There was audible reaction in the audience of about 100 who were present when Professor Charles Franklin unveiled the primary finding of the new round of the Marquette Law School Poll: The race between Republican Gov. Scott Walker and Democratic challenger Mary Burke is essentially a dead heat as of now. That strong reaction echoed across the Wisconsin political world and beyond with its clear signal that this will be a close race that will likely pick up additional energy and attention now.
But in addition to the highlighted results – Walker and Burke each drew 46% support among registered voters and Walker led by a narrow 48% to 45% among those who say they are “absolutely certain” to vote in November – there were interesting indications of the strengths and weaknesses of each candidate. Those carried implications for what strategies the campaigns will pursue over the remaining five-plus months of the campaign for governor.
In brief, results of the new poll, and comparisons with prior polls, show Burke gaining strength among women and younger voters, while Walker remains strong among men and older voters. Burke does better than Walker on an “empathy” question – does a candidate care about people like you – and Walker does better on a question about whether a candidate is someone who is “able to get things done.”
Walker may benefit from generally favorable numbers on questions such as whether Wisconsin is on the right track, while Burke may benefit from increasingly favorable opinions toward gay marriage, an issue on which she and Walker have different views. And, as she becomes better known across the state, Burke’s favorable/unfavorable ratings have shifted to the favorable side.
The intense political polarization of Wisconsin continues to show up in the results. Thanks to a Marquette Law School Fellowship through the Lubar Fund for Public Policy Research, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Craig Gilbert did an excellent series on polarization recently, leading to a conference on the subject at Eckstein Hall on May 15. The new poll results showed again how overwhelming Republican support is for Walker and Democratic support is for Burke, with overall ratings for Walker locked in a near-even split statewide. In fact, the already miniscule percentages of Republicans and Democrats saying they would cross over to support the candidate of the other party in the governor’s race grew even more minuscule in the new results.
On other important and interesting fronts, a previously-unasked set of questions found almost two out of five voters in the state think thousands of votes in each election are affected by fraud. Opinions that voter fraud involves large numbers of votes are stronger among Republicans than Democrats.
The poll found that large majorities of Republicans, Democrats, and independents agree or strongly agree with statement such as “you really can’t trust government to do the right thing” and “government is pretty much run by a few big interests looking out for themselves.”
When it comes to everything from pothole repair to major highway construction, people generally agree roads are important, but majorities are opposed to ideas for how to pay for road work, including tax increases, borrowing, and using money now spent on other purposes. One exception – although it is one with a highly questionable political future – is that a majority of those polled (56%) supported the idea of paying tolls.
The poll found that 50% of Republicans want Walker to run for president, while 39% do not. As for Rep. Paul Ryan, 65% of Republicans want him to run for president and 23% don’t.
Poll results are a snapshot of a specific period – in this case, May 15 to 18, with 805 Wisconsin voters interviewed by landline and cell phone. But in the new snapshot, there were vivid and important indicators of what is going on in Wisconsin and what lies ahead in the next few months. And, as reactions to the new results indicated, the political math is that a tight race equals a hot, intense political climate in coming months.
The full results of the poll may be found by clicking here.