Survey USA released a new batch of approval ratings for governors based on polls taken June 16. Iowa's Chet Culver was at 42 percent approval and 51 percent disapproval. The previous SUSA poll in Iowa, taken in late April, found similar numbers for Culver: 42 percent approval and 50 percent disapproval.
CORRECTION: I did not realize that SUSA also conducted a poll in late May, which showed somewhat better numbers for Culver: 48 approve, 47 disapprove.
Probably this is just statistical noise, and Culver's support is somewhere in the 40s. Alternatively, if you have some hypothesis that would explain why the governor's support rose in May but dropped by mid-June, please post a comment.
Click here to see all of SUSA's approval numbers for Culver since he became governor.
It would be nice if some other polling firm released a new Iowa survey soon.
Having noticed that Culver's SUSA numbers bounced up last May and June after being in net negative territory from February through April 2008, I wondered whether a "legislative session effect" might have dragged him down from February through April of this year. Either that was not the case, or the weaker economy this year has prevented the governor from getting a post-session bounce. Iowa's legislative sessions usually run from January to April.
Approval ratings in the low 40s are outside the comfort zone for an incumbent, but I wouldn't hit the panic button yet. SUSA has tended to measure Culver's support at lower levels than some other pollsters such as Selzer and Associates. Also, most governors have seen their approval ratings slip during the past year, presumably because of the economy and the fiscal problems affecting almost every state.
I couldn't find any breakdown of Culver's support among Democrats, Republicans and independents either at this site or on Survey USA's site. If anyone has those numbers, please post a comment or send me an e-mail (desmoinesdem AT yahoo.com). I still think a large number of Iowa Democrats and independents who may not "approve" of Culver would choose him in a heartbeat over Chris Rants or Bob Vander Plaats, who are most committed to running for governor.
Rants is a former Iowa House speaker with an abrasive personality. He is best-known lately for trying repeatedly to bring anti-gay marriage bills to a floor vote in the Iowa House. He wants to pass a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage to overturn the Iowa Supreme Court's ruling in Varnum v Brien.
Vander Plaats is a Sioux City businessman who was Jim Nussle's running mate in the 2006 gubernatorial election. Since then, Vander Plaats has served as Iowa chair for Mike Huckabee's presidential campaign and has argued that Republicans are losing elections in Iowa because they're not conservative enough. He doesn't want to wait for the lengthy constitutional amendment process and insists that if elected governor he would immediately issue an executive order halting marriage equality until Iowans have had a chance to vote on the issue. (Another Iowa wingnut who holds the same view thinks Congressman Steve King deserves a primary challenge from the right.)
We'll have a better idea of Governor Culver's re-election prospects when we see polling of head-to-head matchups with potential Republican challengers. Some of the Republicans considering this race would be stronger than others in terms of personal appeal or fundraising (though Culver will probably be able to outspend even the best GOP fundraisers). Several possible Republican candidates have already passed on the race.
Finally, keep in mind that despite ups and downs in the economy, Iowa hasn't voted an incumbent governor out of office since 1962.
Share any thoughts about Culver's chances or the GOP gubernatorial primary in this thread. Who has the potential to overcome Vander Plaats' head start on campaigning? Can Rants reinvent himself as a likable politician? Who would benefit from a more crowded Republican field? Will the GOP primary be negative enough to do lasting damage to the eventual nominee?