.”  

He said he’s worried about Democrats ending the filibuster and adding seats to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“A large reason why I voted for Joni Ernst is, I’ll be completely honest with you, the far left scares the hell out of me,” he said, echoing Ernst’s closing message. “I mean, the socialist ideas — no. I don’t want the United States to become a really large Venezuela.”

Economy, health care top issues driving voters

When it comes to issues, a plurality of likely voters say the economy is most on their minds as they think about which candidate to support in the Senate race. Overall, 31% say it’s the top issue for them, including 11% of Greenfield supporters and 49% of Ernst supporters.

Among all likely voters, 22% say health care is most top of mind as they make their decision. Another 20% say they’re thinking most about President Donald Trump’s time in office, and 8% each say the Supreme Court and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Among Ernst’s supporters, 49% say the economy is top of mind, followed by 19% who say Trump’s performance in office, 11% health care, 7% the Supreme Court and 4% the COVID-19 pandemic.

Greenfield’s supporters say health care is the top issue as they make their choice for senator, at 32%. That is followed by 27% who say they are thinking most about Trump’s performance in office; 14% the pandemic; 11% the economy and 9% the Supreme Court.

Nancy Gooding, a 61-year-old Des Moines Democrat and poll respondent, said she has already voted for Greenfield.

“I have been really concerned about how Joni Ernst doesn’t really represent Iowa,” she said. “She represents Donald Trump. Everything that comes out of her mouth is pandering to Donald Trump.”

Gooding doesn’t know as much about Greenfield, but she’s optimistic about the Democratic candidate.

“I really have hope that she’ll represent all of Iowa,” she said.

About this poll 

The Iowa Poll, conducted October 26-29, 2020, for the Des Moines Register and Mediacom by Selzer & Co. of Des Moines, is based on telephone interviews with 814 Iowans ages 18 or older who say they will definitely vote or have already voted in the 2020 general election for president, U.S. Senate and other offices.  

Interviewers with Quantel Research contacted 941 Iowa adults 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 census data.  

Questions based on the sample of 814 Iowa likely voters have a maximum margin of error of plus or minus 3.4 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 3.4 percentage points. Results based on smaller samples of respondents — such as by gender or age — have a larger margin of error.  

Republishing the copyright Iowa Poll without credit to the Des Moines Register and Mediacom is prohibited. 

Des Moines Register reporters Tony Leys and Ian Richardson contributed to this report.

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.

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