It probably shouldn’t be such a surprise that independent votes would show their independence. But the Marquette Law School Poll results released Wednesday in an “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” session at Eckstein Hall clearly caught people in the room, as well as far beyond the room, by surprise. Independent voters were largely the reason why.
Two weeks ago, the poll put Republican Gov. Scott Walker ahead of Democratic challenger Mary Burke by five percentage points among likely voters. This time, the two were in such a dead heat among likely voters that the exact same number of poll respondents picked Walker and Burke (380 each). That made for a 47%-47% tie, with the scattered responses making up the remainder.
What changed? Among voters who labeled themselves independents, Walker led in the prior Marquette Law School Poll, conducted late September, by 53% to 40%. But in the new poll, conducted from Oct. 9 through 12, Burke was favored by 45% of independents and Walker by 44%. Professor Charles Franklin, director of the Marquette Law School Poll, considered that a significant shift and an indication that there were still voters out there who are persuadable by either candidate – potentially enough to decide the election.
A second striking aspect of the results for independent voters was their increased interest in voting in the governor’s election Nov. 4. There were small increases in the portions of Democrats (80%) and Republicans (82%) who said they were highly likely to vote. But the portion of independents who said they were highly likely to vote went from 67% two weeks earlier to 80% now, a major jump
Franklin said it has been true in the past that a higher percentage of independents indicate they are going to vote than actually vote. But, he said, if independents turn out in line with their responses now, turn out will exceed the totals in the 2010 election for governor and the 2012 recall election for governor, and that could be a big factor in determining the outcome.
Overall, as is the long-standing result, the largest single group of voters consider themselves independent. In this poll, they accounted for 37% of both likely and registered voters. Those saying they were Democrats came to 31% of both likely and registered voters, and those saying they were Republicans totaled 28% of registered voters and 29% of likely voters.
Another eye-catching change – so much so that it brought audible reaction from the audience when Franklin gave the results — was in the “gender gap” in support of Walker and Burke. In past polls, especially the one from two weeks ago, Walker did substantially better among men and Burke did substantially better among women. In this poll, the gap was almost eliminated. Among likely voters, Walker led among men by 48% to 46% and women split 47% to 47% between Burke and Walker. For one thing, Franklin said, it appeared that there was a surge of Republican men supporting Walker two weeks earlier, and that showed up less in Wednesday’s results. And the gender results have shown fluctuations in the past, including in other races.
In the race for Wisconsin attorney general between Republican Brad Schimel, the Waukesha County district attorney, and Democrat Susan Happ, the Jefferson County district attorney, there was some signs of increased public awareness of who the candidates are, but more than 70% of those polled expressed no opinion on the candidates individually. And asked who they would vote for between the two, the results came back exactly tied – 333 voters (42%) picked each, with 16% saying they were undecided or didn’t know.
The bottom line: Both major races are tied at this point, none of the candidates in either major race has broken away from the other, and there’s still a lot of political action – and decision making by independent voters – to come in the three weeks until the election.