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Poll: Iowa Senate race in dead heat

The closely watched Iowa Senate race between Republican Joni Ernst and Democrat Bruce Braley is locked in a dead heat, a new NBC News/Marist poll shows.
Democratic Legislators Hold News Conference To Urge Congress To Pass The Paycheck Fairness Act
U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) speaks during a press conference on Capitol Hill April 1, 2014 in Washington, DC.

The closely watched Iowa Senate race between Republican Joni Ernst and Democrat Bruce Braley is locked in a dead heat, a new NBC News/Marist poll shows, while New Hampshire Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen has an eight-point lead over likely Republican challenger Scott Brown.

In Iowa, Ernst and Braley each have the support of 43% of registered voters. But both candidates remain unknown to many in the state; 14% of voters are undecided about who they support in the race, and approximately one-third say they are unsure about their opinion on the candidates or have never heard of them.

But both candidates are polarizing to the voters who know them. Braley gets positive marks from 36% of voters and a negative rating from 32%. Ernst’s favorability-to-unfavorability rating is 38% to 33%.

“Any way you slice the numbers, you end up with a close race,” said Lee Miringoff, the director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion, which conducted the poll for NBC News. “This is one that bears watching as the campaign unfolds.”

The Senate race in New Hampshire isn’t as fluid, with only 6% of registered voters saying that they’re undecided between incumbent Shaheen and Brown. It also isn’t as close: Shaheen is beating her GOP rival 50% to 42%.

Shaheen’s support is buoyed by strong personal approval ratings. Fifty-two percent of voters say they have a favorable impression of the freshman senator and former governor, versus 39% who give her a negative rating. That includes broad support from independents (54-35%), moderates (60-31%), and white voters (51-37%).

Brown, who moved to New Hampshire after serving as the Republican senator from Massachusetts for two years, doesn’t fare as well. New Hampshire voters are about equally divided (40% to 39%) on their opinions of him, including unfavorable assessments from 37% of independents and 40% of moderates.

"Any way you slice the numbers, you end up with a close race. This is one that bears watching as the campaign unfolds."'

Also in Iowa, Republican Gov. Terry Branstad has a commanding lead in his re-election run over Democratic challenger Jack Hatch, 53% to 38%. Iowa voters offer good marks for Branstad’s tenure as governor, with almost six-in-10 saying they approve of his job performance.

New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan, also up for re-election this year, has a 54% approval rating among New Hampshire voters.

Gender matters

As they did in NBC News/Marist polls of Colorado and Michigan released Monday, female supporters are helping Democratic Senate candidates in these key races maintain their edge.

Shaheen, the first woman in American history to be elected both as a governor and a senator, bests Brown by 25 points among female voters (59 to 34%). Only 28% of women have an unfavorable opinion of her, compared with 58% who give her a good grade.

But the gender gap is much smaller in Iowa. Women back Braley by eight points (45% to 37%) while men support Ernst – who gained national fame with an ad describing an Iowa farm upbringing that included the frequent castration of pigs – by a similar margin (48% to 40%).

“The party factor seems to be trumping gender as far as how voters are assessing these two candidates at the moment,” Miringoff said.

On the issues

President Barack Obama won both Iowa and New Hampshire in the 2008 and 2012 elections, but his approval rating in both states is sagging. Just 37% of Iowa voters and 39% of New Hampshire voters say they approve of the president’s job performance.

The president’s signature health care law is also struggling for support in both Iowa and New Hampshire. About half of voters in both states call the law a bad idea, compared to 35% in New Hampshire and 32% in Iowa who say it’s a good idea.

More popular is a proposal to cut greenhouse gas emissions, even if it means higher costs for consumers. That plan has the support of a majority in New Hampshire (53% approve/40% disapprove); in Iowa, 51% approve and 39% disapprove.

When it comes to immigration, voters in both states are about equally split on a proposal that would allow undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship.

In New Hampshire, 50% of voters say they favor a path to citizenship (19% strongly), while 46% oppose it (30% strongly.) In Iowa, it’s 46% in favor (17% strongly) versus 48% against (31% strongly.)

Latinos make up about 4% of registered voters in Iowa and 2% of registered voters in New Hampshire.

The Iowa poll was conducted July 7-13 of 1,599 registered voters, and has a margin of error of +/- 2.5 percentage points.

The New Hampshire poll was conducted July 7-13 of 1,342 registered voters, and the margin of error is +/- 2.7 percentage points.