INDIANOLA, Iowa — A new Simpson College-Red America Blue America Research poll released early this week confirmed that Iowa is, indeed, a battleground state, showing Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump with a narrow lead over Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, 43 percent to 42 percent.
The poll’s plus or minus 3 percentage points margin of error puts the two powerhouse candidates in a virtual dead heat, just as Trump visited the city of Clive on Tuesday and capitalized on Clinton’s comment last week that his supporters belong “in a basket of deplorables,” painting the former secretary of state as being out of sync with everyday Americans.
In a Facebook post Tuesday, Trump battered Clinton over the comment, about which she had later expressed regret: “What a disgraceful thing to say about fellow- hard working Americans! Vote Trump on November 8th — keep Hillary’s HATE away from Washington, D.C.”
Though Clinton leads among women voters nationally, the gender gap is not as significant in Iowa. Clinton leads, on average, by about 6-7 percentage points among women in Iowa; Trump leads men by about 8 points.
Trump, however, is gaining ground with non-college-educated voters without facing a huge backlash from college-educated voters, said Kedron Bardwell, professor of political science at Simpson College. Clinton has not improved Democrats’ standing among college-educated voters.
Take into account, Bardwell said, that Iowa is on the lower end – around No. 35 in the nation – in terms of the percentage of college-educated residents.
Among evangelical voters in the Midwest, Trump is underperforming when compared with previous Republican nominees.
“If Trump had locked them up to the extent GOP candidates have in the past, he’d be doing even better,” Bardwell said. “We might even be talking about a lead in Iowa outside of the margin of error.”
A recent CBS News poll showed Trump is doing well nationally — 62 percent — among evangelical voters. But former GOP candidates George W. Bush, John McCain and Mitt Romney averaged above 70 percent of white evangelical support.
By contrast, Clinton is pulling only a quarter of evangelicals to her side.
The election campaign has been marred by aggressive rhetoric and widely unpopular candidates shaping the tone, leading some political analysts to agree the race is more about opposition to a candidate than support for one.
“Ignoring the horse-race elements, this is definitely a dissatisfaction element,” Bardwell said. “Over 40 percent of Iowans say they are mainly voting against rather than for a candidate, and by a 2-to-1 margin, Iowans want to hear the views of the third-party alternatives in the debates.”
But the narrative changes only slightly when Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein are added to the mix, garnering 10 and 3 percent of the vote, respectively. Eight percent of voters are undecided.
“Conventional wisdom is Republicans potentially voting Libertarian hurts Trump more than the Greens hurt Clinton,” Bardwell said. “I believe the third-party effect will be a wash.”
In the senatorial race, the poll showed Republican incumbent Chuck Grassley with a commanding lead over Democratic rival Patty Judge, 50 percent to 37 percent.
Grassley, who is also chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, refused to give a formal hearing to President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Merrick Garland, in February after the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
Judge, a former Iowa lieutenant governor and state secretary of agriculture, announced her candidacy in large part due to Grassley’s decision, giving the six-term senator a run for his money.
But he’s never won a re-election race with less than 64 percent of the vote. Also to his favor from a numbers standpoint, the Senate race is nowhere near razor-thin, like that between Trump and Clinton.
“If Patty Judge can consolidate her party support in the coming weeks, this race will tighten,” Bardwell said. “But knocking off any longtime incumbent senator is a difficult task.”
Grassley leads over Judge among voters without a college degree by 22 points, whereas voters with a college degree prefer him by just seven points.
Grassley also leads among women voters by eight points and male voters by 21 points.
The poll released Wednesday shows Republican incumbent David Young with a double-digit lead over Democratic rival Jim Mowrer in Iowa’s 3rd Congressional District, 50 percent to 35 percent.
Bardwell said the numbers showed Young continues to craft moderate appeal, which helps him win more independent voters, a crucial factor in a swing state like Iowa.
Both candidates received a majority of their party’s voters. Young garnered 87 percent of Republicans, and Mowrer had 82 percent. Among independents, though, Young had 52 percent of the vote, compared to Mowrer’s 23 percent.
The margin of error for Wednesday’s poll is plus or minus 5.6 percentage points.
The Simpson-RABA poll was conducted Sept. 6-8 via an automated phone and internet survey.