The Likely and the Less Likely — Insights from the New Law School Poll

The Registered and the Likely – maybe that could be the name of a political soap opera, although I doubt it would attract high ratings in the general public. But it would attract high ratings among those involved in election campaigns and those eager to understand those campaigns and politics overall.

New results from the Marquette Law School Poll, released Wednesday, put the Registered and the Likely in the spotlight. Among 815 registered voters across the state, Republican Gov. Scott Walker led Democratic challenger Mary Burke 47.5 percent to 44.1 percent in the race for governor. But among 609 participants in the poll who were labeled likely to vote in November, Burke led Walker, 48.6 percent to 46.5 percent.

So who’s ahead, Walker or Burke? The best answer is that it’s too close to say – by both measures, the race is within the margin of error of the poll.

But that doesn’t mean the distinction between registered and likely voters is unimportant, as was shown in other results. Professor Charles Franklin, director of the Law School Poll, described them during the “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” event at which the poll results were unveiled.

As part of the poll, people are asked whether they intend to vote in November. Franklin said those who say they are certain to vote are considered likely voters. “As pollsters, we try to measure both opinions and the likelihood that voters will act on their opinions by voting,” Franklin said in the news release accompanying the poll. “Some registered voters may cast a ballot who today are not certain that they will; on the other hand, even among people registered who say they are absolutely certain to vote, we know that a portion of them won’t actually do so, for turnout on election day is invariably lower than the percentage who say they won’t miss the chance. Still, the differences in involvement and enthusiasm about voting are enormous between the likely voters, who say they are certain to vote, and those who admit there is at least some chance they will stay home from the polls. The difference in vote between likely voters and all registered voters is a measure of the roles turnout and enthusiasm play in the election and tells us which party, at the moment, is enjoying greater intensity.”

Franklin gave examples of the differences between the likely and less-voters in the new round of results.

One example: Among those likely to vote, 69 percent said they follow politics “most of the time.” Among the less likely, the number was 27 percent. A second example: Among likely voters, 26 percent said they had not heard or didn’t know enough about Burke to have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of her yet; among less likely voters, the figure was 61 percent. Also, less likely voters were more undecided about their choice for governor (14 percent) than likely voters (2 percent).

And the key to the two different overall outcomes was that less likely voters favored Walker over Burke by 50 percent to 31 percent, while likely voters favored Burke by the 2.1 percentage point margin listed above.

Building up turnout and taking advantage of the enthusiasm of supporters are central factors in how each campaign is being conducted. Voter turnout is always lower in a non-presidential election, and both campaigns will push in every way they can to get their core supporters to vote on Nov. 4. But one implication of the poll results is that the Walker campaign particularly will have reason to try to convince those who are less committed to voting and Burke campaign strategists will want to do whatever they can to make sure likely voters become actual voters.

The full results of the poll include the first public results on the attorney general’s race, which is clearly in its early stages when it comes to introducing each of the candidates to the public as a whole, as well as results on a range of policy issues facing Wisconsin. The full results may be found by clicking here.


This Post Has One Comment

  1. Michael Hogan

    It is extremely unreliable to generate a “likely voter” subset of voters based on the voters’ own expressed intention to vote. Actual voting history is the only way to gauge future voting behavior. Even that method is subject to reporting bias. Your method is extremely defective unless you have some independent measure of the “likely voters'” participation in the last two or three election cycles. In the absence of that control, the most valid measure of the state of the race is found in your registered voter sample.

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