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/

Conclusion

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 “

A majority still supports Wisconsin’s shutdown, but opposition and uncertainty are growing

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During our late March survey, the Marquette Law Poll found remarkably strong and widespread support for the measures taken by state and local authorities in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. That support was reiterated in the online free-response interviews we conducted as a supplement to our phone polling.

Our latest poll, fielded in early May, finds that a majority of Wisconsin registered voters still support the mandatory shutdown and social distancing measures taken thus far. However, dissent is growing. At the end of March 86 percent said it was appropriate to close schools and businesses and to restrict public gatherings. Now, 69 percent agree. In March, 76 percent approved of Tony Evers’ handling of the crisis. Now 64% do. Approval of Donald Trump’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak has fallen 7 points to 44 percent. From March to May the percent “very concerned” about the pandemic declined from 68 to 50 percent, and the number “somewhat concerned” fell from 31 to 25. Likewise, the share of respondents “very” or “somewhat” worried about personally experiencing COVID-19 fell from 70 percent to 50.

We asked respondents, “Which concerns you more regarding the lockdown and stay-at-home restrictions? That we open up too soon or that we don’t open up soon enough?” A majority, 56 percent, are more worried that we open up too soon. But a substantial minority, 40 percent, are more concerned that the shutdown lasts too long.

table showing response to question by age, income, and party ID

Older people tend to be more concerned about opening up too soon than middle-aged and younger Wisconsinites. Only twenty-seven percent of those 65 and older are worried we open open up soon enough compared with 45 percent of those ages 40-64 and 46 percent of those under 40.

Wealthier Wisconsinites are more worried about the shutdown lasting too long. This is the top worry for 52 percent of those making at least $75,000, compared with 34% of those making $40,000 to $74,000 and 30 percent of those making fewer than $40,000 last year.

The largest difference is between members of the two parties. Seventy percent of Republicans are more worried that we will stay shut down too long, compared with 40 percent of Independents, and 11 percent of Democrats. Conversely, 86 percent of Democrats are more worried that we will open up too soon, along with 55 percent of Independents, and 26 percent of Republicans.

Partisanship interacts with income and age in different ways. One in four Democrats under the age of 40 is more worried about the shutdown lasting too long, compared to just 6 percent of Democrats 65 or older. Similarly, older Republicans are more worried about opening up too soon (38 percent) than younger Republicans (24 percent).

Income shows a different trend. Among Democrats there is no difference in relative concern by income level. Over 80 percent of wealthy and low income Democrats alike are more afraid of opening up too soon. Among Republicans, though, there are striking differences. Eighty-two percent of Republicans from families making at least $75,000 annually are more worried about the shutdown lasting too long, and 16 percent are worried we will open up too soon. Low income Republicans are much more divided. Fifty-two percent of Republicans making less than $40,000 last year express more worry about the shutdown going on too long, but 41 percent are more concerned it will end too soon.

table showing responses to question by age and income among Demcorats and Republicans

Notice that our question asks “which concerns you more?” As is clear from our open-ended interviews, many Wisconsinites painfully feel both worries. They worry about how they will cope financially and emotionally with an elongated shutdown. And they fear what will happen when the shutdown is lifted. Here are some of their voices. You can read all 200 interviews at https://law.marquette.edu/poll/category/results-and-data/.

a woman in her 50s from Racine County, Independent

Most important problem COVID-19

How has the coronavirus outbreak affected you and your family? My husband has to work from home and I miss my alone time. His company’s business has slowed a bit so I worry about our finances if WI and the country don’t open back up soon.

What should the state and local government do to deal with the coronavirus outbreak? Encourage social distancing and healthy habits.

a woman in her 60s from Dodge County, Democrat

Most important problem Coronavirus

How has the coronavirus outbreak affected you and your family? Can’t go out to eat. Can’t go to church. Can’t go to work. Can’t do anything

What should the state and local government do to deal with the coronavirus outbreak? Get a vaccine and open up the economy

a woman in her 50s from Winnebago County, Republican

Most important problem Dictatorship from politicians who have no business to make rules about who can work, where we can and cannot go and broken promises of government assistance

How has the coronavirus outbreak affected you and your family? Put me out of work for 4 weeks

What should the state and local government do to deal with the coronavirus outbreak? Keep their nose out of our business

a woman in her 60s from Washington County, Democrat

Most important problem The lack of universal health care and minimum universal income.

How has the coronavirus outbreak affected you and your family? I stay at home and only go out once a week for groceries and therapy. It leaves me feeling isolated more often. I am also much moare anxious about the health of my family and myself.

What should the state and local government do to deal with the coronavirus outbreak? They should be sending more months of stimulus checks to families. Canada is sending $2000/month for 4 months. We should be doing that instead of hurrying to reopen states and in that way saying we don’t care how many more people die.

a man in his 30s from Waukesha County, Independent

Most important problem Loss of Freedoms

How has the coronavirus outbreak affected you and your family? Destroyed the last fraction of faith in humanity, I had left.

What should the state and local government do to deal with the coronavirus outbreak? Nothing. They should butt out of the lives of their slaves…citizens.

a man in his 50s from Kenosha County, Republican

Most important problem Coronavirus Covid 19

How has the coronavirus outbreak affected you and your family? Great Family time together but wife and kids in education field have been hit hardest

What should the state and local government do to deal with the coronavirus outbreak? Stay safe at home but I think it’s to open America again

a woman in her 20s from Milwaukee County, Independent

Most important problem Right now it is the corona virus. People’s lives and livelihoods are at stake.

How has the coronavirus outbreak affected you and your family? Most of us are not working right now. I am staying with my parents until the situation gets better.

What should the state and local government do to deal with the coronavirus outbreak? It’s tough to say. They aren’t handling it as well as they should be, but also things such as money are time sensitive. They should (and should have) been putting more focus on lower/middle class, smaller businesses.

a woman in her 30s from Milwaukee County, Independent

Most important problem Covid-19

How has the coronavirus outbreak affected you and your family? My husband is out of work and my children are home from school. Losing half our income isn’t ideal.

What should the state and local government do to deal with the coronavirus outbreak? I think they are taking to proper steps. Obviously, this is something that we have never dealt with and the government is learning along with the public. Something new appears everyday.

a woman in her 70s from Dodge County, Republican

Most important problem Virus 19

How has the coronavirus outbreak affected you and your family? Other than having to stay in not much. We are on social security so we still get our checks. My husband is on hospice so we weren’t going away much before. The only thing that has really changed is our family can’t visit and we miss that.

What should the state and local government do to deal with the coronavirus outbreak? Watch how many new cases are happening and start opening up going with that. We live in a rural area and there aren’t any cases in our immediate area. I think some area’s like hospital should start doing non emergency cases to start getting people back to work.

a woman in her 20s from Shawano County, Republican

Most important problem Power and greed, we the people are constantly being lied to and manipulated by the people in power. All so they can fill their bank account even more! Our leaders are not “for the people” they are “for the money”!

How has the coronavirus outbreak affected you and your family? Yes, I was laid off, then receiving unemployment benefits, then forced to go back to work because my employer got the PPP. Now they are taking advantage of free money by holding it over their employees heads and making us come back. Now they’re paying me almost HALF of what I was making before CV-19 and $400 less a week than I would have been getting on unemployment.

What should the state and local government do to deal with the coronavirus outbreak? My opinion changes daily of this virus because, again, we are constantly being lied to. We don’t know the actual truth so it’s very hard to say. Maybe open up but keep at-risk home?

a man in his 30s from Waukesha County, Democrat

Most important problem economy

How has the coronavirus outbreak affected you and your family? lower salaries & finances

What should the state and local government do to deal with the coronavirus outbreak? i have no idea; everything they are doing is going to hurt a lot of people financially

a woman in her 20s from Walworth County, Democrat

Most important problem The COVID19 pandemic and its management

How has the coronavirus outbreak affected you and your family? My father and mother were laid off, and I have been working in a very different environment since I’m employed at a nursing home.

What should the state and local government do to deal with the coronavirus outbreak? I think that both public safety and economics should be taken into account. Businesses should be open but with some restrictions.

a man in his 50s from Green Bay region, Leans Democrat

Most important problem Currently, the most important issue is the response to the coronavirus/COVID-19. Tens of thousands of people are dying. The country must rally to fight this horrible illness and the government must make its decisions and lead the country based on science

How has the coronavirus outbreak affected you and your family? I needed to have the test. Due to other conditions I have, I was presumed positive for the virus. Due to that, I was in isolation, in the hospital for 4 days.

What should the state and local government do to deal with the coronavirus outbreak? Continue to enforce physical distancing and stay-at-home policies. If we relax things too soon, it will result in higher infection and death rates

a woman in her 20s from Jefferson County, Democrat

Most important problem Definitely the COVID-19 virus

How has the coronavirus outbreak affected you and your family? I am currently unemployed and struggling financially and emotionally. My mom is very depressed and laid off.

What should the state and local government do to deal with the coronavirus outbreak? I sure don’t have all of the answers, but nothing has been enforced and people are not serious about social distancing.

a man in his 50s from Outagamie County, Republican

Most important problem economic and health disaster of Covid

How has the coronavirus outbreak affected you and your family? yes, we had to close a business down

What should the state and local government do to deal with the coronavirus outbreak? give clearer instructions on how and when business can open

a man in his 30s from Winnebago County, Republican

Most important problem The covid19 pandemic and getting our country back to normal.

How has the coronavirus outbreak affected you and your family? Not being able to see friends and family. Both our jobs are essential so that isn’t much of a change but changing what we like to do everyday has been hard. Also home schooling is a challenge.

What should the state and local government do to deal with the coronavirus outbreak? I think they are doing a fine job. Everybody needs to be patient with social distancing or this could all start over again.

a woman in her 20s from Waukesha County, Lean Democrat

Most important problem There are many, especially in times right now but I think unemployment and helping those who have been laid off etc. The process and time needs to be revised.

How has the coronavirus outbreak affected you and your family? Our hours have been shortened that we are open, so therefore mine have been too, so I am losing hours and pay.

What should the state and local government do to deal with the coronavirus outbreak? Always easier said then done, but another stimulus check would be really helpful. Or waiving student loans. As for re-opening businesses, restaurants etc. I feel no matter what is done, people are going to be upset. There will be consequences no matter what, so it’s a difficult situation for sure.

a woman in her 30s from Milwaukee County, Republican

Most important problem COVID-19

How has the coronavirus outbreak affected you and your family? Not able to work so money is getting tight. Husband is essential but due to me being a high risk person has been instructed to stay home as well

What should the state and local government do to deal with the coronavirus outbreak? I have no Idea…I think the decisions being made are just and understandable. It may be hard, but like the Spanish Flu it is important that we do what we can to stop the spread. If that means staying at home and social distancing then I think it is the right decision. I do understand it is a hit to us and the economy but I would rather be alive then dead

Wisconsin voters remain intensely polarized over Donald Trump

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Writing this feels like the old SNL gag “Francisco Franco is still dead.” Attitudes toward Donald Trump are still polarized. Still, I think it’s worth pointing out that several months into the largest pandemic in a century, Donald Trump’s approval rating (in Wisconsin) hasn’t budged.

We’ve now conducted two polls during the COVID-19 pandemic and accompanying economic shutdown in Wisconsin. Political opinion on actions taken by the state government has shifted, and Governor Tony Evers job approval has fluctuated by double digits in each poll.

But by now it is clear. Donald Trump has not benefited from a significant rally ’round the flag effect, nor has he seen any real decline in his popularity. His overall approval rating was net 0 in late February, -1 in late March, and -2 in early May. Tony Evers, by contrast, began with an approval rating of +12 in February; this jumped to +36 in late March, and fell back to +26 just a month later.

Net approval ratings of Donald Trump and Tony Evers
Poll dates Trump Evers
2/19-23/20 0 12
3/24-29/20 -1 36
5/3-7/20 -2 26

What’s remarkable isn’t just that Wisconsin voters have made up their minds about Trump. A large number of Wisconsinites hold intensely strong opinions about Trump. Wisconsin is often discussed nationally as the most divided state in the nation–the most likely “tipping point” in a national election. To an outsider this might suggest that Wisconsin is full of undecided, persuadable voters. Our data suggests otherwise. Wisconsin is just more narrowly divided between strong partisans than most other states.

In our latest poll we asked 8 questions assessing different aspects of Donald Trump’s job performance. They covered things from Trump’s handling of immigration to his policy decisions in response to the pandemic. I combined all of these questions to create one metric for intensity of Trump support. If a respondent evaluated Trump positively I gave them a score of 1. If they evaluated Trump negatively, they received -1. “Somewhat” positive or negative evaluations received a half point in the appropriate direction. A score of 8 means the respondent answered every question in the most pro-Trump way possible, and a score of -8 means the reverse.

Here are the results. Nineteen percent of Wisconsin registered voters gave Trump the worst score they could, and 13 percent gave him a perfect 8/8. Twenty-six percent rated him -7 or worse, while 23 percent gave him a 7 or better. About half of Wisconsin voters have an overwhelmingly positive or negative opinion of the president. Just 5 percent give him a neutral score within the range 1 to -1.

histogram showing the distribution of sentiment toward Donald TrumpHere is the average score given Donald Trump by different demographic groups in the state of Wisconsin. As expected, party and ideological identification have the strongest polarization. The most narrowly divided group of all in this survey are residents of the Milwaukee suburbs.

Most of the groups in this chart with average scores close to 0 are not, in reality, full of voters with neutral opinions on Trump. Often, they just have close to even mixes of strongly and oppositely polarized voters.

average Trump sentiment index for various demographic groupsConsistent with Joe Biden’s small (and within the margin of error) lead, Trump’s average rating in this survey was -0.5. Given the potentially decisive importance of Wisconsin’s 10 electoral college votes and the state’s historically razor-thin margins of victory, I anticipate that both Democrats and Republicans will pursue aggressive turnout and persuasion strategies this fall. Even a tiny set of voters could prove pivotal.

Rally ’round the flag? It depends on the flag

Posted on Categories Lubar Center, Marquette Law School PollLeave a comment» on Rally ’round the flag? It depends on the flag

Nationally, Donald Trump’s approval rating has improved by a few points since mid-March. This could be due to a so-called “Rally ’round the flag effect,” in which, traditionally, a wartime president receives an upswell of support during times of national crisis. The archetypal example is George W. Bush after 9/11. His approval rating rose nearly 40 points, basically overnight.

Trump’s approval rating improved not at all in the latest Marquette Law Poll. In late February we found 48% of registered voters approved of his job and 48% disapproved. This month, we find 48% approve and 49% disapprove–not even close to a meaningful change. Given the dramatic results found elsewhere in the poll this could seem surprising. Are Wisconsinites so polarized that nothing can change their minds about politicians?

Not necessarily. The graph below shows the share of respondents who approved of Donald Trump’s job as President and Tony Evers’ job as governor in late February compared to the end of March.

  • Independents handed Evers and Trump identical boosts. Each politician grew 9 points more popular.
  • Democrats gave Evers a 10-point boost. Their dismal approval rating for Trump remained unchanged.
  • Republicans have the most interesting trend. They increased their support of Evers by 19 points, from 20% approving to 39%. Their approval of Trump actually declined from 95% to 88%. (This is right around the edge of the margin of error). Possibly explanations include statistical noise, dissatisfaction with his handling of the pandemic, or a natural reversion from Trump’s peak intra-party support during the impeachment trial.

It seems Wisconsin voters are rallying around the flag; just in this case, it’s the Wisconsin flag.

An Anything But Normal Election

Posted on Categories Health Care, Lubar Center, Marquette Law School Poll, Political Processes & Rhetoric, PublicLeave a comment» on An Anything But Normal Election

In the press release for today’s Marquette University Law School Poll, you’ll find the following sentence: “Given the uncertainty created by historically high levels of absentee voting and the unknown levels of election day turnout, these results should be viewed with more than the usual caution.”

Poll Director Charles Franklin is referring specifically to the polling numbers in the Democratic presidential primary. But his note of caution seems wise as we careen toward next Tuesday’s election.

Put another way, we don’t know what we don’t know about this spring election.

After reporting, writing, and talking about Wisconsin politics for 40 years, I thought I had seen it all. I was wrong. Continue reading “An Anything But Normal Election”