Marquette Law School Poll finds tightening of GOP Senate primary

Obama continues to lead Romney in latest poll

Milwaukee, Wis. – A new Marquette Law School Poll finds former Governor Tommy Thompson holding a 28 percent to 20 percent lead over businessman Eric Hovde in next week’s Republican primary for U.S. Senate. Former Congressman Mark Neumann has the support of 18 percent and Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald 13 percent. A substantial 21 percent remain undecided. The race has tightened since the July 5-8 Marquette Law School Poll, which found Thompson with 35 percent, Hovde at 23 percent, Neumann at 10 percent and Fitzgerald at 6 percent. Twenty-five percent were undecided in the July poll.

“The GOP primary race continues to get closer,” said Marquette Law School Poll Director Charles Franklin. “Thompson held a lead of 20 percentage points over Hovde in June, 12 points in July and now 8 points in August. Likewise, Mark Neumann and Jeff Fitzgerald have rebounded from lower levels of support in early July.”

When undecided voters are asked which candidate they lean towards, the vote becomes 33 percent for Thompson, 24 percent for Hovde, 21 percent for Neumann and 15 percent for Fitzgerald. Seven percent remain undecided. The Republican primary results are based on 519 likely voters (i.e., those who say they are certain they will vote in the August 14 primary). The margin of error is +/- 4.4 percentage points.

Two polls released by other pollsters last week showed a statistical tie between Thompson and Hovde and a close three-way race with Neumann. The Thompson lead is larger in the Marquette Law School Poll but is narrowly within the margin of error.

Poll Director Charles Franklin notes: “One difference between the Marquette Law School Poll and the other two polls, conducted by Public Policy Polling and We Ask America, is that the Marquette poll includes cell phones while the others do not.” The race is closer among landline-only respondents in the Marquette data, with Thompson at 26 percent, Hovde at 22 percent, Neumann at 20 percent and Fitzgerald at 13 percent, with 21 percent undecided.

In the November U.S. Senate general election, Thompson receives 48 percent to Democratic Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin’s 43 percent. Neumann and Baldwin each receive 44 percent. Baldwin receives 44 percent to Hovde’s 41 percent and Baldwin gets 45 percent to Fitzgerald’s 40 percent. All four matchups are within the margin of error. These results are little changed since early July, when all matchups were also within the margin of error.

In the presidential race, President Barack Obama leads former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, 50 percent to 45 percent. In July, Obama had 51 percent to Romney’s 43 percent. The presidential race has remained stable since late May when Obama also led 51-43.

The poll was conducted August 2-5 by both landline and cell phone. The November matchups for 1188 likely voters have a margin of error of +/- 2.9 percentage points, while the result for 519 likely voters in the Republican primary has a margin of error of +/- 4.4 percentage points.

Senate candidate images
Voters have become more familiar with both Hovde and Neumann over the past two months. In June, 67 percent of likely primary voters were unable to say whether they had a favorable or unfavorable impression of Hovde, but that has dropped to 44 percent in the new August poll. Forty-four percent were unable to give an impression of Neumann in June, a number that has declined to 32 percent in the latest data. Thompson remains the best known, with only 13 percent unable to state an impression of him, unchanged since June. Familiarity with Fitzgerald has also not changed, with 53 percent unable to rate him in both June and August polls.

Favorable and unfavorable impressions have also shifted. Thompson’s favorable rating among likely primary voters stands at 55 percent, down from 60 percent in June, while his unfavorable rating has climbed from 27 percent to 31 percent. Hovde’s favorable rating has risen from 22 percent to 38 percent, while his unfavorable rating has increased from 11 percent to 17 percent. Neumann’s favorable rating has increased from 38 to 41 percent, while his unfavorable rating has also risen, from 18 to 26 percent. Fitzgerald’s favorable rating has barely moved from 30 to 31, while his unfavorable rating shifted from 16 to 14 percent.

Ideological differences are apparent among primary voters. Among the 19 percent of likely primary voters who describe themselves as “very conservative,” there is a close-packed tie for the lead, with Hovde at 24 percent, Neumann at 22 percent, Thompson at 21 percent and Fitzgerald at 15 percent. Among those describing themselves as “conservative,” who make up 52 percent of likely primary voters, Thompson has an advantage at 27 percent to Hovde at 20 percent, Neumann at 19 percent and Fitzgerald at 13 percent. Among the 20 percent of likely voters calling themselves “moderate,” Thompson receives 34 percent to Hovde’s 18 percent, with Neumann at 14 percent and Fitzgerald at 13 percent.

Wisconsin’s open-primary system allows any registered voter to participate in the primary of their choice. But this system appears to make little difference for this year’s GOP Senate primary. If only Republicans took part, the vote margins would barely change. Among likely Republican voters, Thompson received 29 percent support, compared to 27 percent when independents and Democrats who say they will vote in the Republican primary are included. Hovde receives 23 percent among Republicans only, compared to 20 percent overall, and Neumann receives 17 percent among both Republicans and overall. Fitzgerald gets 14 percent among Republicans alone and 13 percent overall.

Presidential job approval
Obama’s job approval rating stands at 50 percent approve and 46 percent disapprove. In the early-July poll, approval was 49 percent with 44 percent disapproving. Fifty-three percent say they have a favorable opinion of Obama, while 42 percent say unfavorable. Romney’s favorable rating stands at 36 percent with 48 percent unfavorable. In the July poll, Obama’s favorable rating was 51 percent with 42 percent unfavorable, while Romney was viewed favorably by 36 percent and unfavorably by 42 percent.

The deficit and what to cut
Fully half of Wisconsin registered voters say that the federal budget deficit is an “extremely important” problem, with another 32 percent saying that it is “very important” and only 17 percent saying “somewhat” or “not at all” important. However, support for cuts to specific programs is more limited. Just over half, 53 percent, said they would be willing to cut defense spending in order to reduce the deficit, while 42 percent said they would not be willing to make such cuts.  Forty percent would support a tax increase across all income levels to reduce the deficit, but 55 percent would not do so. Thirty-nine percent would be willing to cut federal spending on health care, while 55 percent would not be willing to do so. Thirty-two percent would be willing to “end most tax deductions, such as for child care and home mortgage deductions,” in order to reduce the deficit. Sixty-two percent were not willing to accept such changes.

On the question of the Bush-era tax cuts, which are set to expire at the end of the year, 35 percent support continuing the cuts for all income levels, 45 percent would continue them only for those earning less than $250,000 a year, and 15 percent would like to see the cuts expire for all income levels.

Scott Walker approval ratings
Governor Scott Walker’s job approval remains virtually unchanged since July, with 51 percent approval and 44 percent disapproval. Approval was 50 percent in July with 44 percent disapproving.

About the Marquette Law School Poll
The Marquette Law School Poll is the most extensive independent statewide polling project in Wisconsin history. Running monthly through the 2012 election, it provides a snapshot of voter attitudes from across the state on the gubernatorial recall election and the campaigns for president and U.S. Senate, in addition to gauging opinion on major policy questions.

The results of today’s poll were discussed at “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” at Marquette Law School. Similar poll release events will be held at Marquette Law School throughout the year.

The poll interviewed 1,400 registered Wisconsin voters by both landline and cell phone August 2-5, 2012. The margin of error is +/- 2.7 percentage points for the full sample. There are 1188 “likely voters,” those who said they were certain to vote in the November elections, with a margin of error of +/- 2.9 percentage points. For the August Republican primary, there are 519 likely voters with a margin of error of +/-4.4 percentage points. The entire questionnaire, full results and breakdowns by demographic groups are available at