A Decade (Plus) for the Marquette Law School Poll

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We communicate about the Marquette Law School Poll in any number of ways, including posts on this blog, Tweets from the official MULawPoll Twitter account and that of poll director Charles Franklin, and occasional articles in the Marquette Lawyer magazine (from 2012 to this past year). Marquette’s Office of University Relations (OUR) also issues releases. While these are ordinarily drawn from the poll’s homepage, OUR has issued its own announcement, noting the tenth anniversary of the poll. In light of the poll’s prominence and success, we post below for interested readers the University’s press release, which is also available here.

Marquette University Law Poll marking 10 years of polling in 2022

MILWAUKEE — The Marquette University Law School Poll is celebrating 10 years of polling, having released its first survey of Wisconsin voters on Jan. 25, 2012. Over the ensuing decade, the Marquette Law Poll has become recognized across the spectrum as “the gold standard in Wisconsin politics.”

The Marquette Law School Poll was established to be the most extensive polling project in Wisconsin history, with a full commitment to being an independent effort with no agenda except to reliably find out as much as is possible about public opinion in Wisconsin and to make that information publicly available. The poll is entirely funded by aggregated small donations to the Law School’s Annual Fund.

“The goal of the Marquette Law School Poll is to provide a balanced and detailed understanding of how voters on all sides view and respond to the issues of the 2012 campaigns,” wrote Joseph D. Kearney, dean of Marquette Law School, in announcing the polling project in November 2011. “With the national attention that Wisconsin will receive in 2012 and Marquette Law School’s growing reputation as a premier neutral site for debate and civil discourse on matters affecting the region and points beyond … there can be little doubt that the time, place, and people are right for the Marquette Law School Poll.”

The premise of Wisconsin’s important role in national politics was correct, and the decision to create the Marquette Law School Poll was even prescient, as the state has been a central battleground on the national level in each presidential election since. This has made the Marquette Law Poll a key instrument in measuring public opinion in the state come Election Day and a resource of national attention.

Since January 2012, the Marquette Law School Poll has recorded:

  • Responses from over 60,000 Wisconsin voters
  • Polling involving over 1,200 unique questions
  • Favorability of 112 political figures, including 70 measures of favorability for Sen. Tammy Baldwin, 56 measures for Sen. Ron Johnson, and 50 for former Gov. Scott Walker. Favorability and approval were also recorded for President Joe Biden and Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump in each poll during their respective time in office.
  • The Marquette Law Poll is nearing 400 unique issue questions on marijuana legalization, gun control, public schools, COVID-19, deer hunting, farm ownership, climate change, healthcare, and a host of other policy topics.

Continue reading “A Decade (Plus) for the Marquette Law School Poll”

State Gun Laws And Public Opinion

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Let’s begin with some general context: Nationwide, 66% of those with an opinion favor a Supreme Court ruling that the Second Amendment includes a right to possess a gun outside the home. When it is presented as a matter of state policy choice (law), 62% favor allowing concealed carry of handguns with a permit or license required. So public opinion substantially favors allowing “licensed concealed carry” of handguns.

In contrast, there is substantial majority opposition to laws allowing concealed carry without a licensing requirement. Concealed carry without a license requirement is supported nationwide by 19% and opposed by 81%.

In fact, even in the 25 states with “permitless concealed carry” laws, a minority of 28% of adults favor such laws, while 72% are opposed to them, based on a May 2022 Marquette Law School Poll national survey conducted last month (before the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas). And state surveys, by other polling entities, in Texas and Tennessee (states with permitless concealed carry laws) found 34% and 39% favored these laws, respectively, with 59% opposed in both states.

State gun laws

In the following analysis, state gun laws are grouped into four categories.

  • Twenty-five states have adopted laws allowing “permitless” concealed carry, requiring no license or permit to have a concealed weapon. (This includes states that have adopted such a law that will go into effect by Jan. 1, 2023.)
  • Ten states have “shall issue” laws, which give no discretion over issuing a license or permit to an applicant meeting the criteria specified by law.
  • Seven states have “shall issue” laws, which allow some discretion over issuing a license or permit if the applicant is judged to raise some public safety concerns.
  • Eight states and the District of Columbia have “may issue” laws, which give authorities greater latitude in determining when to issue a license or permit.

Continue reading “State Gun Laws And Public Opinion”

Liberals and conservatives both perceive the Supreme Court as acting against their preferences

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The latest Marquette Law Poll found that approval of the U.S. Supreme Court fell by 11 percentage points from July to September. This change was driven by a 22-point decline among Democrats and a 10-point decline among Independents. Republican approval stayed about the same.

This follows the Court’s narrow September ruling declining to halt Texas’ ban on abortions after six weeks of pregnancy. Other recent controversial decisions included striking down the CDC’s eviction moratorium and preventing the Biden administration from ending Trump’s “remain in Mexico” policy for asylum seekers.

Majorities of Republicans approved of all three of these decisions. Democrats disapproved of each, but more of them lacked an opinion about the CDC moratorium decision and the remain-in-Mexico decision.

Attitudes to Supreme Court decisions
Marquette Law School Supreme Court Poll, September 2021, n = 1,411
Heard nothing at all Heard of but not enough for an opinion Favor Oppose
End CDC moratorium
Republican 18% 20% 57% 5%
Independent 13% 34% 39% 14%
Democrat 17% 33% 22% 27%
Reinstate remain-in-Mexico policy
Republican 13% 8% 76% 2%
Independent 21% 24% 34% 20%
Democrat 14% 25% 17% 43%
Uphold 6-week abortion ban
Republican 11% 15% 57% 17%
Independent 10% 16% 27% 47%
Democrat 7% 12% 9% 71%

In light of this, it makes sense that Democratic approval of the court plummeted, but why didn’t Republican approval grow? Continue reading “Liberals and conservatives both perceive the Supreme Court as acting against their preferences”

Remembering Shirley S. Abrahamson: Wisconsin’s First Woman Supreme Court Justice

Posted on Categories Appellate Advocacy, Legal History, Legal Practice, Marquette Law School Poll, Moot Court, Public, Speakers at Marquette, Wisconsin Court System, Wisconsin Law & Legal System, Wisconsin Supreme CourtLeave a comment» on Remembering Shirley S. Abrahamson: Wisconsin’s First Woman Supreme Court Justice
Shirley Abrahamson with raised right hand, taking oath in 1976.
Shirley Abrahamson is sworn into the Wisconsin Supreme Court in 1976 by late Chief Justice Bruce Beilfuss.

On Saturday, December 19, former Wisconsin Chief Justice Shirley S. Abrahamson, died after battling pancreatic cancer. She was 87. Just two ways she was like another famous, short, tough, trailblazing Jewish jurist: Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Abrahamson, the daughter of Polish Jewish immigrants who arrived in the United States in the early 1930s, grew up in New York City. She graduated magna cum laude from NYU with her bachelor’s degree in 1953. Three years later, she graduated first in her class from Indiana Law School; she was also the only woman.

She met her husband Seymour in Indiana; they moved to Madison in the early 1960s, where Abrahamson earned her S.J.D. from UW Law in 1962. Thereafter, she became the first female lawyer at the Madison law firm La Follette, Sinykin, Doyle & Anderson. She was named a partner within a year. All throughout the time she was in practice, she also taught at UW Law.

In 1976, then-Governor Patrick Lucey appointed her to the Wisconsin Supreme Court’ she was the first woman to serve there. Continue reading “Remembering Shirley S. Abrahamson: Wisconsin’s First Woman Supreme Court Justice”

Beyond the Horse Races, There is Deeper and Broader Value in Public Polling

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This was published as an opinion column in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on November 15, 2020.

On August 11, 2020, the Marquette Law School Poll released a round of results that included some remarkable findings: 35% of Wisconsin voters planned to vote early by mail, and 81% of those voters planned to vote for Democratic candidate Joe Biden for president. Another 46% were planning to vote in person on election day, and 67% of them planned to vote for Republican candidate Donald Trump. And 12% were planning to vote early in-person and were pretty evenly split.

The numbers didn’t attract much attention from commentators. But they gave a big heads-up about what was likely to unfold nearly three months later, after the polls closed on November 3. There were going to be unprecedented numbers of absentee voters, and they were going to vote overwhelmingly for Biden. And a majority of in-person election day votes would go for Trump.

This became a key to understanding election night and week, not only in Wisconsin, but in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and several other states. Based on in-person voting, Trump took the lead in each one on election night. Results from absentee votes were reported more slowly. Biden won by big margins among absentees, and Trump’s early lead shrank and then disappeared. Continue reading “Beyond the Horse Races, There is Deeper and Broader Value in Public Polling”

Mapping the 2020 Vote Preference of Each Marquette Law Poll Respondent

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Each dot on this map is a (weighted) interview with a Wisconsin registered voter conducted by the Marquette Law Poll from May to September, 2020. Dots are randomly distributed within the zip code (or county if unavailable) where the respondent lives.

You can view an interactive version of this map here. Please remember that dots are randomly placed within zip codes.

We talked to 3,219 people across our May, June, August, and September surveys. Pooling these together, 47% supported Biden; 42% supported Trump; and the remainder either supported someone else, weren’t sure, or didn’t plan to vote.

Maps like these are a useful antidote to the kind of choropleth maps that shade counties entirely one color or another. Even the most Republican counties are home to lots of Democrats; likewise, plenty of Republicans live in heavily Democratic cities of Madison and Milwaukee.

What method will Wisconsinites use to vote in November?

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Voters in Wisconsin can choose from three widely accessible means of voting. In addition to voting in person on election day, they can vote by mail or vote in-person at an early voting location. (Technically, this kind of early voting is called “in-person absentee” voting in Wisconsin.)

Historically, voting in-person on election day has been the most popular means of casting a ballot in Wisconsin. That changed abruptly when the spring 2020 election was controversially held at the height of the initial COVID-19 shutdown. Ninety percent of voters voted at their polling place on election day in the 2016 spring contest. Just 29 percent did so in 2020. Instead, 59 percent voted by mail and 12 percent voted early in person.

It’s a safe bet that absentee and mail voting will also increase in the general election this fall. President Trump has speculated on numerous occasions that mail voting will be used fraudulently—a view uniformly contradicted by Republican, Democratic, and nonpartisan election administrators alike. Nonetheless, the growing controversy over mail-in ballots may have changed some people’s minds. Continue reading “What method will Wisconsinites use to vote in November?”

Tony Evers’ Pandemic Popularity Boost is Over

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Early in the COVID-19 shutdown the Marquette Law School Poll documented an exceptional degree of unity among Wisconsin voters, as the pandemic broke through Wisconsin’s thick partisan divide. In late March, more than 8-in-10 Republicans and Independents, along with 95 percent of Democrats, supported the state’s mandatory social distancing measures. First-term governor Tony Evers benefited from this groundswell of public support. His overall approval rating jumped from 51 percent at the end of February to 65 percent a month later. Most remarkably, Evers’ approval rating grew 19 points with Republicans.

Those days are over. Continue reading “Tony Evers’ Pandemic Popularity Boost is Over”

Enthusiasm for voting in Wisconsin

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Here is a review of Marquette Law School polling from August 2019 to August 2020 in Wisconsin. All polls are state-wide samples of registered voters, with about 800 respondents per poll (1000 in Feb.) and a margin of error of about +/- 4 percentage points. Details of each survey and full methodology statement are available at https://law.marquette.edu/poll/category/results-and-data/


There is very little difference in enthusiasm between Biden and Trump voters. Those who strongly approval of Trump’s handling of his job as president are a bit more “very enthusiastic” (about 8 points) than are those who strongly disapprove. Democrats are a a little more likely to say they are “very enthusiastic” than are Republicans, by about 5 points.

These results fluctuate modestly over time.

There is little evidence to support a clear enthusiasm advantage for either party.

Continue reading “Enthusiasm for voting in Wisconsin”

Even in a time of great polarization, Trump’s job approval isn’t static

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In May, I wrote about how deeply polarized Wisconsin voters were over Donald Trump’s presidency. This basic fact hasn’t changed. In our latest poll, we asked about Trump’s handling of the economy, the pandemic, the recent civil rights protests, and his job overall. For each question, respondents could choose whether they strongly or only somewhat approved or disapproved. Thirteen percent gave Trump the highest score possible, strongly approving in all four questions. Thirty-two percent gave the worst score available, strongly disapproving of Trump’s handling of each issue. Just 2 percent gave a completely neutral response.

Yet focusing solely on the strong divisions in Wisconsin’s electorate can disguise the fact that Donald Trump’s approval rating does vary in real ways–both between different issues and over time. It appears about 45 percent of Wisconsin electors have a frozen position on Donald Trump–either entirely negative or completely positive. The remaining majority assess Trump’s performance differently depending on the issue.

graph of a composite index of Trump approval

Opinion differs by issue

The following graphs show Donald Trump’s ratings for each question broken out by party identification. In all cases I classify independents who lean to a political party as independents.

Trump’s best issue is the economy. Seventy-one percent of Republicans strongly approve of his job handling the economy, and conversely only 74 percent of Democrats strongly disapprove. Trump is rated worse by members of both parties on other aspects of his job. Fifty percent of Republicans strongly approve of the way he is handling the coronavirus pandemic; 92 percent of Democrats strongly disapprove. On Trump’s worst issue–handling of the protests following George Floyd’s death–44 percent of Republicans strongly approve, and 87 percent of Democrats strongly disapprove.

When a Democrat or Republican declines to “strongly” approve/disapprove of Trump, they usually slide into the next category of “somewhat” approving or disapproving of the president. There is a small but non-trivial group of Republicans who sometimes disapprove of Trump. Combining “somewhat” and “strongly” disapprove, 7 percent of Republicans dislike Trump’s handling of the economy, 11 percent his overall job performance, 16 percent his handling of the coronavirus, and 20 percent his handling of the protests. In these polarized times, it is a rare issue that can make one-fifth of a president’s co-partisans disapprove of him.

On the other side of the equation, 4 percent of Democrats either “somewhat” or “strongly” approve of Trump’s overall job performance. Nine percent approve of his handling of the economy, 4 percent approve of his handling of the coronavirus, and just 2 percent approve of his handling of the protests.

(click image to view a larger version)small multiple graphs of Trump's approval rating for various issues broken down by party

Opinion differs over time

Over the course of 2020, Trump’s overall approval rating has worsened a little. Since January, “strongly disapprove” has increased from 40 percent to 46 percent, while “strongly” and “somewhat” approve have each declined by 2 points.

Several trends have contributed to this modest shift. Democratic opposition to the president has hardened. In January, 81 percent of Democrats strongly disapproved; 92 percent do in August. Most Democrats have ceased to hold middling views of Trump–either somewhat approving or disapproving. In January 16 percent of Democrats held one of these positions; now 5 percent do.

Among Republicans, strong approval peaked at 77 percent in February (around the time the impeachment process failed). Now, strong approval stands at 67 percent.

As usual, the views of Independents have been the most volatile. Trump benefited from a boost in popularity at the beginning of the shutdown, consistent with a small “rally ’round the flag” effect. In late March, his ratings among Independents reached 32 percent strongly approving, 20 percent somewhat approving, 9 percent somewhat disapproving, and 35 percent strongly disapproving. As the pandemic progressed, these numbers worsened. Now, in early August, 22 percent strongly approve of Trump, 18 percent somewhat approve, 13 percent somewhat disapprove, and 44 percent strongly disapprove.

trendline for Trump's overall job approval by wave

The economy has consistently been Trump’s strongest issue in Marquette’s polling. This is still true, but it has slipped a bit during the pandemic. Seventy-one percent of Republicans strongly approve, down from 79 percent in January. Seventy-four percent of Democrats strongly disapprove, up from 58 percent in January. Independents have always been closely divided on this issue, but, for the first time in 2020, the share strongly disapproving now exceeds those strongly approving; although, this result is within the margin of error.

time series of Trump economy approval, broken out by party

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed from a relatively decent issue for Donald Trump to a remarkably bad one. In late March, 68 percent of Republicans strongly approved of the job Trump was doing to handle the outbreak, and 73 percent of Democrats strongly disapproved. Independents were evenly divided with 31 percent strongly approving and 30 percent strongly disapproving.

Now, in early August, the share of Republicans strongly approving has declined to 50 percent, the proportion of Democrats strongly disapproving has risen to 92 percent, and Independents have decisively shifted away from the president. Fifty percent strongly disapprove of Trump’s handling of the outbreak, and 16 percent strongly approve.

trendline of Trump coronavirus approval broken out by party

I do not include a trendline for approval of Donald Trump’s handling of the protests about the death of George Floyd because we have only polled twice since June, and none of the changes in opinion by party exceed the margin of error.

Electoral implications

People with less strong opinions about Donald Trump also say they are less likely to vote. It’s impossible to separate the causality. No doubt some people are less likely to vote because they dislike both candidates, but other people probably have less strong opinions about the candidates because they rarely participate politically anyway.

Likelihood of voting is significantly dependent on the strength of one’s feelings toward Donald Trump. Ninety-two percent of registered voters who totally approve or disapprove of Trump say they are certain to vote, compared with 81 percent of those who mostly approve or disapprove, and 71 percent of those with more middling or neutral views.

table showing likelihood of voting by strength of feeling about Trump

Compared to the beginning of the year, our polling finds Joe Biden a bit better off in his matchup with Donald Trump. Among all registered voters, we recorded a Biden lead of 4 points in January and a tie in February. In June, we found a Biden lead of 8 points, and in August that lead was 6 points.

This is not an enormous change. Despite Trump’s deteriorating approval ratings, Biden does not appear to be running away with the election in Wisconsin. Skepticism of Donald Trump does not automatically translate into support for Joe Biden.

As expected, Trump receives 99 percent of the vote among the most enthusiastic Trump approvers. Conversely, Biden gets 92 percent of the vote among the most inveterate Trump disapprovers. Those mostly positive toward Trump give him 96 percent of the vote. Those mostly negative give Biden 82 percent. Even among the softest Trump supporters, those only somewhat more positive than negative, Trump gets 80 percent of the vote and Biden only 2 percent.

table showing vote choice by sentiment toward Trump

A significant share of Wisconsin voters dissatisfied with Trump either haven’t made up their mind or plan to vote for a third party in November. Three of Wisconsin’s last five presidential elections have been decided by less than one percentage point. If the 2020 election follows that pattern, the decisions of voters who don’t like Trump but aren’t sold on Biden either may be the deciding factor.

How are Wisconsin voters experiencing the pandemic economy?

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Wisconsin’s unemployment rate hit 14 percent in April and remained at 12 percent in May. Combining surveys from late March, early May, and mid June, the Marquette Law Poll found that 13 percent of Wisconsin registered voters had lost a job or been laid-off due to the coronavirus outbreak. A further 23 percent said this had happened to a family member. Likewise, 23 percent reported working fewer hours due to the coronavirus outbreak, and another 29 percent said this had happened to a family member. Altogether, 27 percent of those interviewed had either lost a job, lost hours, or both at some point during the economic shutdown.

Taken by themselves, these numbers suggest an economic catastrophe on par with the Great Depression, but that has not happened–at least not yet–in the experiences of most Wisconsinites. In nearly every poll, we ask respondents to evaluate their family’s financial situation–are they “living comfortably, just getting by, or struggling to make ends meet?” The trend is remarkably flat. In January 2020 63 percent said they were living comfortably–statistically indistinguishable from the 61 percent saying the same thing in June. So what gives?

Graph of self-reported subjective economic status, January - June 2020

Our poll alone cannot answer this question definitely, but it can offer some clues. Just as COVID-19 has hurt some communities in Wisconsin more than others, so too has the accompanying economic crisis. Along with disproportionate cases and deaths, Black and Latinx Wisconsin residents faced a stark economic toll. The number of Black respondents “struggling to make ends meet” increased from 10 percent in January/February to 22 percent during the pandemic. The proportion of Latinx respondents “living comfortably” declined from 66 percent to 47 percent over the same period.

In early 2020, prior to the economic shutdown, 63 percent of respondents described their family as “living comfortably.” People who lost their job during the pandemic did indeed report declining financial comfort. Just 37 percent of those who lost a job were “living comfortably.” Even worse off were those whose families lost multiple jobs. Only one in three people in this position were “living comfortably;” 57 percent were “just getting by,” and 11 percent were “struggling to make ends meet.” But people who suffered no financial ill effects actually improved their self-assessed financial well-being during the pandemic. Among people whose families lost no jobs or hours, 70 percent were “living comfortably,” 25 percent “just getting by,” and only 4 percent struggling to make ends meet.

The table below compares experiences by income level in 2019. To maximize cases, I pooled together all respondents who reported a job loss among any member of their family.

Before the pandemic, 37 percent of people with household incomes below $40,000 said they were living comfortably. People in this income bracket whose family lost at least one job during the shutdown now report a 24 percent rate of “living comfortably”–a 13 percent decline. Forty-seven percent of people from families who avoided income losses now say they are “living comfortably”–a 10 percent increase. The same pattern repeats itself in each other income tier.

percent of respondents living comfortably by job loss

What accounts for the increase in “living comfortably” among those who’ve kept their jobs? I see three possible explanations, all of which probably contribute in some way.

First, job losses in the pandemic have been concentrated among lower-wage workers. It could be that those who lost their jobs were already more likely to be financially struggling. Second, people whose families have kept their jobs may feel themselves lucky and are thus more likely to positively evaluate their subjective financial well-being. Third, people who have maintained an uninterrupted income stream may actually be making and/or saving more money than before. Whatever the cause, the pandemic appears to be sharpening the division between haves and have-nots in Wisconsin’s economy.

The Washington, D.C., Issue of the Marquette Lawyer Magazine 

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2020 Summer Cover

Amid all the global disruptions that started in March, Marquette Law School moved forward effectively in teaching students to be lawyers and in offering, as best we could, the public engagement we are known for. One important aspect of the latter is the release of the new issue of the Marquette Lawyer magazine, produced with a few internal procedural adjustments, but no change in schedule or in our commitment to provide high-quality reading to Marquette lawyers, all lawyers in Wisconsin, and many interested others.

Washington, D.C., is the focus of the new issue. The Washington that’s in Continue reading “The Washington, D.C., Issue of the Marquette Lawyer Magazine “

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