Latest Hawkeye Poll suggests opinions shaped by views on same-sex marriage
Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A slim majority of Iowa voters are poised to vote to retain Justice David Wiggins on the State’s Supreme Court this Nov. 6, but with nearly one in five voters still undecided, the final outcome is still in question according to a University of Iowa Hawkeye Poll released today. The poll is a teaching, research, and service project of the Department of Political Science in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

With the election just one week away, 52.9 percent of Iowans who plan to vote on the retention question say they will vote in favor of retaining Wiggins while 30.4 percent plan to vote against retention, and 16.7 percent indicate that they are not yet sure how they will vote. Of Iowans surveyed, 76.8 percent and 83.2 percent of self-reported likely voters in the upcoming election say that they plan to vote on Wiggins’ retention.

“It's a little surprising that only 76 percent of the respondents said they planned to vote in the judicial retention,” says Tim Hagle, associate professor of political science in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and an expert on judicial politics. “It may be that many don't bother to vote in retentions when they aren't familiar with the judge or justice involved.”

A similar Hawkeye Poll survey 18 months ago found that nearly one in two Iowans was not sure how they would vote on Wiggins’ retention.

Wiggins is the fourth Iowa justice to come up for a retention vote since a controversial, unanimous State Supreme Court decision extending equal marriage rights to same-sex couples in 2009. The three justices up for retention in 2010—Chief Justice Marsha Ternus and Associate Justices Michael Steit and David Baker— found themselves out of a job after failing an uncharacteristically heated judicial retention vote.

While Wiggins has not campaigned for his retention, organized campaigns have emerged on both sides of the debate for the upcoming retention vote.

“Iowans appear opposed to the increased level of politics surrounding these retention elections,” says Frederick Boehmke, associate professor of political science in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and faculty adviser of the Hawkeye Poll. “Many in the state were caught off guard in 2010, but the issue appears to have almost everyone’s attention this time around.”

Support for retention is strongest among self-identified Democrats, with 84.5 percent of those planning to vote on the matter preferring retention and only 4.4 percent planning to vote against. Among self-declared Republicans, 54.1 percent plan to vote against retention while 32.1 percent plan to vote for retention. A plurality of independents, 49.3 percent, said they would vote for retention, compared to 28.7 percent who plan to vote against retention.

Detailed analysis of the poll follows. Topline results for the poll are available at:

Poll methodology is available at:

For a related Hawkeye Poll story on the presidential election, visit

Opinions shaped by views on same-sex marriage

Voters’ opinions on same-sex marriage had a great influence on their preference for or against retention. Among voters who prefer no legal recognition of a gay couple's relationship, 45.2 percent plan to oppose retention while 28.1 percent plan to support it, and 26.7 percent are still undecided.

“It could be expected that those opposed to gay marriage and civil unions would be more against retaining Wiggins,” Hagle says. “What this might be highlighting is that the opposition to Wiggins, and the other three justices not retained in 2010, wasn't just about the Iowa Supreme Court's gay marriage decision, but about the propriety of the court making the decision rather than allowing voters to first vote on the issue.”

Voters who support civil unions but not legal marriage were more evenly divided with 44.8 percent planning to vote against retention and 41.4 percent planning to vote for retention. Finally, among voters who expressed support for legal marriage by gay couples, 79.8 percent plan to vote for retention compared to 7.1 percent who plan to vote against it.

Overall, a slim plurality of Iowa voters­—38.2 percent—support same-sex marriage while 34.3 percent support civil unions but not marriage­ and 23.8 percent expressed a preference for no legal representation. Only 3.7 percent were undecided. These results show a continued shift in Iowa toward increasing support for civil unions and same sex-marriage and a decrease in those expressing support for no legal representation.

Iowa opposed to judicial election campaigns

Iowans of all types expressed concern with the possibility of full-fledged campaigns for judicial elections. When asked whether they agreed that “there should be campaigns” or that “campaigns would undermine judicial decision making,” 64.0 percent of polled Iowans agreed that campaigns would undermine judicial independence while 20.8 percent expressed support for such campaigns. Undecideds, or those who did not express an opinion, comprised 15.2 percent of respondents.

Opposition to judicial retention campaigns was high among both Republicans and Democrats, with 76.3 and 85.3 percent opposed, respectively. Independents were the most supportive with 31.4 percent in favor of campaigns and 57.2 opposed to them. For both men men and women across all age groups, at least two-thirds opposed judicial retention campaigns.

Finally, opposition to campaigns was consistent across respondents’ opinion on gay marriage. Of those who support same-sex marriage, 60.9 percent thought campaigns would undermine judicial independence compared to 65.8 percent of those who support only civil unions and 65.2 percent of those who support no legal recognition.

About the Hawkeye Poll

Likely voters on the judicial retention question are self-identified. A total of 320 respondents were interviewed in Iowa, with 249 saying they plan to vote on the judicial retention question. The margin of error for the state is plus or minus 5.6 percent.

The poll was conducted by the Hawkeye Poll Cooperative, comprised of UI faculty and graduate students in political science. The faculty adviser for the poll is UI Associate Professor of Political Science Frederick Boehmke. The poll used the facilities of the Iowa Social Science Research Center, directed by UI Sociology Professor Kevin Leicht. CLAS, the Office of the Provost, and the Department of Political Science fund the poll.