With the legislative session over, Iowa Republicans are now debating how they should brand themselves as they move forward towards the 2010 elections. The debate was heightened this past week when Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter switched parties and announced he would seek re-election as a Democrat. Specter says the reason for his defection was due to his former party’s move to the right.
Spurring the debate in Iowa is a recent poll conducted by the Iowa First Foundation last month. This group is headed by Doug Gross, the Republican gubernatorial nominee in 2002, and Rich Schwarm, a former Chairman of the Republican Party of Iowa. Both Gross and Schwarm have recently been criticized by some conservatives over their remarks warning Republicans not to focus solely on the issue of gay marriage in the 2010 elections.
Their comments, combined with similar comments from other longtime Republican political strategists, have made some people skeptical of the reason behind the poll, its timing, and the results. That said, the poll does contain a lot of information that deserves thorough examination and debate. Thus, over the course of this week, The Iowa Republican will look at different segments of the poll.
The Iowa First Foundation poll provides a lot of good news for Iowa Republican as we look forward to the next election, but it also provides a sobering look how the Republican brand has been tarnished.
The Good News:
More Iowans have a more favorable impression of our Republican officials than they do of Iowa Democrats. While Republicans only have a 4% edge over Democrats (57% to 53%), this signifies that the pendulum has begun to swing back towards the GOP.
“Tell me whether you have a very favorable, somewhat favorable, somewhat unfavorable, or very unfavorable impression of the following.”
Republican elected officials in Iowa:
Very Favorable: 10%
Somewhat Favorable: 47%
Somewhat Unfavorable: 18%
Very Unfavorable: 15%
Democratic elected officials in Iowa:
Very Favorable: 14%
Somewhat Favorable: 39%
Somewhat Unfavorable: 18%
Very Unfavorable: 21%
The other piece of good news for Republicans is that 50% of the people surveyed said that things in their part of the state have gotten pretty seriously off on the wrong track. That is a sobering number for Governor Culver and Iowa Democrats. While Governor Culver’s approval number remains slightly above 50% (this poll had Culver at 52%), only 38% of those polled think that he deserves re-election, while 46% want to give a new person a chance.
The Bad News:
The Republican brand in Iowa is in poor shape. The poll read a list of traits to respondents and then asked if the description sounded more like Iowa Republicans or Iowa Democrats.
The Party of the Future – Republicans 25%, Democrats 38%
Open and Welcoming – Republicans 13%, Democrats 33%
Fair to Everyone – Republicans 17%, Democrats 27%
Arrogant – Republicans 30%, Democrats 22%
Backwards-looking – Republicans 30%, Democrats 13%
Reformers – Republicans 18%, Democrats 34%
Racist – Republicans 16%, Democrats 8%
Willing to listen to those who disagree with them – Republicans 15%, Democrats 28%
Will fight for the most vulnerable in our society, like children and the elderly – Republicans 17%, Democrats 46%.
While Republicans out-polled Democrats on traits like trustworthiness, the economy, management of government bureaucracies, and common sense, the traits listed above make it easy to understand why Republicans lag behind Democrats in voter registration. Who wants to be part of a political party that isn’t open or welcoming, that’s seen as arrogant, backwards-looking, or even racist?
Iowa Republicans must realize that the news media is not our friend. One need look no further than how the traditional media reported on this very poll. The poll asked respondents 90 questions on a wide variety of issues, yet the Des Moines Register wrote two stories. One was called “Iowa GOP is torn about emphasizing gay marriage,” and the other one was called, “Voters in poll want candidates who will stress economic issues.”
During the press conference, I asked if the results of the poll would be different had it been taken after the Court’s decision to allow gay marriage. The pollster said that it would have had an effect, but didn’t know how much it would have affected the numbers. Tom Beaumont, the reporter from the Register said it was a good question, but failed to truly address that point in his article. Instead, he wrote article saying that voters want to focus on economic issues. The truth is, we really don’t know what the impact would be since the poll was taken before the Supreme Court even announced that it would be issuing its decision.
Iowa Republicans also must realize that how they frame the issue of gay marriage will also make a difference. It’s ludicrous to think that this issue could be off the table for the next election. If our candidates say that they believe that marriage should be limited to one man and one woman, and that the people of Iowa should have the right to vote on this issue, Republicans will not be seen as closed-minded or backwards-looking. In fact, it would be the exact opposite; that position would probably poll above 75% in Iowa.
If Iowa Republicans want to win elections on a regular basis, we must work on improving our image. That doesn’t mean we have to compromise on the issues included in our platform, but it does mean that we should find better ways of conveying what we believe to the people of our state.
We also must realize that the constant public bickering between factions of our party must come to an end. Ford Motor Company doesn’t run ads for their F-150 pickup trucks that bash the Ford Explorer. They are different vehicles built and designed to accommodate different people. If you want to know why the Republican brand in Iowa is so poor, it’s because Iowa Republicans have spent ample time tarnishing it.
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