US Senate

May 8th, 2014

Recent Polls Suggests that Joni Ernst is Struggling with Female Voters

Iowa is one of four states that has never elected a woman to federal office.  Two of those four states, Vermont and Delaware, have elected females to serve as governor, but that can’t be said for the other two states, Mississippi and Iowa.

There are many reasons why female candidates have been unsuccessful on election day in Iowa, but the main culprit to their lack of success is that almost of the female candidates have challenged incumbents, and Iowans don’t have a history of booting incumbents out of office.

The last time a female candidate ran for an open seat in Iowa, the year was 1994, and Tom Latham easily defeated Democrat Sheila McGuire Riggs and helped Republicans take control of the United State House of Representatives for the first time in four decades.  Half of the Iowa’s six federal offices will not have an incumbent running for re-election in 2014.  That means female candidates will have the best odds they have ever had to break Iowa’s glass ceiling this November.

Conventional wisdom suggests that a female candidate would poll well with female voters.  State Senator Joni Ernst is considered a strong general election candidate in Iowa’s U.S. Senate race by most political prognosticators because she would provide the Republicans a strong contrast to Democrat Congressman Braley, the Democrat nominee for the U.S. Senate.  Chatter amongst Iowa Republican activists has often included the sentiment that Braley’s “War on Women” tactics wouldn’t work on a female Republican candidate like Ernst.  Recent polling data in Iowa’s U.S. Senate race suggests otherwise.

In fact, recent polls suggest that Ernst actually struggles with female voters.

In a recent Suffolk University Poll that the Ernst campaign promoted because it showed her with a slight lead in the Republican U.S. Senate primary, the numbers showed that Ernst performed worse with female voters than Mark Jacobs in the GOP primary.  Jacobs is considered to be other frontrunner in the Iowa U.S. Senate Republican primary along with Ernst.

The Suffolk University poll showed that Ernst had a 16 percent favorability rating among female voters, while 9 percent of female respondents had an unfavorable impression over her.  Jacobs, on the other hand, had a 22 percent favorable among female voters, and only 5 percent of female respondents have a negative impression of him.  The difference is significant.  Jacobs had a +17 percent favorable/unfavorable differential with women, while Ernst only mustered a +5 percent favorable/unfavorable differential with her fellow women.

Other polls have also showed the same trend.  In a Harper poll that was released earlier this week, Jacobs had a +3 percent differential among women compared to Ernst’s +2 percent.  It’s worth noting that the Harper poll was paid for by a group that is currently running negative TV ads against Jacobs, and it showed Ernst running away with the Republican U.S. Senate primary.  The poll showed Ernst leading Jacobs by 10 points and had her at 33 percent, which is close to the 35 percent threshold primary candidates must surpass on primary day to win the nomination.  The difference between Ernst and Jacobs is minuscule, but he still leads her with women voters, which is noteworthy.

The Harper poll also tested general election matchups between Braley, and the frontrunners in the Iowa Republican primary, Ernst and Jacobs.  Among female voters, Braley led Ernst by three points, 38 percent to 35 percent.  Braley’s lead over Jacobs was smaller with women.  Braley led Jacobs by only one point, 38 percent to 37 percent.

Another general election poll conducted by CEA/Hickman Analytics of the Iowa U.S. Senate race showed even more weakness among women voters with Ernst.  Like the other surveys indicated, Jacobs has a slightly better net favorable rating than Ernst.  Jacobs’ favorable/unfavorable rating among women is 22 favorable, 15 unfavorable, or +7 percent.  Ernst’s favorable/unfavorable is 16 favorable, 11 unfavorable, or +6 percent.  Once again Jacobs leads Ernst with female voters, albeit by a small margin.

Where Ernst’s reverse gender gap really shows up is in the head-to-head match up with Braley.  Braley leads Ernst with women voters 45 percent to 36 percent in a general election match up.  Braley’s lead among women voters narrows from 9 points against Ernst to just 5 points against Jacobs.  Braley leads Jacobs among women 45 percent to 40 percent.

The performance in the female vote may explain why Ernst trails Braley in a general election ballot by 4 points, while Jacobs trails by only 1 percent.  In a head-to-head general election ballot, Braley leads Ernst 44 percent to 40 percent, while Braley’s lead over Jacobs is just 43 percent to 42 percent.  The ballot test is even better for Jacobs when you limit the response to just those individuals who define themselves as definite voters.  Under that scenario, Jacobs is tied with Braley at 44 percent to 44 percent, while Ernst trails Braley by 5 points, 46 percent to 41 percent.

Perhaps Ernst’s struggle with female voters is result of her still being relatively unknown to most voters in the state, but that doesn’t explain why Jacobs would fair better with female voters since he is similarly known across Iowa.  Another factor for Ernst’s performance with women is her recent television ads that tout castrating pigs, riding motorcycles, and shooting handguns.  That’s far from the image her campaign originally went with, which focused on her being a mother, solider, and conservative.

After the release of its second television ad, the Ernst campaign captured footage from a local TV station that asked people what they thought of the ad and put it on YouTube.  The Ernst campaign was helping to broadcast the positive news segment to a larger audience because the segment’s conclusion was that her ads are effective.  The problem is that the only female the local television station interviewed was Ernst herself, the rest of the interviews were with men, and one of them owned a gun shop, so of course he loved the ad.

There is no doubt that old white men, second amendment activists, and Tea Party activists love Ernst’s second ad as much as they loved her castration ad, but is that the audience that Ernst needs appeal to in order to get elected?  The polls suggest that it is not.  While her current campaign messaging has allowed her to get plenty of attention, it doesn’t seem to work with the general election electorate, and it also might not work with Republican primary voters.  Ernst’s problem with primary voters will likely stem from the fact that she doesn’t have a conservative record to back up her rhetoric in her ads, and some female voters were already turned off by her first ad about castrating pigs.

If Republicans are going to be able to win in November, they can’t afford to get trounced in the general election with female and independent voters.  The CEA/Hickman Analytics poll shows Ernst struggling with both.  As stated earlier, Ernst trailed Braley among female voters by 4 to 5 points.  She trailed Braley by 8 points with independent and no party voters, while Jacobs trails by just three points.  With voters who don’t identify with either party, Jacobs actually leads Braley by two points, 39 percent to 37 percent, while Ernst still trails by four points.

One would think it would be Ernst, not Jacobs who would perform better with female voters, but poll after poll suggests otherwise.




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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