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June 2nd, 2010

Unintended Consequences – Poll Shows Branstad with Healthy Lead

With less than a week to go until the June 8th primary, Iowans have finally gotten to see the results of a third party primary poll. A North Carolina polling firm, Public Policy Polling, conducted an automated poll of likely Republican and Democratic primary voters between May 25th and May 27th. The survey of Republicans showed Branstad with a healthy 15-point lead over his nearest primary opponent, Bob Vander Plaats.

What’s interesting about the poll isn’t the results, it’s who conducted it and why. Did some polling firm in North Carolina feel bad that Iowa primary voters have not seen any polling data on the contested primaries and therefore conducted a poll one week out from the primary? That is very doubtful.

Public Policy Polling is a Democratic Party polling firm. Its clients include four members of Congress, all of whom are Democrats. The group also does polling pro-choice groups like NARAL and Planned Parenthood, labor unions like AFL-CIO and SEIU, and it also does polling for the North Carolina Democratic Party.

The question of why a North Carolina polling firm would conduct a poll in Iowa is as interesting as who the group is. The most likely scenario for why the out-of-state firm would all of the sudden poll in Iowa is because it could be connected to Iowans for Responsible Government, a shady 527 group that is headed up by liberal Democrats. That group is trying to influence the Republican primary for governor.

It should come as no surprise that, after almost a month of negative attacks on Terry Branstad, a poll was conducted to see how much damage was inflicted on his election efforts. There is no doubt that Iowans for Responsible Government’s attacks have affected Branstad’s polling. The relentless TV ads and direct mail campaign were bound to take a toll on Branstad’s numbers.

You can tell that the ads are working based on the reaction of the Branstad campaign itself. Not only has Branstad responded with a TV ad of his own, but his campaign also sent mail, made automated phone calls, and the candidate himself talks about the front group at events that he attends in an effort to combat the negative attacks.

By all accounts, this liberal group has likely spent somewhere in the neighborhood of a half a million dollars trying to soften up Branstad. The only thing they have to show for their attacks is that Branstad is below 50% in an automated poll, but still has a commanding lead over his opponents. There is no doubt that the Branstad campaign would prefer to be above 50% in the poll, but after all they have been through, they are still in good shape with less than one week until Iowa Republicans go to the polls.

The campaign that should be concerned about the poll is Bob Vander Plaats’. I can’t think of another candidate in recent history running for any office that has been as fortunate as Vander Plaats has been in his 2010 campaign. Not only does he have a radio show host on the biggest station in the state attacking his opponent day in and day out, but the Democrats have spent a half million dollars beating up his opponent. Yet, Vander Plaats can only muster 31% of the vote in the poll – the same percentage he received in the 2002 gubernatorial primary.

The results of the Public Policy poll shows that Vander Plaats has been unable to capitalize on the Democrats’ attacks on Branstad. Had Vander Plaats had the resources to piggyback on Iowans for Responsible Government ads by running more ads of his own, he would have been able to make up more ground than he has.

The Democrats have been successful in softening up Branstad in the primary, but the success of their scheme always depended on Vander Plaats’ ability to increase his own numbers. The polling numbers show his inability to do that.

While the Iowans for Responsible Government attacks have caused a lot of grief for the Branstad campaign, it has also provided them with a major test for their campaign. Should Branstad win the primary, his team will be battle tested and will have dealt with most of the attacks that Governor Chet Culver will try to make in the fall election. Oddly enough, the attacks from Iowans for Responsible Government might have done Branstad a huge favor by helping to get both the candidate and his campaign team into shape.

Photo by Dave Davidson

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About the Author

Craig Robinson
Craig Robinson is the founder and editor-in-chief of, a political news and commentary site he launched in March of 2009. Robinson’s political analysis is respected across party lines, which has allowed him to build a good rapport with journalist across the country. Robinson has also been featured on Iowa Public Television’s Iowa Press, ABC’s This Week, and other local television and radio programs. Campaign’s & Elections Magazine recognized Robinson as one of the top influencers of the 2012 Iowa Caucuses. A 2013 Politico article sited Robinson and as the “premier example” of Republican operatives across the country starting up their own political news sites. His website has been repeatedly praised as the best political blog in Iowa by the Washington Post, and in January of 2015, Politico included him on the list of local reporters that matter in the early presidential states. Robinson got his first taste of Iowa politics in 1999 while serving as Steve Forbes’ southeast Iowa field coordinator where he was responsible for organizing 27 Iowa counties. In 2007, Robinson served as the Political Director of the Republican Party of Iowa where he was responsible for organizing the 2007 Iowa Straw Poll and the 2008 First-in-the-Nation Iowa Caucuses. Following the caucuses, he created his own political news and commentary site, Robinson is also the President of Global Intermediate, a national mail and political communications firm with offices in West Des Moines, Iowa, and Washington, D.C. Robinson utilizes his fundraising and communications background to service Global’s growing client roster with digital and print marketing. Robinson is a native of Goose Lake, Iowa, and a 1999 graduate of St. Ambrose University in Davenport, where he earned degrees in history and political science. Robinson lives in Ankeny, Iowa, with his wife, Amanda, and son, Luke. He is an active member of the Lutheran Church of Hope.

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