Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds’ job approval rating has inched up since June — a change driven by Iowans who like the way she’s handling the state economy as workers and businesses seek a return to normal amid the continuing coronavirus pandemic.
A new Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll shows the governor’s job approval rating has risen to 53% today from 51% this summer. Another 43% disapprove, and 4% are unsure.
J. Ann Selzer, president of Selzer & Co., said that upward movement is linked to the strong marks Reynolds receives from Iowans on the economy. Today, 57% approve of the job she’s doing with the economy, 31% disapprove and 12% are not sure. That’s up slightly from June, when 55% of Iowans approved and 36% disapproved.
Reynolds also receives strong marks for her handling of schools and education, including 60% of Iowans with children under 18. But approval on the way she’s handled the pandemic has ticked downward after coronavirus cases surged this summer.
Kyle Strohman, a Republican poll respondent who lives in Davenport, said business has been difficult for the concrete company he owns. Even so, he thinks Reynolds has managed the state’s overall economy well.
“I feel like the economy is going to get better, but I don’t think we are going to get back to where we were,” said Strohman, 29. “I think we’re just going to get better from here, and we’re just going to accept it.”
The numbers come as Reynolds nears a likely reelection campaign in 2022. She has not formally announced her intentions, though she is widely expected to seek a second full term. So far, two major Democratic candidates have declared: state Rep. Ras Smith of Waterloo and business owner Deidre DeJear. Most Iowans have yet to form an opinion on either candidate, the Iowa Poll found.
The poll of 805 Iowa adults was conducted Sept. 12 to 15 by Selzer & Co. and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
Majority approve of governor's handling of schools, education
Today, 52% of Iowans say they approve of how Reynolds is handling education. That’s up from 48% in June. Meanwhile, 41% disapprove — down from 44% in June — and another 8% are not sure.
Reynolds has said her biggest regret of the pandemic was closing schools in the early days of COVID-19’s spread before it was clear that children were at lower risk than adults. Last fall, she pushed a return to physical classrooms, and in May she signed legislation blocking schools from enacting mask mandates — a move that drew vocal support from conservatives.
But her actions also have prompted fierce backlash from Democrats, as well as a pair of lawsuits from concerned parents. In one case, brought on behalf of students with disabilities, a federal judge on Monday put the law on hold. Several of the state's largest school districts have since enacted mask mandates, and Reynolds has promised to appeal.
The poll shows that Reynolds' overall job approval and her handling of education are deeply polarizing.
Among Republicans, 91% approve of the job she’s doing overall, just 8% disapprove and 1% aren't sure. On her handling of education, 83% of Republicans approve, 12% disapprove and 5% are unsure.
But among Democrats, those numbers are nearly reversed. Just 6% approve of the job she’s doing overall, while 90% disapprove and 5% are unsure. On her handling of education, 11% of Democrats approve, 85% disapprove and 4% are unsure.
Independents are nearly evenly split with 47% who approve overall, 48% who disapprove and 5% who are unsure. On education, 47% approve, 43% disapprove and 10% aren't sure.
Lisa Futrell, a registered Democrat and poll respondent from Waterloo, said she disapproves of the job that Reynolds has done across the board, but is particularly critical of her handling of the pandemic and how it affects the economy and schools.
Futrell, 52, said she is retired, disabled and is considered to be at high risk of dying if she were to contract COVID-19. Her daughter recently was hospitalized with the virus, and she has been able to speak with her only over FaceTime, she said.
“I couldn't see my daughter. I couldn't be with my daughter. I have lost numerous relatives, and it is horrible," she said. "There should be more pushes for safety, and (Reynolds) shouldn't be blocking them."
Futrell has received three doses of the COVID-19 vaccine because she is immuno-compromised. She said she is frustrated that Reynolds signed legislation preventing schools and cities from implementing mask requirements, particularly as Futrell thinks about her young grandchildren. Children under 12 aren't eligible to be vaccinated yet.
"There should be a mask mandate," she said. "I want to protect my family."
The percentage of COVID-19 cases reported in children is rising. Historically, they have accounted for 12% of cases in Iowa, but during the first week of September that rose to 29%, according to the Iowa Department of Public Health.
As the delta variant of the coronavirus sweeps the state and more children are becoming infected, Iowans are rating Reynolds’ handling of the pandemic slightly worse now than they did in June.
According to the poll, 51% of Iowans approve of Reynolds’ handling of the pandemic, down from 54%. Another 45% disapprove, and 4% are unsure.
Among those who are not vaccinated and do not intend to get vaccinated, 78% approve of the way Reynolds has handled the pandemic.
Democratic challengers largely unknown
As the 2022 elections near, a pool of challengers is beginning to take shape.
Smith and DeJear are the best-known Democrats to formally announce their gubernatorial campaigns. But about three out of four Iowans don’t yet know enough about either of them to offer an opinion.
Ten percent of Iowans say they have a favorable view of DeJear, who lost her 2018 campaign for secretary of state, and 13% have an unfavorable view of her. But far more — 76% — are not sure.
Eleven percent of Iowans have a favorable view of Smith, who is serving his third term in the Legislature, and 15% have an unfavorable view. Another 74% are unsure.
But Selzer said those numbers are not unexpected this early into their campaigns.
“This is what the first poll almost always looks like for people who don't have a high visibility factor,” she said. “Not that many people know enough to even say how they feel about them, and then those that have something to say pretty much divide almost evenly. So it's very hard to read anything into these tea leaves in terms of their standing.”
Reynolds is rated favorably by 55% of Iowans and unfavorably by 40%. Just 5% are unsure. She earns positive marks from 90% of Republicans and just 10% of Democrats. Independents are split: 49% view her favorably and 45% unfavorably.
Iowans also are divided in how they view the direction of the state. Slightly more — 46% — say things are going in the right direction, compared with 42% who say they've gotten off on the wrong track. Another 12% are unsure.
Seventy-five percent of Republicans say things are going in the right direction compared to 13% of Democrats. And 81% of Democrats say things are on the wrong track compared with 17% of Republicans.
“It's not as though she's limping along,” Selzer said of the governor. Her approval numbers are “really as high as one might expect in a divided world.”
About this poll
The Iowa Poll, conducted September 12-15, 2021, for the Des Moines Register and Mediacom by Selzer & Co. of Des Moines, is based on telephone interviews with 805 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 805 Iowa adults have a maximum margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. Questions based on the subsample of 620 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.