By Craig Robinson
A new TIR-Voter/Consumer Research Poll shows 49 percent of Iowans now favor gay marriage, while 42 percent oppose allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally in Iowa.
The survey shows that more people strongly opposes gay marriage (35 percent) than strongly favor gay marriage (33 percent), but its also shows how polarizing the issue has become as only 22 percent of respondents somewhat favor or somewhat oppose gay marriage.
Of the six states that allow gay marriages, Iowa is unique in that it is the only state not located in the northeast to allow full-fledged marriage rights. Iowa and New Hampshire are similar in the sense that the two are perennial swing states, but the major difference between the two states is that New Hampshire passed a law to legalize it, while a state Supreme Court decision is what allowed gay marriage in Iowa.
Even though the TIR/VCR poll shows that more and more Iowans are accepting gay marriage, the way that it was ushered in by a court decision and not a legislative action has created a unique political environment in the state. In response to the court’s decision and legislative inaction, Iowans voted out all three Iowa Supreme Court justices who were up for retention in 2010. Another justice is up for retention in 2012, and the campaign to oust him is already in full swing.
The TIR/VCR poll found that 40 percent of Iowans plan on voting to retain Justice David Wiggins, while 32 percent planned on voting not to retain Wiggins. A healthy percentage of Iowans, 28 percent, did not know how they would vote in November.
The poll also asked Iowans why they were voting one way or another on the retention of Wiggins. Twenty-seven percent of respondents said they support gay marriage and also plan to vote to retain Justice Wiggins. Sixteen percent said that they oppose gay marriage, and will also vote to remove Wiggins from the court.
Twenty-two percent of those surveyed said that gay marriage should have been decided by the legislature not the Supreme Court, and that they will vote to remove Wiggins from the court. Twenty-five percent said that their vote on retention will not be based on the gay marriage issue in any way. Instead, other issues will shape their decision.
At first glance, the 40 percent retain and 32 percent not retain would seem to be good news for Justice Wiggins. Yet the results are actually more in favor for the anti-retention effort this fall than it was in the summer of 2010. In the July 2010 TIR/VCR poll, 40 percent of respondents said they would vote to retain the three Iowa Supreme Court justices, while only 27 percent said they would vote to not to retain them. That means the anti-retention campaign is starting off in a better position in 2012 than it did in 2010 when it successfully ousted three Iowa Supreme Court justices.
Dr. Jan van Lohuizen, the founder and president the Houston, Texas, based polling firm Voter/Consumer Research indicated that retention elections are difficult to poll since not everyone takes the time to fill out the non-partisan portion of the ballot.
“If you assume that no one speaks a word about this race, a healthy chunk of the 28 percent will not vote at all, which will serve to grow the margin by which he is re-elected,” van Lohuize said. “Because we don’t know exactly how many, it’s hard to do the math, but let’s say two-thirds don’t vote and the rest split 40/32, the judge ends up winning by 55 to 45 percent.”
Yet in Iowa, the retention campaign of Justice Wiggins is getting a lot of attention, and the success of the 2010 anti-retention also shouldn’t go unnoticed. The anti-retention effort is well disciplined and on message. Instead of talking about gay marriage in Iowa, they focus on judicial activism and the low ratings Wiggins has received from his peers.
The Iowa Bar Association and other pro-Wiggins groups are actively campaigning for retention, but they lack the focus and the compelling argument that their opponents have. Worse yet, they too often show distain toward Bob Vander Plaats, the leader of the anti-retention effort. Instead of making the best argument as to why Wiggins should remain on the bench, they instead attack their opposition and try to make the case that Vander Plaats and others are injecting politics into the courts by utilizing the retention process.
If the results of the retention poll show us anything, it’s that ousting Justice Wiggins isn’t going to be an easy task, especially now that gay marriage has become more accepted in the state. Still, the side that does the best job communicating to the 28 percent of people who are undecided on the retention issue will probably win. Right now, the anti-retention campaign is providing voters with a more substantive reason for why voters should side with them.
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