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April 11th, 2014

I’ve Never Seen a Poll With a Margin of Error of 6.5 Percent get so Much Attention – The Weekly Roundup

I don’t care what kind of campaign you are running, when a poll shows you leading the race, you promote the hell out of it. That is exactly what Joni Ernst’s campaign is doing with a recent Suffolk University poll that shows her leading Mark Jacobs by two points. The poll has Ernst leading the field with 25 percent, Jacobs at 23 percent, Sam Clovis at 7 percent, and Matt Whitaker at just 4 percent.

Having had some limited experience with polling, I would caution people about the Suffolk poll, especially regarding its findings in the Republican primary contests. Suffolk University didn’t conduct a Republican primary poll. They conducted a statewide general election poll and when talking to a likely Republican voter, they asked these particular respondents about the 2014 Republican primary for governor and the U.S. Senate.

Besides the fact that the poll shows Ernst leading the Republican primary field, the number that really jumps out to me is that Suffolk University only surveyed 173 likely Republican primary voters. That is a very small sample for a statewide election. Suffolk University also included three Democrats and 48 no-party voters in the in their Republican U.S. Senate primary poll. Unlike some states, only registered Republican voters can participate in the Republican primary in Iowa, which makes the inclusion of these non-Republican voters in the survey very questionable.

When the Des Moines Register and conducted general election polls in the past they have oversampled the Republican or Democrat segment of voters in order to get a more representative sample of the primary vote. The Suffolk poll did not survey additional Republican voters to get a more representative sample, which is why the Suffolk University poll has a 3.5 percent margin of error in its general election poll, but a 6.5 percent margin of error its findings in the U.S. Senate primary. Suffolk University also surveyed likely 2016 caucus goers, and that part of the poll has a margin of error of 8.4 percent. When you have an 8.4 margin of error and the top candidate garnered only 11 percent the poll may be interesting, but it is practically worthless.

Here are some other things that make me question the findings of the Suffolk University Poll.

1. Despite the fact that Tom Hoefling is unknown to 70 percent of Iowans, and 22 percent of Iowans have no opinion of him, Hoefling garners 8 percent of the vote when matched up against Governor Terry Branstad on a primary ballot. Frankly those numbers don’t make any sense.

2. When you look at the cross tabs for the Republican U.S. Senate primary in the Suffolk poll, one can quickly see why the results might be suspect. Suffolk polled 60 people from northeast Iowa, 41 people from southeast Iowa, 33 people from southwest Iowa, 48 people from northwest Iowa, and 48 people from central Iowa. When you only poll 224 people, and you have one geographical region that has significantly more respondents than the others for no apparent reason, you can get some strange results.

Polk County alone accounted for 13 percent of the primary turnout in the hotly contested 2010 Republican gubernatorial primary, but since the Suffolk poll didn’t weight its Republican primary sample by geographic region, it is giving more weight in its poll to northeast and northwest Iowa. Even if you took all of the primary votes from Black Hawk, Dubuque, and Linn counties, they don’t come close to matching just Polk County’s turn out numbers. So the distribution used in the poll just doesn’t make sense and is not representative of reality.

3. Nearly 60 percent of the respondents in Suffolk Republican U.S. Senate poll are women. Of the 224 people Suffolk surveyed, 58 percent are woman and only 40 percent are men. Those numbers are not representative of primary or even general election turnout.

4. The Suffolk Republican U.S. Senate poll included three Democrats. Again, a Registered Democrats can’t vote in the Republican primary.

5. The Republican U.S. Senate primary poll also included 48 no-party voters. Of that group, 27 percent of them voted for Ernst.

6. According to the Suffolk poll, Joni Ernst is stronger than Sam Clovis in northwest Iowa, and Mark Jacobs is tied with Clovis. Sorry, but I’m just not buying that. Nine people preferred Ernst from northwest Iowa, 8 people selected Jacobs and Clovis. The poll also shows that Clovis is stronger in central Iowa than Whitaker is, I find that hard to believe as well.

7. Ernst leads in the Suffolk poll because she cleaned up in southwest Iowa. Now, I don’t doubt that Ernst is going to be strong in her home area. She does currently represent a large portion of southeast Iowa. Below is the vote break down by region by raw vote.

8. Don’t forget, it was a Suffolk University Poll that claimed Florida and Virginia were “locks” for Romney in the 2012 general election. Romney lost both.

Northeast Iowa
Jacobs 17
Ernst 7
Clovis 2
Whitaker 1

Southeast Iowa
Ernst 11
Jacobs 10
Clovis 0
Whitaker 0

Southwest Iowa
Ernst 19
Jacobs 4
Clovis 1
Whitaker 1

Northwest Iowa
Ernst 9
Jacobs 8
Clovis 8
Whitaker 2

Central Iowa
Jacobs 12
Ernst 10
Clovis 4
Whitaker 1

The Suffolk poll was conducted between April 3rd and April 8th, a week after Ernst’s campaign ad went viral. Perhaps all of the attention the ad received provided Ernst a bump in this poll, but the real question is what happens when all the free publicity goes away? Ernst’s inability to fund broadcast or even a statewide cable buy thus far is problematic for her campaign. Her home area advantage may have helped her nudge out Jacobs in this poll, but primary day could be a different story. For any candidate to compete for the nomination, he or she must be able to rack up votes in the state’s large metropolitan counties. Those eight counties accounted for over 35 percent of the vote in the 2010 gubernatorial primary.

Quick Hits

Burned by Burns

I don’t know why people continue to sit down for interviews with Doug Burns. Burns’ family owns the Daily Times Herald in Carroll. You might recall his nasty book about Congressman Steve King, his interview with Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds, and now his interview with Sam Clovis spawned two articles. In one article, Burns writes that Clovis thinks that the only thing between President Obama and impeachment proceedings is the color of his skin. The other article is about how Clovis doesn’t want to criminalize abortion. So with one interview, Clovis is in trouble with the liberal media, and the most ardent social conservatives in the state.

Here is what you need to know about Burns – he has an agenda. You’re nuts if you think that Sam Clovis walked into that interview wanting to talk about those subjects. Burns knows how to get attention, and he gets attention by asking very provocative questions that lead to outrageous headlines. It would be one thing if Burns would use this interview style with Democrats, but he doesn’t.

Here is a word of advice to Republican candidates – stop talking to this jerk.

Can Speak for Money

Some Republican candidates are a little perturbed that in order to speak at the Republican Party of Iowa’s Lincoln Dinner featuring Congressman Paul Ryan tonight, they have to cough up $500 bucks.

I understand that you can’t let every candidate take the stage, but it seems a little odd to me that we can’t use events like this to promote our candidates who don’t have primaries like Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey, State Auditor Mary Mosiman, or Secretary of State candidate Paul Pate. But I’m sure that Tom Hoefling gladly paid his $500 so he can take the stage and blast Governor Branstad.

Shaw and Cramer Continue to Impress in 3rd CD Race

Monte Shaw announced that his campaign raised over $203,000 in his first fundraising quarter. That’s impressive, and Shaw told that all but $50 that he raised can be used in the primary. Shaw has run a good campaign, but he’s going to need to spend every cent he can find to build his name I.D.

The candidate who’s done the best job of raising his name I.D. in the 3rd District race is Robert Cramer. Cramer continues to advertise on TV and radio, and has also begun sending persuasion mail to primary voters in the district. Shaw is currently the only candidate who is competing with Cramer, and that’s only on radio.

Just like Jacobs in the U.S. Senate race, Cramer is using his ability to help fund his campaign to build his name identification. As I mentioned last week, it’s the frontrunners in this race, Brad Zaun and Matt Schultz, that have been quiet. If the current trend continues, a nominating convention becomes more likely.

Ernst’s Three Minutes in the Chair

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Joni Ernst was interviewed by WHO-TV anchor Dan Winders recently. Ernst talked about her recent TV ad, but shewas then asked questions about why she has missed so many votes in the Iowa Senate this year and what should be done in the wake of the Fort Hood shooting.

Here are her answers to those questions.

Winters: As a U.S. Senator, what is the first thing you would do to prevent something like the Fort Hood shooting from happening again?

Ernst: Well, to prevent something like that from happening, we can always put security measures in place, but if someone wants to do evil they are going to find a way.

Winters: Nothing you would do to address it?

Ernst: Nothing I can do as a United State’s Senator. No, because they already have a no carry policy on that post. So that solider was breaking the post’s rules.

Winters: Should soldiers be carrying so they can stop somebody?

Ernst: Well, that is up to that post’s commander and under any laws that might govern.

For a candidate who consistently talks about carrying a weapon at all times, Ernst’s answer to Winter’s questions was incredibly weak and out of character.

Winters: You have been criticized for missing votes in the senate this session, what was more important than those votes?

Ernst: It’s really unfortunate, I know these attacks are coming, and they have been out there. They are saying that I have missed so many votes but…

Winters: Have you missed more than 70 votes though?

Ernst: I don’t know what the actual count is. I know I have missed five days for other campaign reasons, but what they have included in those votes is time I have been serving on orders with the Iowa Army National Guard.

Winters: Just to clarify tough, were some of those missed votes so that you could be campaigning somewhere?

Ernst: Yes they were. There were other scheduled activities, and not knowing what the debate calendar is before they come up, it’s hard to schedule if you are going to be out of town. So yes, some of those missed votes were due to other activities.

Ernst may call the criticism of her missed votes attacks, but it is her record. And, as she said in the interview, she has missed votes because of her campaign. As for being on orders from National Guard, if that is the case, then why hasn’t she missed votes because of guard duties in previous years? Something doesn’t add up, but it sure seems like Ernst’s U.S. Senate campaign has impacted her work with the guard and the Iowa Senate.

Hubert Houser…

I’m glad State Senator Hubert Houser has decided to return to the state capitol to represent his district after telling the Des Moines Register that he didn’t find it necessary to show up since he’s retiring at the end of session.

The incident was embarrassing for Houser and Republicans. If you don’t want to do the job you are elected and PAID to do, then do the honorable thing and resign. Is it that hard to “work” from January thru April? Incidents like this give politicians a bad name. Iowans deserve and expect better.

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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