New Marquette Law School Poll finds Wisconsin governor’s race tied

MILWAUKEE – A new Marquette Law School Poll finds that the Wisconsin governor’s race has tightened to a dead heat, with both Republican Gov. Scott Walker and Democratic challenger Mary Burke receiving the support of 46 percent of registered voters, while 6 percent are undecided or say they do not know whom they would support.

That represents a significant tightening of the race from the most recent Marquette Law School Poll in March, which Walker led 48-41.

Turnout in the fall election is likely to play an important role. While the race is tied among all registered voters, among likely voters—those who say they are absolutely certain to vote in November—Walker receives 48 percent to Burke’s 45 percent, which is inside the +/-3.5 percentage point margin of error for the poll. Among those who are both certain to vote and who say they are excited about voting, Walker receives 50 percent to Burke’s 45 percent.

The poll interviewed 805 Wisconsin registered voters by landline and cell phone May 15-18.

“Turnout is one of the biggest unknowns of the fall election,” said Charles Franklin, professor of law and public policy and director of the Marquette Law School Poll. “Between now and Election Day, some voters will become more engaged by the election, while others may lose interest. These results show that the election outcome can change depending on turnout as both parties seek to mobilize their supporters.”

Demographic divisions

Partisans are strongly united behind their candidates, with 94 percent of Republicans supporting Walker and 88 percent of Democrats backing Burke. Independents split 49 percent for Walker to 40 percent for Burke.

In the March poll, Walker received 92 percent of the Republican vote while Burke got 84 percent from Democrats, and independents split 48 percent for Walker to 37 percent for Burke. The small amount of crossover voting declined to 3 percent of Republicans for Burke from 5 percent in March. Eight percent of Democrats said they would vote for Walker, down from 9 percent in March.

In May the gender gap finds Walker leading among men by 52 percent to 42 percent while Burke leads among women by 49 percent to 41 percent. In March, Walker won men by 52 to 37 percent while Burke and Walker tied among women with 44 percent each.

Voters age 18 through 44 support Burke over Walker by 51 percent to 41 percent, reversing a 49 percent to 38 percent Walker advantage in March. Among voters 45 and older, support has been more stable, with Walker receiving 49 percent to Burke’s 42 percent, as compared to Walker’s 47-43 margin over Burke in March.

Party affiliations

Democratic partisanship has grown in May to 32 percent from 27 percent in March, while Republicans make up 24 percent of the May sample and 25 percent of the March sample. Independents are 41 percent in May and were 44 percent in March.

In the 20 Marquette Law School polls since January 2012, surveying more than 17,000 Wisconsin registered voters, Democrats have averaged 31 percent, Republicans 27 percent and independents 38 percent.

Among those saying they are certain to vote in November, Republicans make up 26 percent, Democrats 31 percent and independents 40 percent. Among those certain to vote and most excited about voting in November, Republicans are 29 percent, Democrats 30 percent and independents 39 percent.

State’s direction

Approval of Walker’s handing of his job as governor has risen slightly in May to 49 percent, with 46 percent disapproving. In March, 47 percent approved and 47 percent disapproved.

Fifty-two percent of voters say Wisconsin is headed in the right direction, while 42 percent say it is off on the wrong track, little changed from 54 percent right direction and 42 percent wrong track in March. Forty-eight percent of voters see the state budget as being in better shape now than a few years ago, while 22 percent see it about the same and 25 percent say it is in worse shape now. When the question was last asked in January, 49 percent said the budget was in better shape, 26 percent the same and 20 percent worse than a few years ago.

Voters remain divided about job creation in the state. Forty-three percent say Wisconsin is lagging behind other states in job creation, 38 percent say the state is keeping up with others and 13 percent say Wisconsin is creating jobs faster than other states. In March, 45 percent said lagging, 37 percent keeping up and 12 percent said Wisconsin was creating jobs faster than other states.

Personal perceptions
Burke continues to become more familiar to voters. In May, 51 percent of voters say they either haven’t heard enough about her or don’t know if they have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of her, down from 59 percent in March and 70 percent in January. Twenty-seven percent have a favorable opinion and 22 percent an unfavorable opinion of her. In March, 19 percent were favorable and 22 percent unfavorable.

Walker receives a 47 percent favorable and 48 percent unfavorable rating, with 5 percent not giving a rating. In March, 49 percent rated him favorably and 47 percent unfavorably, with 4 percent not rating him.

Voters were asked if the phrase “cares about people like you” describes Walker and Burke. Forty-four percent say “cares about people like you” describes Walker, while 52 percent say that does not describe Walker. For Burke, 39 percent say the phrase describes her while 29 percent say it does not. Thirty-one percent are not able to say if this describes Burke, while 4 percent are unable to say if it describes Walker.

When asked if “able to get things done” describes Walker, 68 percent says it does, while 28 percent say it does not, with 4 percent unable to say. For Burke, 36 percent say “able to get things done” describes her, while 26 percent say it does not and 38 percent were unable to say.

Voters see business experience as an important qualification for governors. The new poll included this question: “Which is more important for someone to have before becoming governor: extensive political experience or extensive business experience?” Fifty-nine percent say business experience is more important while 27 percent choose political experience. Among Republicans, 75 percent say business experience is more important while 17 percent say political experience. For Democrats, 46 percent prefer business experience to 38 percent for political experience. Independents prefer business experience by 61 percent to 25 percent.

Vote fraud
In the wake of recent legislation limiting early voting and legal challenges to photo ID requirements for voting, some members of the public believe there is a substantial amount of vote fraud in the state, committed by both individuals or election officials.

Voters were asked if they believe vote fraud affects “a few thousand votes,” “a few hundred,” “a few dozen” or “less than a dozen” votes each election in Wisconsin. In the situation of one person’s claiming to be someone else, or in-person voter impersonation, 20 percent say this happens a few thousand times or more each election, 23 percent say a few hundred times, 21 percent a few dozen times, and 26 percent say this happens less than a dozen times each election.

For absentee ballots submitted in someone else’s name, 20 percent say this happens a few thousand times, 28 percent a few hundred, 19 percent a few dozen, and 22 percent less than a dozen times in an election.

Similarly, for voting by non-citizens or non-Wisconsin residents, 20 percent say this happens a few thousand times or more, 24 percent say a few hundred times, 19 percent a few dozen times and 26 percent say it happens less than a dozen times.

As for election officials submitting false vote counts, 17 percent believe this affects a few thousand votes, 27 percent a few hundred votes, 18 percent a few dozen votes and 25 percent say it affects less than a dozen votes each election.

Across the four different types of possible vote fraud, 39 percent of respondents say at least one type of fraud affected a few thousand votes or more each election. Only 7 percent say fraud accounted for less than a dozen votes on all four types of possible fraud.

Among partisans, 54 percent of Republicans believe fraud affects a few thousand votes or more for at least one type of fraud, while 41 percent of independents and 25 percent of Democrats say so. Partisans are somewhat different in the type of fraud they perceive. Thirty-six percent of Republicans think voter impersonation, the type of fraud photo ID requirements are supposed to prevent, affects a few thousand or more votes, while just 7 percent of Democrats and 20 percent of independents agree. But on fraud by election officials reporting incorrect results, the partisan differences are less, with 16 percent of Republicans, 14 percent of Democrats, and 21 percent of independents thinking that this affects a few thousand votes or more each election.

The belief that vote fraud is substantial is related to support for a photo ID requirement for voting. Overall, 60 percent support a photo ID requirement while 36 percent oppose it, a margin that has hardly moved in more than two years of polling on the issue. Among those who think voter impersonation affects a few thousand or more votes, 86 percent support a photo ID requirement. Of those who think a few hundred votes are affected, support for photo ID falls to 74 percent. For those seeing a few dozen ballots affected, support drops to 52 percent, and among those who say voter impersonation affects less than a dozen votes, support for photo ID drops to 29 percent. This pattern is nearly identical for absentee and non-citizen fraud questions.

Views on government
Voters also express considerable distrust of political institutions. Two out of three voters, 67 percent, agree or strongly agree that “you really can’t trust the government to do the right thing.” Twenty-nine percent disagree or strongly disagree.

Eighty-two percent agree or strongly agree that “government is pretty much run by a few big interests looking out for themselves.” Seventeen percent disagree or strongly disagree.

Fully 90 percent agree or strongly agree that “government wastes a lot of money we pay in taxes.” Nine percent disagree or strongly disagree.

Distrust of government crosses partisan divides. A majority of each partisan camp—Republicans, Democrats, and independents—agree or strongly agree with each of the foregoing three items.

Voters were also asked, “How much attention do you feel the state government in Wisconsin pays to what the people in your community think when it decides what to do?” Forty-four percent say none or only a small amount, 42 percent say a moderate amount and 12 percent say a large or very large amount.

Asked to agree or disagree that “people like me don’t have any say about what the government does,” 48 percent agree or strongly agree; 17 percent neither agree nor disagree; and 33 percent disagree or strongly disagree. Partisan differences are modest. Forty-three percent of Republicans, 44 percent of Democrats and 52 percent of independents agree or strongly agree. Forty-two percent of Republicans, 35 percent of Democrats and 29 percent of independents disagree or strongly disagree.

Other issues
Funding for transportation faces a public reluctant to pay more for highway construction and maintenance. Forty percent are willing to raise gas taxes and vehicle registration fees to pay for highway projects, while 58 percent are unwilling. Thirty-two percent are willing to have the state borrow money to pay for highway projects, with 65 percent unwilling. And only 28 percent are willing to take money from other programs to pay for highways, while 65 percent are unwilling to do so. In contrast, support for using tolls to pay for highway projects commands majority support, with 56 percent willing to use tolls and 42 percent unwilling to do so.

Despite the reluctance to pay for highway projects, 71 percent of voters agree that “the economic benefits from good quality highways, railroads and airports outweigh the cost to taxpayers,” with 18 percent disagreeing and 11 percent saying they don’t know.

Opinion on same-sex marriage has been changing, and with it has come a change in the poll’s wording of a question on the subject. From 2004 through 2012, many national pollsters asked a question on same-sex unions that allowed three options: marriage, civil unions, and no legal recognition for same-sex couples. This is the form of the question the Marquette Law School Poll has used.

However, as public opinion has changed and as court rulings have evolved, the civil union option has become an increasingly unlikely policy. In this poll, we asked voters both the older three-option question and the two-option version phrased, “Do you favor or oppose allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally?”

The older item was asked early in the interview, while the new two-option item was asked some 19 questions later. With the three-option question, 49 percent support marriage, 25 percent support civil unions and 18 percent prefer no legal recognition. When offered only two options, 55 percent favor allowing marriage while 37 percent oppose marriage and 6 percent say they do not know. Of those originally favoring civil unions on the three-part question, 26 percent shift to supporting marriage on the two-option question while 65 percent say they oppose marriage and 8 percent say they don’t know.

Presidential perceptions
Do Wisconsin voters want to see Walker run for president in 2016? In the new results, 27 percent would like to see him run while 67 percent would not.

Among Republicans, 50 percent would like him to run while 39 percent would not. For independents, 27 percent want him to run and 68 percent do not. Only 9 percent of Democrats want him to run, with 87 percent opposing a run for president.

For Republican Congressman Paul Ryan, 38 percent would like him to run for president with 51 percent opposed. Two out of three Republicans, 65 percent, would like Ryan to run, with 23 percent opposed. Thirty-eight percent of independents want him to run, with 51 percent opposed, and 19 percent of Democrats would like to see Ryan run with 71 percent opposed.

Asked, “Do you think any governor can run for president and still handle their duties as governor?,” 31 percent say “yes,” while 65 percent say no governor could handle both. Among Republicans, 45 percent say a governor can do both while 52 percent say “no.” Independents split 29 percent to 66 percent and Democrats divide 23 percent to 74 percent.

Two-term Democratic state representative Brett Hulsey announced his candidacy for governor in late April. Among registered voters, 87 percent say they haven’t heard of him or don’t know if they have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of him, while 2 percent say they have a favorable and 9 percent an unfavorable impression.

Paired against Walker in a trial heat, and identified as “Brett Hulsey, the Democrat,” Hulsey receives 39 percent to Walker’s 48 percent. Those who say they will vote in the Democratic primary were given the choice of the four candidates currently registered with the Government Accountability Board. In that group, Burke is supported by 66 percent, Hulsey by 3 percent, Hari Trivedi by 1 percent, and Marcia Mercedes Perkins by 1 percent, while 24 percent say they are undecided or don’t know how they would vote.

President Barack Obama’s job approval is at 48 percent with 45 percent disapproval. In March, 47 percent approved and 49 percent disapproved.