Marquette Law School Poll finds Obama ahead in Wisconsin, Baldwin with slight edge in close Senate race

Milwaukee, Wis. – A new Marquette Law School Poll finds President Barack Obama leading former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney 51 percent to 43 percent among likely voters in Wisconsin. Five percent remain undecided or declined to state a preference, while 1 percent said that they would vote for a third party. Two weeks ago, before the second and third presidential debates, the poll found Obama at 49 percent to Romney’s 48 percent. In the U.S. Senate election, Representative Tammy Baldwin holds 47 percent to former governor Tommy Thompson’s 43 percent, with 10 percent undecided or not offering a preference. In the previous poll, Thompson received 46 percent and Baldwin 45 percent.

The poll of both landline and cell phone users was conducted October 25-28. The November matchups, issues and candidate image questions are based on a sample of 1,243 likely voters and have a margin of error of +/- 2.8 percentage points. Other results are based on 1,404 registered voters, with a margin of error of +/- 2.7 percentage points.

Turnout and get out the vote efforts
Turnout could play a big role in the election, according to Poll Director Charles Franklin. “Among all likely voters Obama leads by 8 points, but among those who both are likely to vote and also follow politics most closely, the margin is just two points, 48-46 percent. It works to Obama’s advantage if the less interested voters turn out, while it improves Romney’s chances if they stay home. This shows how get out the vote efforts of both parties can affect the results.” The Senate race similarly tightens among likely voters who follow politics most closely, narrowing to 47 percent for Baldwin to 46 percent for Thompson.

Both political parties have been contacting voters. Seventy-seven percent of likely voters said they had been contacted by phone, in person or by mail in the past week. Of those, 69 percent said they had been contacted by both parties, 10 percent only by Democrats and 18 percent only by Republicans.

Early voting
Ten percent of likely voters said they have already voted, with a week left for early voting at the end of interviewing. This is consistent with the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board’s estimate that about 20 percent of votes will be cast early. Early voters gave Obama 56 percent to 36 percent for Romney and 1 percent for third party candidates. Seven percent of early voters declined to say for whom they voted. In the Senate race Baldwin received 52 percent to Thompson’s 36 percent among early voters in the poll, with 1 percent for third party candidates. Ten percent declined to say whom they supported.

Partisan unity remains high; independents account for changes
Partisanship continues to anchor support for both parties. In the presidential race, 93 percent of Republicans support Romney and 97 percent of Democrats support Obama. Independents lean to Obama 46 to 41 percent, reversing a 49 to 45 Romney advantage in mid-October and accounting for most of the change in vote preference during the past two weeks.

In the Senate race, 91 percent of Republicans support Thompson and 90 percent of Democrats support Baldwin. Independents split 45-39 in favor of Baldwin, reversing a 44-41 split in favor of Thompson in the previous poll.

Presidential candidate images
The presidential debates played an important role in the shifting candidate images in October.

Before the first debate, 47 percent saw Romney as a strong leader, while 44 percent did not. After the debate, 55 percent saw him as strong, while 37 percent did not. The second and third debates had no further effect on his image, which remained at 55 percent strong leader and 38 percent not strong in this end-of-October poll.

Obama’s leadership image did not vary much during October. Before the first debate, 54 percent said he was a strong leader and 44 percent said not strong, followed by 52 strong and 45 percent not strong after the first debate. After the second and third debates, this stood at a slightly improved 56 percent strong and 42 percent not strong.

Obama continues to hold an advantage in the poll on caring about average voters. Before the first debate, 60 percent said Obama “cares about people like me,” while 38 percent said he does not. This barely changed, to 59 to 38 percent after the first debate. After the third debate, 61 percent said he cares and 36 percent say he does not.

Romney had a significant pick-up, from 39 percent saying he cares versus 56 percent saying he does not, before the first debate, to 47 percent saying he cares to 49 saying he does not after that debate. Two weeks later, after all three debates, this has subsided to 44 percent saying he cares, while 52 percent say he does not.

Obama continues to hold an edge in favorability ratings, though with some decline during October. Obama’s favorable ratings have been 55, 52 and 53 percent from the end of September to the middle and end of October, while his unfavorable ratings were 43, 45 and 44 percent at the corresponding times. Romney’s favorable ratings improved somewhat during the month, from 39 to 46 to 45 percent favorable, while his unfavorable rating barely moved from 52 to 48 to 50.

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. Obama has improved his standing on each issue following the second and third debates compared with his standing after the first debate. Romney is seen as better able to handle the federal budget deficit, but Obama is seen as better able to handle the other five policy areas. The margin is smallest for the deficit and the economy while largest for foreign policy and social issues. The largest shift came on who would better handle foreign policy, the topic of the third debate.

Federal budget deficit: Obama 47, Romney 49 (After first debate: 45-52)
The economy: Obama 49, Romney 47 (49-50)
Taxes: Obama 51, Romney 44 (50-47)
Health care: Obama 52, Romney 44 (51-46)
Foreign policy: Obama 54, Romney 40 (50-47)
Social issues such as abortion or same-sex marriage: Obama 56, Romney 38 (54-40)

Senate candidate images
The negative tone of the Senate race has taken a toll on both candidates, who are viewed more unfavorably than favorably. Baldwin is viewed favorably by 38 percent, while 45 percent have an unfavorable view of her. Thompson is viewed favorably by 38 percent and unfavorably by 51 percent. In late September, Baldwin had a 40 percent favorable and 40 percent unfavorable rating, while Thompson’s rating was 38 percent favorable and 49 percent unfavorable.

Asked about themes used in negative ads about each candidate, 50 percent agreed that “Tammy Baldwin is one of the most liberal members of Congress and is too liberal for Wisconsin,” while 41 percent disagreed. For Thompson, 50 percent agreed that “Tommy Thompson sold out to special interests and isn’t working for you anymore,” while 41 percent disagreed. Four weeks earlier, 45 percent agreed Baldwin “is too liberal” and 45 percent disagreed, while 49 percent agreed Thompson “isn’t working for you” and 42 percent disagreed.

On the question of whether the candidate “cares about people like you,” 46 percent said this describes Baldwin, while 40 percent said it does not describe her. For Thompson, 40 percent said “cares about people like you” described him, while 51 percent said it does not. A month earlier, Baldwin’s rating was 47-39 and Thompson’s was 41-50.

Senate debate
Of the 456 respondents in the sample who were interviewed after the third U.S. Senate debate between Baldwin and Thompson, which took place on Friday, October 26, 20 percent said they had watched or listened to the debate. Debate watchers divided evenly on who they thought did the better job in the debate, 45-45 percent.

Economic outlooks and the vote
Likely voters’ views of the economy have improved during the year, to Obama’s advantage. In January, 22 percent thought the economy was better than a year earlier, while 32 percent thought it was worse and 45 percent saw no change. In late October, 34 percent said the economy had improved while 35 percent said it had worsened and 30 percent saw no change. In the latest poll, Obama wins 91 percent of those who think the economy has improved and 49 percent of those who think it has stayed the same, but just 11 percent of those who think it has worsened. Romney gets 6 percent of those seeing an improved economy and 81 percent of those seeing a weaker economy. He gets only 41 percent of those who see no gains during the past year.

Voters have also become more optimistic about the economy during the next year. In January, 36 percent thought the economy would improve during the coming year, while 15 said it would worsen and 48 percent expected no change. In October, 53 percent expect an improvement over the coming year and 9 percent expect a worse economic picture. Thirty-seven percent expect no change or say they don’t know what to expect. Obama wins 73 percent of those expecting improvement, while Romney takes 78 percent from those expecting worse conditions. Those expecting no change favor Romney by 51-36.

Despite this improved outlook on the economy, only 45 percent say they are better off than four years ago, while 50 percent say they are not. Though Obama wins 82 percent of those who say they are better off to Romney’s 11 percent, he wins 21 percent of those who say they are not better off to Romney’s 72 percent.

Participation in the campaign
Wisconsin voters continue to take part in campaigns at relatively high levels. Among registered voters, 49 percent say they have talked to someone and tried to persuade him or her to vote for a candidate. Twenty-four percent have displayed a yard sign or bumper sticker. Nearly half, 47 percent, talk to family and friends about politics more than once a week, and a quarter, 26 percent, talk to coworkers that often about politics. Those levels of participation are barely changed from the levels of the June recall election.

Just as they did in June, politics continue to divide people on a personal level as well. Thirty-three percent say there is someone they’ve stopped talking to about politics. It was 34 percent at the time of the recall.

Scott Walker approval ratings
Governor Scott Walker’s job approval rating is 49 percent to 45 percent disapproval among registered voters, compared to 51-45 in the mid-October poll and 50 percent approval and 45 percent disapproval in late September. Among likely voters, 50 percent approve and 45 percent disapprove.

About the Marquette Law School Poll
The Marquette Law School Poll is the most extensive independent statewide survey of public opinion in Wisconsin history. Monthly throughout 2012 it has provided 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 have been held at Marquette Law School throughout the year. A video of today’s session can be viewed at

The poll interviewed 1,404 registered Wisconsin voters by both landline and cell phone October 25-28, 2012. The margin of error is +/- 2.7 percentage points for the full sample. There are 1,243 “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 +/- 2.8 percentage points. The entire questionnaire, full results and breakdowns by demographic groups are available at