The Three Iowa Ties

Iowa Districts 1, 2 & 3 were cast as toss-up seats in the 2021 redistricting plan, and the most recent polling suggests that each electorate is performing as projected. 

In southeastern Iowa’s 1st District, freshman Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks* (R-Ottumwa), no stranger to close elections after winning her 2020 race by just six votes, is in another predictably tight contest. According to the early July Change Research survey, (6/30-7/4; 375 IA-1 likely general election voters part of a 1,488 person statewide sample; online) Rep. Miller-Meeks edges state Representative Christina Bohannan (D-Iowa City) by just a 39-38% factor.

A more recent Public Policy Polling survey (7/19-20; 594 IA-2 voters) finds freshman Rep. Ashley Hinson* (R-Marion) and state Rep. Liz Mathis (D-Hiawatha) tied at 44% apiece in the northeastern 2nd CD. In Rep. Cindy Axne’s (D-Des Moines) 3rd District, she and state Sen. Zach Nunn (R-Bondurant) are deadlocked at 43% in a Moore Information Group study (7/9-11; 400 IA-3 likely voters; live interview) released earlier this month.

It's conceivable that all three Republican congressional candidates are in better shape than these polls suggest, however, since the Iowa electorate has been inaccurately surveyed in the most recent elections.

At this time in 2016, four pollsters, according to the Real Clear Politics polling archive, surveyed the Iowa field regarding the Donald Trump-Hillary Clinton presidential race. Two found Mr. Trump ahead by two and one point(s), while another pair forecast Ms. Clinton holding the advantage. In October and early November of the election year, five Iowa polls were conducted and while all but one pollster correctly predicted Mr. Trump to be holding the lead, the cumulative estimate called for an approximate three percentage point win. Instead, Mr. Trump carried Iowa with a 9.5% spread.

In 2018, we saw a similar cumulative polling miss in the Hawkeye State. While five pollsters conducted surveys during the closing period for the Governor’s race, four predicted that businessman Fred Hubbell (D) would unseat Gov. Kim Reynolds (R). The end result found Ms. Reynolds winning the election with a three-point spread.

Turning to the most recent 2020 contest, the same pattern came into view. Only one poll was conducted in July of that year, from Monmouth University, and it found Mr. Trump holding a two-point lead over then-Democratic nominee Joe Biden.

From October through the election, a dozen polls were commissioned and released from nine different pollsters. Of the twelve, Biden led in seven, but the cumulative average was Trump +2, yet the former President carried the state with an 8.2 point spread. Only one pollster, Selzer & Company for the Des Moines Register, came close to the actual result (Trump +7).

This consistent under-polling of Republican candidates could be happening again with the aforementioned released congressional polls. Therefore, it is possible that all three Republicans, Reps. Miller-Meeks, Hinson, and Sen. Nunn, could be in better position than the survey results indicate.

On the other hand, the historical voting trends suggest the polls could be within the realm of accuracy. Rep. Miller-Meeks’ District 1 covers the state’s southeastern quadrant and is anchored in the Iowa portion of the region commonly known as the Quad Cities, along with Iowa City where the University of Iowa lies. The FiveThirtyEight data organization rates the seat as R+4, and Dave’s Redistricting App’s extensive calculations produce a partisan lean of 49.7% Republican and 46.8% Democrat.

In Rep. Hinson’s CD-2 that covers Iowa’s northeastern quadrant and is anchored in Cedar Rapids, Waterloo, and Dubuque, 538 projects a R+6 rating while the Dave’s App finds a partisan lean of 51.1%R and 45.4%D.

Rep. Axne’s Des Moines anchored Third District is actually the closest of this trio. The 538 projection is R+2, while the Dave’s App partisan lean yields a 49.7%R and 47.1%D split.

Regardless of whether a partisan polling skew exists in these three races, it is clear that all three campaigns are competitive with strong challengers for each incumbent. Therefore, we can again expect another series of close Iowa congressional races coming into view as we approach Election Day 2022.

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