Is U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley now ‘vincible’? In new Iowa Poll, nearly two-thirds say it’s time for someone new

Source: By Brianne Pfannenstiel, Des Moines Register • Posted: Monday, June 21, 2021

Fewer than a third of Iowa’s likely voters say they would vote to reelect Republican Chuck Grassley if the U.S. Senate elections were held today, a new Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll shows.

Grassley has not yet said whether he will seek an eighth term in 2022. If he does, political analysts expect his near-universal name recognition and deep ties to the state would still make him the early favorite to win. But the new Iowa Poll appears to show an underlying feeling among Republicans and Democrats alike that he’s served long enough.

Nearly two-thirds of likely voters, or 64%, say they think it’s time for someone new to hold Grassley’s seat. Twenty-seven percent say they would reelect Grassley.

That includes a sizable share of Republican likely voters, 37% of whom say they’re ready for someone else. Eighty-nine percent of Democrats and 68% of independents say they’re ready for someone new.

“Chuck Grassley has had a long and mostly good run, but most Iowa voters appear ready to move on, and his ratings reflect waning interest,” said pollster J. Ann Selzer, president of Selzer & Co., the company that conducted the poll.

Selzer said the Iowa Poll has not previously asked respondents ahead of past election cycles whether they would vote to reelect Grassley, likely because his “stellar poll numbers” conveyed “a certain invincibility” that made the question irrelevant.

“Well, it appears he is now vincible,” she said.

Twenty-seven percent of Iowa’s likely voters say they would vote to reelect Grassley, who is 87, if the election were today. That includes 51% of Republicans, 7% of Democrats and 23% of independents.

“Given that we’re talking about Chuck Grassley and the ratings he used to garner, that is a ‘wow,’” Selzer said of the results.

The poll of 807 Iowa adults, including 630 likely voters, was conducted June 13-16. The questions of all Iowans have a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points; it’s plus or minus 3.9 percentage points for the questions asked of likely voters.

Grassley has said he will announce his decision sometime this fall, likely in September, October or November. If Grassley were to retire, it would likely trigger a competitive primary drawing from every segment of the Republican Party’s political spectrum. It would also likely embolden Democrats hesitant to run against Grassley.

So far, farmer and former Crawford County supervisor Dave Muhlbauer is the only Democrat to have announced a run for the Senate, though others have expressed interest. State Sen. Jim Carlin, a Republican, has said he will run — and primary Grassley if necessary.

If he does run, Grassley likely would remain a formidable candidate.

“The reason I would vote for him is because he’s an old farm boy with common sense,” said Nick White, a 55-year-old poll respondent who lives in a rural area between Cascade and Dubuque.

White said he votes for Republicans and would support Grassley again in 2022.

“I like the way he stands up in the committees for us,” he said. “In the committees that I see on YouTube, he stands up for pretty much the things that I believe in as an Iowan.”

More:Iowa Poll: More Iowans now approve of the job U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst is doing than disapprove

Iowans say they continue to respect Grassley

In conversations with Des Moines Register reporters, a number of poll respondents said they still think highly of Grassley but believe he’s held the seat long enough.

“He’s getting older in age, and he’s been in the seat too long,” said poll respondent Dawn Leiser, a 46-year-old independent. “It’s not that he’s gotten comfortable or anything like that; it’s just that nobody seems to want to listen to him as much.”

Grassley, who was elected to his Senate seat in 1980, would be 95 at the end of another six-year term.

Leiser said Grassley and former Democratic U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin helped her establish a line of communication to her husband when he was deployed to the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars — a gesture she still appreciates.

“I’m a war bride, and no one would talk to me from my husband’s command, so I had to get my senators involved,” she said. “No one would talk to me except for those two guys. It helped, and it stuck with me that they took their own time to help somebody.”

Leiser and her husband live in Anamosa.

“He still does care about the people and the farmers,” she said of Grassley. “It’s just that we need to get fresher and newer blood unfortunately.”

Poll respondent Paula Crow, a registered Republican from Centerville, said she likes that Grassley stands up to “the left” and thinks he handled the pandemic well. But she would like to see a different Republican take his seat.

“So far, I agree with his policies as a Republican, and I agree with the things he is doing so far,” she said. “But my reasoning for thinking we should have someone new is: I believe there should be terms and limits for how long they should be able to serve in the Senate.”

Crow, who is a stay-at-home mom, said Grassley’s age has nothing to do with her feelings. She said she believes term limits would allow new people with fresh ideas to take office.

“I think that is the only way we are ever going to see change in our world,” she said.

Nolden Gentry, a poll respondent and registered Democrat, said he respects Grassley, even though he said he prefers a Democrat in the seat.

“I’ve known (Grassley) since back when he was in the Iowa Legislature,” he said. “And personally, he’s a very good guy.”

But Gentry, a retired attorney, said he didn’t approve of the way Grassley blocked Supreme Court appointments under Democratic President Barack Obama but allowed them under Republican President Donald Trump.

From 2020:Sen. Chuck Grassley won’t oppose holding Supreme Court nomination hearings this year

“He has served the state well,” Gentry said. “But I just feel like he’s given us his best and we, perhaps, need to go in a different direction.”

Dean Williams, a 71-year-old poll respondent from West Des Moines, said he would vote for Grassley again, even though “he’s up there” in terms of age.

“Senators, if they have good staff, they can serve for a long time past their prime,” said Williams, a registered Republican and former pastor. “Sometimes it’s better to vote for the person you know, rather than the person that you might get. … But he seems to stay active and his mind seems to be good. And like I said, he seems to know the ropes pretty well. And so I don’t see any reason at this point to vote against him.”

Grassley’s job approval slides

Grassley’s overall job approval rating has continued to slide. Today 45% of Iowa adults approve of the job Grassley is doing in Congress— down from 48% in March and 53% a year ago. Today, 39% disapprove and 16% are unsure.

It is Grassley’s worst job approval rating since 1982, a year after taking office in the Senate. Grassley’s approval rating has occasionally hit the 80% threshold during that time.

Across a range of policy areas tested, Iowans rate Grassley lowest on his handling of immigration, with more disapproving (42%) than approving (36%).

On other areas, Iowans were more likely to approve of Grassley’s work than disapprove. They rate him highest on his handling of the economy, with 47% approving, 36% disapproving and 17% unsure.

On his handling of “roads, bridges and other infrastructure,” 45% approve and 39% disapprove. On his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, 45% approve and 35% disapprove. On criminal justice, 44% approve and 34% disapprove. And on voting laws, 44% approve and 35% disapprove.

But in most of those areas, roughly one in five Iowans say they are “unsure” whether they like Grassley’s approach.

“These data make me wonder if Iowans are knowledgeable about what the senator has stood for and accomplished lately,” Selzer said.

Grassley’s favorability score remains largely unchanged since March, although that, too, has trended downward in recent years.

Today, 50% of Iowans have a favorable view of Grassley, 37% have an unfavorable view and 13% are unsure.

In March, 48% held a positive view, 37% had a negative view and 15% were unsure. In February 2019, 60% of Iowans held a positive view of Grassley, and in July 2004 it was 70%.

About the poll

The Iowa Poll, conducted June 13-16, 2021, for the Des Moines Register and Mediacom by Selzer & Co. of Des Moines, is based on telephone interviews with 807 Iowans ages 18 or older. Interviewers with Quantel Research contacted households with randomly selected landline and cell phone numbers supplied by Dynata. Interviews were administered in English. Responses were adjusted by age, sex and congressional district to reflect the general population based on recent American Community Survey estimates.

Questions based on the sample of 807 Iowa adults have a maximum margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. Questions based on the subsample of 630 likely voters in the 2022 midterm election have a maximum margin of error of plus or minus 3.9 percentage points. This means that if this survey were repeated using the same questions and the same methodology, 19 times out of 20, the findings would not vary from the true population value by more than plus or minus 3.5 percentage points or 3.9 percentage points, respectively. Results based on smaller samples of respondents — such as by gender or age — have a larger margin of error.

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