© Copyright Des Moines Register and Tribune 2021
Out of the daily spotlight and openly flirting with another White House bid, former President Donald Trump will return to Iowa on Saturday with better favorability ratings than he ever saw while president.
The latest Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll shows 53% of Iowans now have a favorable view of the former Republican president and 45% have an unfavorable view — his best showing ever on either metric in the Iowa Poll. Another 2% are not sure how they feel about Trump.
The numbers come as Trump begins to reengage with the state that is expected to kick off the 2024 presidential nominating process for Republicans. And they show favorable feelings for him have not waned in his absence.
Jerry Steward, an 81-year-old poll respondent and Republican from Cedar Rapids, said he views Trump “very favorably” because he doesn’t act like a typical politician.
“Doesn’t make a difference whether they were Democrat or Republican — they were all politicians,” he said of Trump’s predecessors. “He is not that. I don’t know what he is, but he’s not that.”
Trump will return Saturday to Iowa for the first time since the 2020 election, holding a rally at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines. It’s his most overt entrée back into Iowa politics, but he’s also made quieter overtures in recent months that would help lay the groundwork for a potential caucus campaign, should he choose to run.
Steward said he would be thrilled to see Trump run for president again.
“The situation we have now is very bad, and he will be able to correct that situation quicker than anybody else,” he said.
Although national Democrats have left open the possibility of stripping Iowa of its first-in-the-nation caucuses, Republicans have not made any indication they will follow their lead.
‘The Iowa caucuses are on’: Republicans say early political trips reinforce plans for 2024 caucus
Republicans with possible White House aspirations have already shown they believe Iowa will maintain its leadoff role in 2024, as they travel to the state for party fundraisers, forums and speaking engagements. Figures including former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, former Vice President Mike Pence and former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley have all made recent appearances.
But it remains to be seen whether Iowa’s Republican caucusgoers will look to one of those newer faces in the 2024 caucuses or hold out support for Trump.
Kevin Tobey, a 58-year-old Des Moines resident and poll respondent, said he is “a big Trump fan.” He likes that Trump did what he promised to do while in office, particularly around growing the economy. But Tobey, who identifies as an independent, said that in 2024 he’d love to see Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis run for president.
“We need somebody who can articulate the Constitution,” he said. “That’s something that’s getting lost today.”
If both DeSantis and Trump were to campaign in Iowa, “I would vote for DeSantis, but I would be blissfully happy with Trump,” Tobey said.
According to the poll, Trump gets strong marks among demographics that typically make up the core Republican base in Iowa: He’s viewed favorably by 73% of evangelicals and 68% of rural residents.
But there is a split among men and women. Though a majority of men — 61% — view him favorably, a majority of women — 52% — view him unfavorably.
At a time when Iowans’ favorable feelings for Trump have reached new heights, favorable feelings toward Trump’s 2020 and potentially 2024 election opponent, Joe Biden, have reached new lows. Thirty-seven percent of Iowans have favorable feelings toward the president, and 61% have unfavorable feelings, his worst marks in seven Iowa Polls dating to 2012.
The poll of 805 Iowa adults was conducted Sept. 12-15 by Selzer & Co. and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
Trump viewed favorably by more in Iowa GOP than Chuck Grassley
Trump has always been a polarizing figure in the state — the percentage of all Iowans who viewed him favorably topped 50% only once before in polls dating to January 2018. That was in March 2020, just as the coronavirus pandemic began to surge in the U.S.
But he has maintained popularity among Iowa Republicans throughout his time in office, and the vast majority continue to view him favorably.
According to the Register’s Iowa Poll, 91% of Iowa Republicans have a favorable view of him and just 7% view him unfavorably. Another 2% are not sure.
Those marks put Trump in league with Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds, who is viewed favorably by 90% of Iowa Republicans. And it surpasses Republican U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, who is viewed favorably by 81% of Iowans.
“I did not foresee the day when Donald Trump would be 10 points more popular with Iowa Republicans than the venerable Chuck Grassley,” said pollster J. Ann Selzer, president of Selzer & Co.
That Republican goodwill contrasts with Democrats’ feelings for Trump, 99% of whom view him unfavorably. Just 1% view him favorably.
Independent Iowans are nearly evenly split, with 48% viewing him favorably and 49% viewing him unfavorably. Another 3% are unsure.
Trump does ‘especially well’ with vaccine-resistant Iowans
The poll results show Trump does “especially well” among people who have not been vaccinated and do not intend to be vaccinated, Selzer said.
He is viewed favorably by 86% of Iowans who say they are not vaccinated and do not plan to become vaccinated.
That’s on par with Reynolds, who also is viewed favorably by 86% of vaccine-resistant Iowans. But far fewer vaccine-resistant Iowans view the state’s two Republican senators favorably. Sixty percent of those who are not vaccinated and do not plan to become vaccinated view Grassley favorably, and 67% view U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst favorably.
Trump has been vaccinated, but he did so in private and he said in a September interview with the Wall Street Journal that he is unlikely to get the booster shot authorized by the Food and Drug Administration for those 65 and older and for people with weakened immune systems.
He has publicly touted the aggressive timeline during which the vaccines were developed while he was in office. But at an August rally in Alabama, he was briefly booed for urging his supporters to get the shot.
“You got to do what you have to do, but I recommend: Take the vaccines,” he said at the rally. “I did it — it’s good.”
Reynolds, Grassley and Ernst all have been vaccinated against COVID-19 and have publicly recommended that others do the same. But they and Trump have all drawn a firm line when it comes to any kind of vaccine mandate.
‘Absence makes the heart grow fonder’
Americans tend to view presidents more favorably in retrospect than they do while in office, Gallup polling has shown.
In addition to leaving office, another factor has kept Trump from a continuous spotlight: Social media giants Twitter, Facebook and YouTube have all banned the former president from posting on their platforms, a decision they enacted shortly after his supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol in January. The companies have argued the move is necessary to prevent the spread of dangerous misinformation, though it’s raised questions about free speech and censorship on social media.
Trump has remained an active guest on conservative platforms, and he briefly posted thoughts to a personal blog. But stripped of his Twitter account and the White House megaphone, he’s largely receded from mainstream attention.
Selzer said none of that appears to be hurting Trump’s favorability numbers in Iowa.
“It doesn’t seem to be a case of ‘out of sight out of mind,’” she said. “Maybe it’s a little bit more of ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder.’”
In a December 2018 Iowa Poll of registered Republicans, only 19% of respondents said they thought “posting potentially inflammatory messages on Twitter on a regular basis” was a good move for Trump. Far more — 72% —said doing so was a mistake.
Karen Moon, a 32-year-old Indianola resident and poll respondent, said she was never a fan of Trump’s public persona.
“He kind of sounded like a blubbering idiot,” she said. “He sounded uneducated. I mean, at one point in time he was asking if it would be OK for people to inject bleach into their bodies to get rid of the coronavirus.”
Still, she has a mostly favorable view of Trump. Moon, a registered independent, likes that he signed a pandemic relief bill authorizing personal stimulus checks, and she generally appreciates that “he was all about the American people.”
She would “definitely” vote for him if he ran again for president, Moon said.
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.
Republishing the copyright Iowa Poll without credit to the Des Moines Register and Mediacom is prohibited.
Brianne Pfannenstiel is the chief politics reporter for the Register. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 515-284-8244. Follow her on Twitter at @brianneDMR.