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July 5th, 2011

TIR Poll: Iowa Caucus Goers Sour On Ethanol Subsidies

A recent survey of likely Republican caucus goers shows that support of federal subsidies for the ethanol industry has waned significantly in recent years.  The poll, which was commissioned by, finds that Iowa Republicans view a candidate who supports ending federal ethanol subsidies more favorably than a candidate who doesn’t.

The survey asked, “Some of the candidates have proposed to end federal subsidies for ethanol.  Do you have a very positive, somewhat positive, somewhat negative, or very negative reaction to candidates taking this position?”  Forty-seven percent responded by answering very or somewhat positive.  Only 24 percent of respondents said that they had a negative reaction to a candidate who is campaigning against ethanol subsidies.

What a difference four years can make.  In 2007, both Republican and Democratic candidates did all they could to embrace the ethanol industry.  In addition to making pilgrimages to the Wells Blue Bunny Ice Cream Parlor in Le Mars and the iconic Iowa State Fair, presidential candidates also made sure that a tour of one of the state’s many ethanol plants was on their itinerary.

Last caucus season, it seemed like everyone, including Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama, toured ethanol plants with the media in tow.  Even John McCain, the “maverick” who skipped Iowa in 2000 largely because of his opposition to ethanol subsidies, had changed his tune.  Not only did he tour an Iowa ethanol plant, but the Arizona Senator also often joked that he began each day in Iowa with a shot of ethanol on the advice of Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley.

What once was a “must” issue for presidential aspirants, is now no longer a requirement.  In fact, supporting ethanol subsidies could actually hinder candidates who take that position.  The poll shows that virtually no one mentions ethanol as a decisive issue.  When respondents were asked which of a list of issues was the most important to them, 46 percent said jobs and the economy and 31 percent said cutting spending.  These were far and a way the top answers by likely caucus goers.  Only two percent of those surveyed mentioned ethanol, the lowest of any of the ten issues that were presented to the poll’s participants.

When asked specifically which they would be more likely to support, a candidate who supports ethanol subsidies because they are important to the Iowa economy, or a candidate who opposes them because they want to get spending under control, caucus goers prefer the candidate who opposes ethanol subsidies by a margin of 56 percent to 31 percent.

The poll finds that, the more conservative caucus goers are and the more attention they pay to the 2012 race, the more likely they are to support a candidate who wants to end ethanol subsidies.  Yet, even among people who depend on agriculture for 25 percent or more of their income, the issue is a split decision.  People in this group are as likely to say that they will support a candidate who says he or she will end ethanol subsidies as a candidate to pledges to continue them.

While the media praised former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty for calling for the end of ethanol subsidies while formally announcing his presidential campaign in Iowa, his position is not as courageous as the media made it out to be.  As seen in the results of this poll, Pawlenty has embraced a position that is already popular with Republican caucus goers.  It’s also worth noting that even the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association supports the phase down and reform of the current ethanol incentive.

The candidate who might be the most out-of-step with caucus goers on this issue is Mitt Romney.  During his only visit to Iowa this year, Romney said, “I support the subsidy for ethanol.  I believe ethanol is an important part of our energy solution for this country.” Romney’s support of the ethanol subsidy puts him in an interesting predicament considering that he is not competing hard in Iowa.

Every candidate who registered significant support in the poll has supporters who oppose ethanol subsidies by a substantial margin.  In most cases, the margin between a candidate’s supporters who opposed ethanol subsidies and those who support them ranged from 25 points to 61 points.  Romney’s margin was only five points.

Not only does that mean he is embracing an unpopular position with the caucus electorate, but he’s taking that position and not evening participating in Iowa, which may make him vulnerable to being attacked on that issue in a place like New Hampshire or in one of the many debates that will be held in the months ahead.

Once again, 2012 Caucus Poll shows that the current perception about Republican caucuses goers is wrong.  While showing one’s support for the ethanol industry may have been in vogue in previous caucus cycles, the allegation that Iowans are desperately trying to hold on to their ethanol subsidies is a myth that the media should stop spreading.

About the poll:

The poll was commissioned by and The Iowa Republican magazine.  Craig Robinson founded both entities in 2009.  Robinson was the Political Director of the Republican Party of Iowa in 2007.  In that capacity, he organized both the 2007 Iowa Straw Poll and 2008 Iowa Caucuses.

Voter/Consumer Research conducted the poll by telephone interviews between the dates of June 26th and June 30th.  It has a sample size of 500 likely caucus goers, and has a margin of error of ± 4.4 percent. Dr. Jan van Lohuizen, an expert in the field of public policy and public opinion research, founded Voter/Consumer Research.  Dr. van Lohuizen was President George W. Bush’s primary pollster and has provided his services to a number of political candidates, corporations, and various think tanks.  This is the third Iowa poll Dr. van Lohuizen has conducted for


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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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