An unusual gender gap appears to be benefiting Democrat Bruce Braley in his race against Republican Joni Ernst for the U.S. Senate seat held by the retiring Sen. Tom Harkin.
A Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday morning shows the double-digit lead the 1st District congressman held over the second-term Iowa Senate member in mid-March has disappeared, but he still leads, in part, on the strength of support from women.
Braley, a Waterloo attorney and fourth-term House member, is leading Ernst, a former Montgomery County auditor from Red Oak, 44 to 40 percent “as an unusual gender gap shows women supporting him while men support the woman,” according to the Quinnipiac poll.
Women back Braley 47 to 36 percent, while men back Ernst 44 to 40 percent, according to the June 12-16 poll of 1,277 registered voters, which has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.7 percentage points. Live interviewers call landlines and cellphones.
“The unusual split is due to some degree the fact that women tend to lean Democratic while men lean Republican,” according to Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University poll.
Still, despite Braley’s an 11-point lead among women, Iowa voters say 49 to 30 percent that Ernst would do a better job on issues important to women, according to the poll.
While Braley has the lead nearly five months from the general election, the poll also has good news for Ernst.
“Winning the Republican nomination introduced Ernst to the Iowa electorate positively and put her within range” of Braley in the open-seat race, Brown said.
“When Quinnipiac University surveyed Iowans in March, Joni Ernst was an unknown. Now she is as well-known as Bruce Braley, and his double-digit lead has all but evaporated,” he said.
At this point in the campaign, the candidates enjoy nearly identical favorability ratings and get good grades for character.
Braley gets a 35 to 26 percent favorability rating with 37 percent who don’t know enough about him to form an opinion compared to 46 percent in March. Ernst’s favorability rating is 34 to 28 percent with 37 percent unable to form an opinion. That’s an improvement from 80 percent in the earlier poll.
On questions of character:
• Voters say 45 to 22 percent that Braley is honest and trustworthy, compared to 45 to 24 percent for Ernst.
• By a 47 to 26 percent margin voters say Braley cares about their needs and problems. Ernst gets a 44 to 31 percent rating.
• Braley rates higher — 51 to 21 percent — for having the right kind of experience to be a U.S. Senator compared to 43 to 33 percent for Ernst.
• 43 percent of voters say Braley is “about right” on the political scale, with 26 percent saying he is too liberal. Ernst is “about right,” 41 percent of voters say, while 27 percent say she is too conservative.
Brown said that although Braley has a slight lead on these measures of personal characteristics and questions about which candidate is better able to handle issues facing the state, “neither candidate’s views and values are firmly fixed in the electorate’s mind with a third of voters not knowing enough about either candidate to have an opinion.”
“One interesting data point is that voters think 44 to 31 percent that Ernst cares about their needs and problems, a category in which Republicans, even victorious ones, often struggle,” Brown said. “Her TV ads which stressed her farm family background apparently are doing their job.”
For more about the poll, visit http://www.quinnipiac.edu/polling.