This seems like it may be a day late and a dollar short as the saying goes, but someone has decided to ask a question in Iowa this week which would normally border on blasphemy. Do Iowans really know much about the ethanol issue and, even more to the point, do they really care? Going by the conventional wisdom this seems like a preposterous prospect. Iowa is the domain of King Corn and it drives all things political out there, right? Well, the American Council for Capital Formation (ACCF) decided to take the question to the voters directly rather relying on the state GOP leaders and some of the answers may surprise you.

With the Iowa caucuses fewer than 10 days away, research commissioned by the American Council for Capital Formation (ACCF) and completed this week provides new insights into what 700 likely voters across the state know about corn ethanol mandates, how much they care about or are following them, and whether they’re likely to vote on the basis of a candidate’s position on the issue.

Their answer? Not much, not really, and not at all.

“For as long as anyone can remember, conventional political wisdom dictated that candidates had no choice but to support ever-expanding corn ethanol mandates to win in Iowa,” said George David Banks, Executive Vice President of ACCF. “Unfortunately, they forgot to ask actual Iowans what they thought about it. As this polling makes clear, not only aren’t folks in the nation’s largest corn-producing state paying particularly close attention to the back-and-forth over the RFS, they’re definitely not using it as some sort of litmus test in determining who to vote for. That might qualify as a revelation to the political class in Washington, but something tells me actual Iowans won’t be too surprised to hear that.”

Here are a few of the results that jumped out at me:

  • The RFS and federal corn ethanol mandates fall outside of the top three issues of concern and interest for the overwhelming majority of Iowans (94%)
  • Half of respondents (50%) say they either do not care much, or do not care at all, about the RFS and federal corn ethanol mandates
  • Fewer than two-in-five (39%) say they want presidential candidates to spend more time talking about the RFS and federal ethanol mandates
  • 57 percent say they do not want candidates to talk about the topic at all
  • Only one-third (33%) know if any of the major presidential candidates support or oppose the RFS and federal corn ethanol mandates

If true, that might have made a bit of a difference in the shape of the race this year, but coming out less than two weeks before the caucuses it’s difficult to see what changes at this point. And yet it may at least prove useful for the midterms, assuming anything else backs this up later on. The only real questions I have about these numbers are the same ones that crop up whenever we run into these issue polls as opposed to surveys about candidates and elected officials.

If you’re looking for data on which candidates are doing well it’s not nearly as difficult to manage. Do you plan to vote for [CANDIDATES 1 THROUGH 10 or UNDECIDED] in the upcoming election? Similarly you can poll voters about the people in office with a basic query of approve or disapprove. (Strongly or somewhat.) When you get into issue questions, however, a lot depends on the wording and the ebb and flow of the news cycle. Seeing that 94% of Iowans don’t have ethanol in their top three concerns might say something, but it doesn’t mean it’s not a concern, either. Only a third of respondents knew where the candidates stood on the subject, which might be even a bit more telling, but I immediately found myself wondering if that’s just because they assume that all of the candidates back the RFS. It’s been baked into the cake for so long that perhaps they just take it for granted at this point.

Again, one data point such as this isn’t likely to be a game changer. But by the same token, maybe we’re finally seeing the beginning of a new trend. That would shake up both state and national elections and come as a refreshing change.

Ethanol Gas Corn