About the Poll

Wisconsin will be at the heart of American politics in 2012. The Marquette Law School Poll will be the best way to measure the heartbeat.

The poll, a major addition to the Law School’s growing efforts to shed light on public policy matters, will provide the most extensive data on record of public sentiment in Wisconsin, including not only how things are developing in the nationally significant elections to be held in the state this year, but how people feel about a wide range of issues and what factors are shaping their opinions. Because polling will be conducted generally at least once a month throughout the year, the Marquette Law School Poll also will show trends in public opinion and the impact of events on the course of politics here.

The poll is being conducted with the highest standards of independence, impartiality, and professionalism, and uses the best in polling practices.

Each round of the Marquette Law School Poll will involve interviews with 700 Wisconsin registered voters by telephone. Unlike many state polls, the Marquette Law School Poll includes cell phones as well as landlines to help ensure a representative sample of all Wisconsin residents. The poll interviews over four nights, which improves the ability to reach voters who may not be available on a particular night. The full questionnaire was designed by the Marquette Law School Poll team, led by Charles Franklin. Interviews are conducted by professional interviewers and managed by LHK Partners Inc of Newtown Square PA, a well respected survey and market research firm.

The poll has a margin of error of 3.8%. This means that 95% of the time, a poll of this size will produce results within 3.8 percentage points of what would be found if all registered voters in the state were interviewed. There are additional sources of variation in polls which are not reflected in the margin of error, such as the wording and order of questions.

The sample is selected within geographic regions of the state of Wisconsin to ensure proportionate representation of all areas of the state. Telephone numbers are dialed randomly within a list of all area codes and exchanges in the state. Cell numbers are selected similarly from working cell exchanges. Cell respondents are screened to ensure that they actually live in Wisconsin and to identify their county of residence.

All questions and all results will be posted on this website on the day results are released. The data will include breakdowns of key questions by demographic groups and political orientations.

In announcing the Marquette Law School Poll in November, Dean Joseph D. Kearney wrote, “Wisconsin will play a critical role in the 2012 elections. President Barack Obama is highly unlikely to win reelection without Wisconsin. The state’s U.S. Senate election will be crucial in determining which party controls that institution. How the state resolves its internal divisions over state policy and governance will set the stage for the next decade.”

Kearney wrote that the winners will be determined only in the elections themselves. “But to understand why voters chose as they did and what fears and hopes motivated their choices requires us to ask the voters through scientifically sound polls. . . . We can be the honest broker of information that—it is not too much to say—this state so desperately needs.” Kearney’s paper describing the project can be found at http://law.marquette.edu/facultyblog/2011/11/01/marquette-law-school-poll/.

Mike Gousha, distinguished fellow in law and public policy at the Law School, said, “A central theme of our public policy efforts has been to foster a better understanding of important issues. We do that through debates, forums, writing, and research. The Marquette Law School Poll builds on that, offering unique insight into what the people of Wisconsin think about the issues that affect us all.”

Alan J. Borsuk, the Law School’s senior fellow in law and public policy, said, “Well-run polls have a strong track record of being good measures of public opinion and can show not only how the ‘horse races’ are going, but what is shaping the way people vote. This project is a special opportunity to go beyond rhetoric and provide depth to understanding public attitudes.”

Kearney, Gousha, and Borsuk are involved in the planning and execution of the Law School poll. The poll’s director is Charles Franklin, a professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who is a visiting professor of law and public policy at Marquette Law School during 2012.

“This is by far the most extensive polling of the state ever,” said Franklin, a nationally recognized expert on polling. “Politics is never short of spin, and our goal is to produce information about what citizens think about politics and public policy in Wisconsin without spin.”

“Political parties, candidates, and interest groups are constantly doing polling in the state, which means they know what attitudes are,” Franklin said. “So the only people who don’t know are the citizens themselves.” The Marquette Law School Poll aims to let all have access to quality information on public opinion.

Franklin co-founded Pollster.com, which quickly became an award-winning site for nonpartisan polling analysis; it was recognized by the New York Times’ “Year in Ideas for 2008” and Time magazine’s 50 Best Websites of 2009 and won the American Association for Public Opinion Research’s prestigious “Innovator’s Award.” Franklin is an expert on statistical methods, political polling, elections, and public opinion. He has served as a member of the ABC News election-night analysis team and co-director of the Big Ten Poll, which conducted 18 state and national polls in 2008, and he is a past board member of the American National Election Study, the leading academic survey of elections. He has run the website pollsandvotes.com since 2010.

Each time poll results are released, Franklin and Gousha will hold a one-hour noontime conversation about the results at Eckstein Hall, home of Marquette Law School, as part of the school’s “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” series. Those sessions will be free and open to the public. Video of those sessions will be posted on this Web site.