Public Views of the U.S. Supreme Court: A Marquette Law School Poll and Conference

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US Supreme Court

On October 21, the Marquette Law School Poll will release the results of a nationwide survey of public opinion about the Supreme Court of the United States. How much do citizens know about the Court? How informed are they about the Constitution? What, if anything, do they think of the justices? With respect to recent decisions of the Court, how much of the public supports or opposes the Court’s rulings? How much is opinion of the Court and its decisions based in partisan or ideological affiliations of voters? Do opinions of the Court influence presidential-vote choices? Does the public see the Court as legitimate? The Marquette Law School Poll Director, Professor Charles Franklin, will present the results of a unique national survey devoted entirely to knowledge and opinion of the U.S. Supreme Court.

We will then present three panels of reaction or reflection about the survey or the general topics that it implicates. Panelists will include the following:

  • from the bench and bar, Judge Diane S. Sykes of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit; Peter D. Keisler, co-leader of Supreme Court and Appellate practice, Sidley Austin, Washington D.C.; and Thomas L. Shriner, Jr., partner in Foley & Lardner and adjunct professor of law at Marquette University
  • from the academy, Professor Lawrence Baum (political science), The Ohio State University, and author (with Neal Devins) of The Company They Keep: How Partisan Divisions Came to the Supreme Court (Oxford 2019), and Tara Leigh Grove (law), William & Mary, author of The Supreme Court’s Legitimacy Dilemma, 132 Harv. L. Rev. 2240 (2019)
  • from the press with deep experience with respect to the Court, Robert Barnes (Washington Post) and Carl Hulse (New York Times and author of Confirmation Bias: Inside Washington’s War over the Supreme Court, From Scalia’s Death to Justice Kavanaugh (Harper & Collins 2019))

Other participants will include my Marquette colleagues, Chad M. Oldfather, professor of law, and Mike Gousha, distinguished fellow in law and public policy. We regard this survey as an opportunity to offer not just opinion from the public but also a variety of explanations to the public about how the judiciary, or the Supreme Court in particular, comes to decisions.

Since its establishment almost eight years ago, the Marquette Law School Poll has developed a substantial national reputation. This latest survey, too, will be a public good, and it should be of considerable lasting interest.

Please join us at Marquette Law School, in Eckstein Hall’s Lubar Center, for the conference (Monday, October 21, 8 a.m.–1:30 p.m.). Registration is required and available here. Questions may be directed to Rita Aleman, program manager of the Law School’s Lubar Center for Public Policy Research and Civic Education.

Franklin Says Poll Results Show Shift Toward Republican Identification

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There’s something happening here, and what it is is becoming clearer: A shift in the overall partisan make-up of Wisconsin’s voting population toward Republicans.

It’s not a huge shift – a couple percentage point increase in the number of people who identify as Republicans or as leaning Republican, a similar decrease in the number who identify as Democrats or as leaning Democratic. The result is a near tie in partisanship, compared to several years ago when the Democrats held a slight advantage. But it is enough of a change to suggest that the polarized political make-up of Wisconsin is becoming more polarized, and the state’s propensity to have elections with very close outcomes may be getting stronger. Continue reading “Franklin Says Poll Results Show Shift Toward Republican Identification”

Do primary voters strategically vote in the opposition’s primary?

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Periodically political enthusiasts express concern that members of a particular political party will conspire to swing the result of the opposing party’s primary election by strategically voting for a candidate who does not express the actual will of that party’s “real” voters. This form of bad-faith strategic voting is sometimes called party raiding.

Party raiding is only feasible in states with open primaries, and fear of it is sometimes used as a argument in favor closed primary systems, which only allow registered partisans to vote in their respective primaries.

Wisconsin is an open primary state. In fact, the state’s Election Commission maintains no records of party affiliation whatsoever. Every party’s primary contests share space on a single ballot. Voters choose their preferred party in the privacy of the voting booth. No state presents fewer barriers to strategic party raiding than Wisconsin.

Nonetheless, there is no evidence that this kind of voting behavior occurs at all in Wisconsin. As I mentioned, registered voters do not have the option to formally affiliate with a party in Wisconsin. We can, however, measure party identification through public opinion data.

I pooled the results of three Marquette Law School Polls preceding the 2016 presidential preference vote and three surveys preceding the 2018 partisan primary. The combined dataset includes 3,515 likely voters. Each respondent was asked if they planned to vote in either the Republican primary, the Democratic primary, or if they didn’t plan to vote at all. We also recorded answers from respondents who insisted they would vote in “both” primaries, even though this would result in a spoiled ballot if carried out.

Respondents were also asked if they “usually think of yourself as a Republican, a Democrat, or an Independent.” Those who answered “independent” were then asked, “Do you think of yourself as closer to the Republican Party or to the Democratic Party?” We consider those who answered affirmatively as “leaning” partisans.

Here is how each partisan group planned to vote in the upcoming primary.

Stated intentions of Wisconsin primary voters by party ID, data from 2016 and 2018
partyID Republican primary Democratic primary Won’t vote Both Don’t know Refused
Rep 89 2 5 1 3 0
Lean Rep 77 4 9 1 7 1
Ind 25 16 17 3 36 4
Lean Dem 7 75 8 1 9 1
Dem 2 89 5 1 3 0

An identical share (2%) of Republicans and Democrats planned to vote in the other party’s primary. Even if this tiny share of people were indeed “party raiding,” they cancelled each other out. But there is no good evidence suggesting they weren’t voting in good faith. In the following general elections the share of self-identified Democrats or Republicans voting for a nominee of the other party exceeded 2%, so it’s quite likely that some share of self-identified Democratic voters genuinely preferred one of the Republican primary candidates and vice versa.

More Help Urged for Those Making “Re-entry” from Incarceration

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“When does the sentence end?“  Albert Holmes says he often faces that question as he works to help people who have been released from incarceration and who are re-entering the general community.

Holmes, president and CEO of My Father’s House, was one of the speakers Thursday, Oct. 4, at a conference at Marquette Law School that focused on what can be done to provide paths for more people in those situations to establish stable lives.

The conference, “Racial Inequality, Poverty, and Criminal Justice,” drew an audience that included two Wisconsin Supreme Court justices, several circuit judges, prosecutors (including Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm),  defense attorneys, and many who work in agencies that try to help those getting out of prison or jail or who are advocates on issues involved with the subject.   Continue reading “More Help Urged for Those Making “Re-entry” from Incarceration”

Violent Crime Versus Property Crime: Law School Poll Reveals Notable Differences in Public Opinion

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Public opinion polls typically find a preference for tougher treatment of defendants in the criminal-justice system. However, few polls attempt to disaggregate types of crime. When laypeople are asked what they think should be done with “criminals,” their responses are likely based on the relatively unusual violent and sexual offenses that dominate media coverage of crime. However, punitive attitudes toward such offenses may not necessarily indicate that similar attitudes prevail more generally.

In order to develop a better understanding of the extent to which public attitudes differ based on crime type, I collaborated with Professor Darren Wheelock of the Marquette Social and Cultural Sciences Department on a set of questions in the most recent Marquette Law School Poll. Rather than asking respondents about crime in general, we posed questions regarding violent crime and property crime. Our results were consistent with the expectation that members of the public see these two types of crime in a rather different light.

Continue reading “Violent Crime Versus Property Crime: Law School Poll Reveals Notable Differences in Public Opinion”

Partisan Divides Are Vivid in New Law School Poll Results

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“If there’s a subtitle to today’s presentation, it is partisan differences.”

That comment from Professor Charles Franklin, director of the Marquette Law School Poll, as a new round of poll results was released Wednesday at Eckstein Hall, spotlighted a striking and important aspect to public opinion in Wisconsin (and probably across the United States). In short, there are two different worlds of perception on what is going on when it comes to politics and policy.

Start with the most obvious example, opinions of President Donald Trump. Overall, 42 percent of registered voters polled in Wisconsin approved of Trump’s job performance and 50 percent disapproved. In polling a month ago, it was 44 percent and 50 percent. Since Trump took office, those numbers have not varied much.

But break it down by partisanship and there’s a canyon of difference. Among Republicans, 86 percent approve of how Trump is doing as president and 8 percent disapprove. Among Democrats, 3 percent approve and 93 percent disapprove. Continue reading “Partisan Divides Are Vivid in New Law School Poll Results”

The Developing Shape of August Primaries Comes into View in New Poll Results

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The results of the Marquette Law School Poll, released on Wednesday, June 20, showed both how long a time and how short a time two months is as an election approaches.

The primary on Aug. 14 will decide which of a large field of Democrats will race incumbent Republican Scott Walker in the November election for governor and which of two Republican candidates will face incumbent Democrat Tammy Baldwin in the election for a US Senate seat.

How long is it until Aug. 14? The poll, conducted through telephone interviews with 800 registered voters statewide from June 13 to 17, found that large majorities said they did not know enough about or did not yet have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of every one of the candidates in the top spotlighted contests. The figures ranged from 61 percent to 94 percent. Large portions of the public haven’t yet felt the election is close enough to require a lot of attention.

On the other hand, now that the clock is under two months, interest in the poll results, including news coverage of the findings, is increasing. While the general public may not have tuned in strongly yet to the campaigns, those who are involved know time is running short. Increasingly active campaigning and advertising almost surely will lead to more voters knowing the people running for office by the time Aug. 14 arrives. Continue reading “The Developing Shape of August Primaries Comes into View in New Poll Results”

Facts and History — But No Predictions — as Program Sets the Political Scene

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Set aside (for the moment) the poll numbers, the partisanship, and the passion and analyze the facts and data.

That was the goal of an “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” program on Thursday, June 14, at Marquette Law School that was a bit unusual. How so? The guests were Charles Franklin, director of the Marquette Law School Poll, and John Johnson, research fellow for the Law Schools Lubar Center for Public Policy Research and Civic Education, but, unlike the large majority of such sessions, particularly involving Franklin, they didn’t have any fresh poll results.

Instead, the goal, as Franklin put it, was to look at the lay of the political landscape, both in Wisconsin and beyond. Results from four special elections so far in 2018 for legislative seats in Wisconsin and from the statewide election of a Supreme Court justice offered the opening insights on current Wisconsin voting patterns. But the discussion expanded to encompass results from more than 300 elections nationwide since the 2016 presidential election and to look at history going back as far as the 1860s.

Franklin and Johnson showed the degree to which Democrats generally had gained ground since 2016 in election results in Wisconsin and nationwide. But Franklin looked at historical trends that show how the party of a sitting president usually loses ground in mid-term elections. What is shaping up for this fall’s elections may (or may not) be more in line with historical patterns than many people think.

One interesting insight: On average, Franklin said, the opposition party has gained 24 seats in the US House of Representatives in mid-term elections. And for the Democrats to gain control of the House this year, they need to gain 24 seats. That means it’s anyone’s guess which party will have the majority in the House after November. Or, as Franklin put it, “uncertainty is the order of the day.”

Franklin looked at the history of the impact on mid-term election of factors such as a president’s popularity, change in the national gross domestic product, unemployment rates, and the results of polling that asks people a generic question (with no candidate specified) about which party they hope will win the upcoming election. Based on history, some of those indicators suggest good prospects for Democrats – and some don’t.

The four special legislative elections in Wisconsin this year, as well as the Supreme Court election (assuming you assign partisan interpretation to it), each showed Republicans doing worse and Democrats doing better than they did in recent elections, Franklin and Johnson showed.

Some suggest that the low turnout in those races reduces the weight that should be put on such trends. Johnson analyzed results of special elections compared to general elections broadly and found that the differences in outcomes between the low turnout and high turnout elections were not as great as many people assumed.

But Franklin said a shift toward Democrats in the legislative elections in Wisconsin this fall wouldn’t necessarily mean changes in which party controls each legislative house in Madison. For example, few legislative elections in recent years have been settled by five percentage points or less, he said, so a five point shift toward Democrats might not change the winning party in many cases.

The first round of results for the Marquette Law School Poll since March is set to be released on Wednesday (June 20). It will include results for the Democratic primary for governor and the Republican primary for a US Senate seat. The pace of campaigning (and polling) will accelerate through the coming months.

But at this point, Franklin said, it was good to pause and look at the bigger and historical perspective.

“The main thing I want to leave you with is uncertainty (about what lies ahead), but I want you to appreciate why we are uncertain and how these different indicators are pushing in different directions,” Franklin said.

To view video of the one-hour conversation, click here. To get information on the poll release program at Eckstein Hall on June 20, click here.



New Poll Shows Consistent Results Amid Changing Political News

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With all the tumult in the political picture for the nation in recent months, it seemed to make sense to anticipate interesting changes in public opinion in Wisconsin when the first round of Marquette Law School Polls results in more than four months was released on Monday.

But perhaps the most interesting result of the poll was how much had not changed over time, not in the last few months and in some cases not in recent years.

President Donald Trump’s job ratings? Among 800 registered voters in Wisconsin who were polled from Feb. 25 through March 1, 43 percent approved of Trump’s performance and 50 percent disapproved. In June 2017, the numbers were 41 percent who approved and 51 percent who disapproved.

Gov. Scott Walker? In the new results, 47 percent approved of how he is doing his job, 47 percent disapproved. In June 2017, the numbers were 48 and 48. And the results are in line with the long-term close-to-even split on Walker.

With the large amount of interest in gun-related issues in the aftermath of the Feb. 14 killings at a high school in Florida, has there been change in opinion on gun control proposals? Not very much. The new poll found 81 percent of Wisconsin voters in favor of background checks for gun sales at gun shows and in private settings. The last time the poll asked the question, in June 2016, the figure was 85 percent. A ban on assault-style weapons was supported by 56 percent in the new poll; in March 2013, the support level was 53 percent.

Immigration issues drew similar results in the new poll as in earlier polls. The new results showed 71 percent in favor of a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants currently working in the United States, and 86 percent in favor of a path to citizenship for those who are undocumented but who were brought to the United States as children.

But if the consistency of opinion was one of the main take-aways from the new poll, there were some results that showed change or that shed light on fresh issues. Three examples:

For one, the poll examined sentiment on the state offering more than $3 billion in support for building the Foxconn flat-panel display factory in Racine County. Overall, 38 percent of voters statewide think the plant will provide at least as much benefit as the state’s investment, while 49 percent think the state will pay more in incentives than the plant will be worth. Sentiment on Foxconn was more favorable in the Milwaukee area (outside the city of Milwaukee) than elsewhere in the state. Charles Franklin, director of the Law School Poll and the Law School’s professor of law and public policy, said that result  and related results on other Foxconn questions shed light on how people outside the Milwaukee and Madison areas are unhappy with policies they don’t see as benefitting their parts of the state.

A second point: The poll showed a noteworthy shift in sentiment toward funding public schools. In March 2014, voters were asked which was a higher priority for them, holding down property taxes or increasing spending on public schools. Forty-nine percent said reducing property taxes, while 46 percent said increased school spending. But in the new poll, 63 percent favored school spending increases while 33 percent chose reducing property taxes. That shift sheds light on the positions Walker and Republican legislators have taken in the last year that increased school spending.

A third point: There were signs of shifts in the partisan alignment of voters, including fewer voters identifying as Democrats and more identifying as independents who lean Democratic. But the percentage of votes who said they are “very enthusiastic” about voting in this year’s elections was higher among those planning to vote for Democrats than among those planning to vote for Republicans. Franklin said that could prove significant, just as at some past points greater enthusiasm among Republican voters preceded favorable election results for Republicans.

It was clear from the results that large percentages of registered voters have not tuned in yet to the races for governor and a United States Senate seat that will be on the ballot in November. Large majorities of voters had no opinions on the field of Democratic candidates for governor or the two main Republican candidates for the Senate.

Franklin said there is still a long way to go to the fall election and public awareness of the candidates will rise. He pointed out the Tammy Baldwin, who will be running as a Democratic incumbent in this year’s Senate election, had low name recognition at this point in 2012, when she went on to win.

However, the race for a seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court will be decided in a month and fewer than a quarter of voters had an opinion, favorable or unfavorable, on either of the candidates who will be on the ballot, Rebecca Dallet or Michael Screnock.

To read full results of the poll, click here. To watch the one-hour “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” program at which Franklin presented the results, click here. The poll results received extensive news coverage. To read stories in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, click here or here.






Lubar Center and Its New Milwaukee Area Project Launched at Law School Conference

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Tuesday was a huge day for the future of the Milwaukee area, if you think developing strong, extensive knowledge on major issues is important and if you think coming together to work on dealing with those issues is important. Just ask R. T. Rybak.

Rybak, president/CEO of the Minneapolis Foundation and former mayor of Minneapolis, was the keynote speaker at a morning-long conference in the Lubar Center at Marquette Law School, which included  the debut of the Milwaukee Area Project, a long-term research project that will be part of the new Lubar Center for Public Policy Research and Civic Education.

The conference included ceremonies thanking Milwaukee philanthropists Sheldon and Marianne Lubar for the $7 million in grants that are providing an endowment to support the work of the public policy center. Continue reading “Lubar Center and Its New Milwaukee Area Project Launched at Law School Conference”

New Poll Gives Vivid Look into Polarized Political Perceptions

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Once again, a lesson in the two worlds of Wisconsin. That’s one way to describe the new round of results from the Marquette Law School Poll released on Wednesday (June 28, 2017).

In one world, Donald Trump is doing well as president. In another, he is not. In one, he is keeping his promises. In another he is not. Opinions on Governor Scott Walker or Senators Ron Johnson and Tammy Baldwin or House Speaker Paul Ryan? Split evenly. In all of these instances, Republicans are firmly on one side, Democrats firmly on the other. And the divisions  generally show little change since March, the time of the most recent prior Law School Poll.

How sharp is the divide? A few results:

Overall, 41 percent of the 800 Wisconsin registered voters who were interviewed approved of the way Trump is doing his job, while 51 percent disapproved. But among those identifying themselves as Republican or leaning Republican, Trump’s work was approved by 85 percent, with 8 percent disapproving. Among Democrats, 3 percent approved of how Trump was doing as president while 95 percent disapproved. Continue reading “New Poll Gives Vivid Look into Polarized Political Perceptions”

Wisconsin Grows, but Most Municipalities Shrink

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On May 25, 2017, the Census Bureau released its 2016 annual population estimates for subcounty geographic units.[1] This granular level of detail allows us to look more closely at where population change has occurred across the state.

As a whole, Wisconsin gained an estimated 91,419 people between July 2010 and July 2016—including 10,817 in the year ending July 2016. But these headline numbers obscure major variation across the state. Of the more than 1,850 cities, towns, and villages making up Wisconsin, 833 grew since 2010 and 986 of them shrank. Smaller places tended to get smaller, while bigger places got bigger. In 2010, 70 percent of the state lived in municipalities which would grow in the next six years, compared to just 30 percent in municipalities that would shrink. Much of this loss was concentrated in the northern region of the state, with the notable exception of several communities in Douglas County near Duluth, MN.

The map above shows the percent change in population for each Wisconsin municipality from 2010 to 2016.[2] The Green Bay/Appleton and greater Madison regions saw some of the highest growth, with additional sustained growth occurring in the Western part of the state including La Crosse, Eau Claire, and the Minneapolis/St. Paul suburbs. Nearly all portions of Marathon County surrounding Wausau have also experienced growth since 2010, although the City of Wausau itself declined marginally. This stands in stark contrast to nearby Rusk County, which lost 4 percent of its total population over the same time period. The only county to fare worse was neighboring Price County where the population declined by 4.5 percent. Dane County fared best with 9 percent growth, followed by tiny Menomonee (7 percent) and Green Bay area Brown County (5 percent).

Applying the same scale to just the past year’s change reveals similar, though necessarily less severe, trends. From 2015 to 2016 the City of Milwaukee lost an estimated 4,300 people, or about 0.7 percent of its population. Combined with a minor decline the year before, this essentially wiped out the city’s slight growth from 2010 to 2014.

Despite stagnant population size in places like Milwaukee and Wausau, Wisconsin’s growth is driven by its most populous communities. Municipalities with populations of at least 10,000 grew an average of 1.5 percent from 2010 to 2016. Municipalities with less than 1,000 residents shrank an average of 0.5 percent.


[1] Estimates are for July 1 of each year.

[2] I use the Census Bureau’s July population estimate base for 2010, not the decennial census. The technical unit of measurement in the map is Minor Civil Division (MCD), which corresponds with Wisconsin’s municipalities except in situations where municipalities cross county lines. In those rare cases, each county’s portion of the municipality is measured and mapped uniquely. Statistics in the report, however, reflect the total figures for each municipality.