Marquette Law School Poll finds U.S. Senate Race Tightens

Obama continues to lead Romney in Wisconsin

Milwaukee, Wis. – A new Marquette Law School Poll finds Rep. Tammy Baldwin’s lead over former Governor Tommy Thompson has tightened to a 48 percent to 44 percent margin among likely voters. In the September 13-16 Marquette Poll, Baldwin led by 50 percent to 41 percent.

In the presidential race, President Barack Obama continues to lead former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, 53 percent to 42 percent. In mid-September, Obama led 54 percent to 40 percent.

Partisans remain strongly united behind their party nominees in both races. Baldwin and Thompson each receive the backing of 92 percent of their respective partisans. Obama is supported by 96 percent of Democrats, while Romney gets the votes of 92 percent of Republicans. Independents split evenly in the Senate race, with Baldwin and Thompson each receiving 43 percent. In the presidential race, independents support Obama over Romney, 49 percent to 40 percent. Independents have become more closely divided since mid-September’s poll when they favored Baldwin 50-38 and Obama 53-38. In August, independents favored Thompson by a 10-percentage-point margin and Obama by 2 percentage points.

“While partisans are providing a solid base for both parties, independents are proving more variable in both the Senate and presidential campaigns,” said Marquette Law School Poll Director Charles Franklin. “In August, independents leaned a bit Republican in the Senate and slightly Democratic for president. In mid-September, they leaned strongly Democratic in both races, and now they are swinging back to a more competitive balance.”

The poll of both landline and cell phone users was conducted September 27-30. The November matchups and candidate image questions are based on a sample of 894 likely voters and have a margin of error of +/- 3.3 percentage points. Other results are based on 1003 registered voters, with a margin of error of +/- 3.2 percentage points.

Gender gap
The gender gap plays a substantial role in both Senate and presidential contests. Among women, Baldwin leads Thompson by a 54-38 percent margin, while Thompson leads among men 50-41 percent. The gender gap is even wider for the presidential election. Obama holds a 61-36 percent margin among women while Romney leads among men by 49-44 percent.

Senate debate
The first debate between Baldwin and Thompson occurred during the interviews for the poll. A majority of interviews with likely voters, 576, were conducted before the debate, with 318 conducted after the debate. Of those interviewed after the debate, 56 said they had watched the debate, or 18 percent of those interviewed after the debate. There were no statistically significant differences in vote between those interviewed before or after the debate. Of the 56 who watched the debate, 29 percent said it made them more likely to vote for Baldwin while 37 percent said it made them more likely to vote for Thompson, while 31 percent said it made no difference. The very small sample size of debate viewers makes these differences statistically insignificant, with a margin of error of +/- 13 percentage points.

Senate candidate images
Among likely voters, Baldwin’s favorability rating stands at 40 percent favorable and 40 percent unfavorable, compared to 39 percent favorable and 34 percent unfavorable in mid-September. Thompson received 38 percent favorable to 49 percent unfavorable in the latest poll, little changed from 39-48 in mid-September.

Asked if the phrase “cares about people like you” describes each candidate, 47 percent said it describes Baldwin, while 39 percent said it did not describe her. For Thompson, 41 percent said it described him, while 50 percent said it did not.

Advertising and campaign themes
Advertising themes are also reflected in voter perceptions of the candidates. Asked to agree or disagree with themes from recent advertising by each candidate, 49 percent agreed with the statement that Thompson has “sold out to special interests and isn’t working for you anymore,” while 42 percent disagreed. Forty-five percent agreed with the statement that Baldwin “is one of the most liberal members of congress and is too liberal for Wisconsin,” while 45 percent disagreed.

On positive campaign themes 40 percent agreed that Thompson would “stop wasteful spending in Washington,” while 52 percent disagreed. Forty-nine percent agreed that Baldwin would “fight unfair foreign competition,” while 35 percent disagreed.

Policy issues and the presidential race
Likely voters were asked, “regardless of how you intend to vote, which candidate would do a better job handling” each of several issues. The results show variation across issues but a consistent Obama advantage.

Federal budget deficit: Obama 49 percent, Romney 47 percent
The economy: Obama 51, Romney 45
Taxes: Obama 52, Romney 43
Healthcare: Obama 53, Romney 42
Foreign Policy: Obama 54, Romney 42
Social issues such as abortion or same sex marriage: Obama 58, Romney 37

Voters think neither candidate has been specific enough in providing details of the policies he would pursue in office. Twenty-eight percent said Romney had provided enough details, while 69 percent said he had not. Forty-six percent said Obama had provided enough details, while 51 percent said he had not.

While voters may want more details, they say they are unlikely to change their minds after the debates. Only 2 percent of likely voters said they were “very likely” to change their minds as a result of the debates, with an additional 10 percent saying they were “somewhat likely” to change. Twenty-two percent said “not very likely” and fully two-thirds, 66 percent, said they were “not at all likely” to change their minds as a result of the presidential debates.

Presidential candidate images
Obama’s favorable-unfavorable rating among all registered voters stands at 56 percent favorable to 41 percent unfavorable; among likely voters it is 55 percent favorable to 43 percent unfavorable. Romney’s favorable rating among registered voters is 37 percent favorable to 53 percent unfavorable, and among likely voters is 39 percent favorable to 52 percent unfavorable.

By a 60 percent to 38 percent margin, likely voters say “cares about people like you” describes Obama. Thirty-nine percent say the phrase describes Romney, while 56 percent say it does not describe him. Asked if “strong leader” describes each candidate, 54 percent said it describes Obama, while 44 percent said it does not. Forty-seven percent say “strong leader” describes Romney, while 44 percent says it does not describe him.

Collective bargaining
A recent trial-court decision struck down parts of Wisconsin’s “Act 10,” a law that sharply limited collective bargaining for public employees. Registered voters were asked if they would like to see collective bargaining returned to what it was before Act 10 or if they would keep the changes made under the law. Forty-four percent would like to see collective bargaining rights returned, while 49 percent prefer to keep the restrictions enacted by Act 10.

Scott Walker approval ratings
Governor Scott Walker’s job approval rating among registered voters rebounded to 50 percent approval and 45 percent disapproval after dipping to 46 percent approval and 49 percent disapproval in mid-September. Among likely voters, 52 percent approved, while 46 percent disapproved.

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 2012, 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 a session of “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” at Marquette Law School. Similar poll release events will be held at Marquette Law School throughout the year. A video of that session can be viewed at

The poll interviewed 1003 registered Wisconsin voters by both landline and cell phone September 27-30, 2012. The margin of error is +/- 3.2 percentage points for the full sample. There are 894 “likely voters,” i.e., those who said they were certain to vote in the November elections, with a margin of error for this group being +/- 3.3 percentage points. The entire questionnaire, full results, and breakdowns by demographic groups are available at