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University of Iowa News Release


May 4, 2011

UI Hawkeye Poll: Iowans undecided about 2012 judicial retention

A High Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage in Iowa sparked an uncharacteristically heated judicial retention vote, resulting in the ousting of three justices last year. With another justice up for retention in 2012, a University of Iowa Hawkeye Poll indicates that 87 percent of Iowans intend to vote on the matter – but nearly half haven't decided how they'll vote.

Justice David Wiggins is up for retention in 2012, and the remaining three justices involved with the decision face a retention vote in 2016. To date, 47 percent of Iowans who plan to vote on retention next year have not made up their minds, 37 percent plan to vote for retention, and 13 percent plan to vote against it.

Uncertainty is greatest among Iowans who supported the decision to oust the justices in 2010, with 58 percent of those intending to vote being unsure how they might vote in 2012. Voters opposed to the ousting expressed a much clearer intention, with 62 percent planning to vote in favor of retention next year.

"Voters' feelings about gay marriage -- rather than their feelings about the qualifications of the justices -- may have led to an anomaly in the 2010 retention vote," said Dan Taibleson, a UI political science student who worked with Faculty Advisor Frederick Boehmke to conduct the poll. "Future retention elections will likely conform with the historical trend of retention."

The Hawkeye Poll was conducted April 4-11. The national phone survey included 352 participants from Iowa; the margin of error for the Iowa sample is 5.3 percent. Topline results are available at:

The poll confirmed that the outcome of last year's vote was strongly connected to the Supreme Court's decision on same-sex marriage. Those who believe no legal status should be accorded to same-sex partners supported the ousting 81 percent to 10 percent. Those who support civil unions were more mixed, with 50 percent supporting and 40 percent opposing the removal of the justices. And, voters who support same-sex marriage disagreed with the removal of justices by a margin of 74 percent to 14 percent.

"It was the middle, civil union, group that basically decided the outcome," said Tim Hagle, associate professor of political science in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and an expert on judicial politics.

Three in four Iowans surveyed indicated that they voted on the retention issue in the 2010 election. Among all Iowans, nearly half (47 percent) supported the removal of the justices, while 42 percent opposed it.

Overall, Iowans expressed stronger reservations toward gay marriage rights than the nation as a whole. According to the poll, 35 percent of Iowans and 41 percent of Americans support equal marriage rights; 30 percent of Iowans and 31 percent of Americans support civil unions, and 31 percent of Iowans and 25 percent of the country oppose any legal form of same-sex union.

The national sample included 867 participants, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.3 percent. Thirty percent were Democrat, 29 percent were Republican and 33 percent were Independent. Reported national results are weighted by state population and age. Iowa results are weighted by age. Thirty percent were Democrat, 31 percent were Republican and 33 percent were Independent.

The poll was conducted by the Hawkeye Poll Cooperative, comprised of faculty and students in the UI Department of Political Science, with the cooperation and facilities of the Iowa Social Science Research Center, directed by UI Sociology Professor Kevin Leicht. Faculty adviser for the poll is UI Associate Professor of Political Science Frederick Boehmke. The judicial retention questions were written with UI undergraduates in an independent study course. The poll is a teaching, research and service project of the UI Department of Political Science. The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the Office of the Provost fund the poll.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500

MEDIA CONTACTS: Paul Skinner, Hawkeye Poll, 319-335-3381,; Nicole Riehl, University News Services, 319-384-0070,; Frederick Boehmke, Hawkeye Poll, 319-335-2342,