Marquette Law School Poll finds presidential and Senate races tied in Wisconsin

Romney and Thompson gaining ground, both races within one point

Milwaukee, Wis. – A new Marquette Law School Poll finds the presidential race tied in Wisconsin, with President Barack Obama at 49 percent and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney at 48 percent among likely voters. The race for U.S. Senate is also a dead heat, with former Governor Tommy Thompson at 46 percent and Rep. Tammy Baldwin at 45 percent. Two weeks ago, before the first presidential debate, Obama held an 11-point lead and Baldwin was narrowly ahead by four percentage points. The new poll was conducted October 11-14, before the second presidential debate.

The impact of the first presidential debate remains clear more than a week after the event. Among those likely voters who watched the first debate, Romney has a 50-48 percent edge; yet among those who did not watch the debate, Obama leads 50-42 percent. Seventy-three percent of likely voters said that they watched the debate, while 27 percent said they did not watch.

“Rarely has a debate produced such a large movement in the polls. In September, President Obama held a steady lead, but now the race is a pure tossup, in large measure because of the first debate,” said Marquette Law School Poll Director Charles Franklin. “The remaining three weeks of the campaign, including reaction to the final debates, will tip the balance to one candidate or the other.”

The poll of both landline and cell phone users was conducted October 11-14. The November matchups, debate effects and candidate image questions are based on a sample of 870 likely voters and have a margin of error of +/- 3.4 percentage points. Other results are based on 1007 registered voters, with a margin of error of +/- 3.2 percentage points.

Vice-presidential debate
The vice-presidential debate also appears to have affected the public images of Vice President Joe Biden and Rep. Paul Ryan. Of those polled before the vice-presidential debate, Biden had a 49 percent favorable to 41 percent unfavorable rating, while those interviewed after the debate gave him a 44 percent favorable to 47 percent unfavorable evaluation. Ryan’s ratings among those polled before the debate stood at 46 percent favorable to 41 percent unfavorable. For those surveyed after the debate, his ratings were 50 percent favorable and 40 percent unfavorable. Of those who watched the debate, 42 percent thought Biden did the better job, while 51 percent thought Ryan did better.

Voters mostly thought that their own party’s candidate prevailed in the debate. Among debate watchers, 88 percent of Republicans thought Ryan did the better job, while 93 percent of Democrats saw Biden doing better. Independents thought Ryan did better, by a 53 percent to 39 percent margin over Biden.

Partisan unity remains high
Partisanship continues to anchor support for both parties. In the presidential race, 97 percent of Republicans support Romney and 96 percent of Democrats support Obama. Independents lean to Romney 49 to 45 percent. In the Senate race 94 percent of Republicans support Thompson and 92 percent of Democrats support Baldwin. Independents split 44-41 in favor of Thompson.

Presidential candidate images
In the wake of the first debate, Romney’s image as a strong leader has improved to 55 percent while 37 percent say he is not a strong leader. Previously 47 percent saw him as a strong leader while 44 percent did not. Obama’s image for strong leadership barely changed to 52-45 from 54-44. Obama continues to hold an advantage on caring about average voters. Fifty-nine percent say Obama “cares about people like me,” while 38 percent say he does not, unchanged from 60 percent to 38 percent. For Romney 47 percent say he cares about “people like me,” while 49 percent say he does not. That is a considerable improvement for Romney from the 39-56 rating on the same question two weeks earlier.

Obama continues to hold an edge in favorability ratings, with 52 percent saying they have a favorable view of Obama, while 45 percent say they have an unfavorable view. That is somewhat narrower than the 55-43 rating he had two weeks earlier. Romney’s favorable rating stands at 46 favorable to 48 unfavorable, an improvement from a 39-52 split at the end of September. Romney has struggled to overcome a net-unfavorable rating in polling all year, with the current poll the best balance for him to date.

Obama’s job approval fell to 48 percent approval and 48 percent disapproval among likely voters, and 498-47 among all registered voters. Two-weeks earlier it was 53-43 among likely voters and 53-42 among registered voters. 

Senate candidate images
Among likely voters, Baldwin’s favorability rating stands at 32 percent favorable and 47 percent unfavorable, a drop from 40 percent favorable and 40 percent unfavorable in late September. Thompson received 37 percent favorable to 50 percent unfavorable, little different from 38 percent favorable to 49 percent unfavorable in the previous poll.

Asked if the phrase “cares about people like you” describes each candidate, 47 percent said it describes Baldwin, while 40 percent said it did not describe her. For Thompson, 42 percent said it described him, while 49 percent said it did not. Neither rating was significantly changed from late September, when Baldwin’s rating was 47-39 and Thompson’s was 41-50.

Advertising and campaign themes
To equal degrees, the negative advertising themes of the Senate campaign have become associated with each candidate. Asked to agree or disagree with themes from recent advertising by each candidate, 48 percent agreed with the statement that Thompson has “sold out to special interests and isn’t working for you anymore,” while 41 percent disagreed. Previously 49 percent agreed and 42 percent disagreed. An identical 48 percent agreed with the statement that Baldwin “is one of the most liberal members of Congress and is too liberal for Wisconsin,” while 41 percent disagreed. Two weeks earlier the results were 45-45.

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 candidates have varying strengths across issues, with Romney doing best on the federal budget deficit and the economy. Obama has slight advantages on taxes and foreign policy and somewhat larger advantages on healthcare and social issues. In all cases, Romney has narrowed the margin or taken the lead since the late September poll, which showed Obama ahead in all policy areas, though with similar areas of relative strength for each candidate.

Federal budget deficit: Obama 45 percent, Romney 52 percent
The economy: Obama 49, Romney 50
Taxes: Obama 50, Romney 47
Foreign Policy: Obama 50, Romney 47
Healthcare: Obama 51, Romney 46
Social issues such as abortion or same-sex marriage: Obama 54, Romney 40

Despite the first debate, voters think that neither candidate has been specific enough in providing details of the policies he would pursue in office. Thirty-seven percent said Romney had provided enough details, while 60 percent said he had not, a change from 28 and 69 percent respectively before the debate. Forty-eight percent said Obama had been specific enough, while 49 percent said he had not been. Before the first debate, 46 percent said Obama had provided enough details, while 51 percent said he had not.

Economic outlooks and the vote
Wisconsin likely voters hold mixed views about the economy, with political consequences varying. Looking back over the past 12 months, only 31 percent think that the economy has gotten better, while 37 percent say it has gotten worse and 31 percent say it has stayed about the same. But looking forward to the next 12 months, voters are much more optimistic: 49 percent expect the economy to get better and only 10 percent say it will get worse. Twenty-five percent expect the economy to stay the same, and 15 percent say they don’t know what the economy will do.

Of those who see the economy as having improved over the past year, 91 percent say they will vote for Obama. Of those thinking the economy got worse, 85 percent are voting for Romney. For those who think the economy has stayed about the same, 48 percent support Obama, while 46 percent choose Romney. Among those expecting an improving economy over the next 12 months, 74 percent support Obama, while those expecting a worsening economy give 85 percent to Romney. Treading water on the economy for the next year, however, is not a favorable outlook for Obama: just 32 percent of those expecting the economy to stay the same support him while 62 percent pick Romney. And among those who don’t know what direction the economy is headed, support for Romney over Obama is even stronger, 75-19.

On the question “are you better off than you were four years ago,” 43 percent say better off and 51 percent say worse off. Of the better off, Obama gets 82 percent of the vote to 14 percent for Romney. Among those saying they are worse off, Romney gets 78 percent to Obama’s 19 percent.

Asked about the impact of the recession on their personal finances, 31 percent say they still haven’t recovered, while 37 percent say they have recovered and 30 percent say the recession didn’t have a serious impact on them. Obama receives 34 percent of the vote from those who have still not recovered, while Romney receives 62 percent. Among those saying their finances have recovered, Obama takes 53 percent to Romney’s 44 percent. And for those who escaped serious impact from the recession, Obama gains the support of 58 percent to 39 percent for Romney.

Scott Walker approval ratings
Governor Scott Walker’s job approval rating among registered voters is unchanged at 51-45, from 50 percent approval and 45 percent disapproval in late-September. Among likely voters, 52 percent approved and 45 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 today’s session can be viewed at

The poll interviewed 1007 registered Wisconsin voters by both landline and cell phone October 11-14, 2012. The margin of error is +/- 3.2 percentage points for the full sample. There are 870 “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 +/- 3.4 percentage points. The entire questionnaire, full results, and breakdowns by demographic groups are available at