At a time when there is so much talk about angry voters, what’s the reality?
The Marquette Law School Poll released on Thursday showed that “outsider” candidates for president such as Republicans Ben Carson and Donald Trump, are doing well at this point in Wisconsin. So is Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders, who, although he is a senator, embraces the term “socialist” and is running a campaign heavy on criticism of Wall Street interests. Many commentators have linked their success to voters who are frustrated with politicians who have been part of the governing establishment.
The new set of poll results provided empirical evidence to support the talk of angry voters.
Charles Franklin, director of the poll and the Law School’s professor of law and public policy, told the audience at the “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” program at which the poll results were released that there really were signs of anger toward government as a whole, as well as some signals that voters weren’t as alienated from candidates with more traditional backgrounds.
Is government “run by a few big interests”? Eight-four percent of Wisconsin voters in the poll said yes, with 14 percent disagreeing. The sentiment was fairly strong across the political spectrum – 72% of Republicans agreed, 91% of Democrats, and 86% of independents.
Does government “ignore the interests of hard working Americans”? Sixty-nine per cent agreed with that. Again, the feeling was widespread – 66% of Republicans, 70% of Democrats, and 70% of independents agreed.
Is government “taking away my personal freedoms and liberties”? Fifty-nine percent agreed with that, although the pattern had a more partisan tone, with 71 per cent of Republicans, 42 percent of Democrats, and 64 percent of independents saying that.
Are income differences too large in America? Sixty-nine percent agreed with that also, but views varied with political affiliations. Ninety percent of Democrats, 72 percent of independents, and 43 percent of Republicans agreed.
Should government do something about income differences? That’s a different question, with more divided responses: Overall, 48 percent agreed and 49 percent disagreed. By partisanship, 22 percent of Republicans agreed, while 72 percent of Democrats agreed. Independents were in the middle – 46 percent.
Franklin said there has been strong support for many years for ideas such as government being run by big interests. But the overall thrust of the results showed there really is a body of voters in Wisconsin who are unhappy about how things are going.
On the other hand, answers were more mixed when it came to whether people want the next president to be someone with government experience or someone who is coming from outside government circles, as well as on whether the president should be someone who is willing to compromise to get things done or someone who would stick to principles in an uncompromising way.
Overall, 49% of those in the poll said it is more important to have a president with experience in the political system, while 45% said it is more important to get someone from outside the political establishment. Republicans were more strongly in favor of an outsider and Democrats were more strongly in favor of someone with experience. Among independents, it was 55% for an outsider and 39% for someone with experience.
And compromise does not appear to be a dirty word among most voters. Overall, 78% said they favored someone willing to compromise, with 18% favoring someone who is uncompromising about principles. Sixty-eight percent of Republicans, 91% of Democrats, and 76% of independents preferred a willingness to compromise.
Looking more specifically at Wisconsin, the poll results showed increased pessimism compared to a year ago about the jobs picture in the state and about the health of the state budget. Republican Gov. Scott Walker has a job approval rating of 38%, which is in line with two Law School Polls done earlier this year and substantially below Walker’s approval ratings throughout 2012, 2013, and 2014.
Opinions of Wisconsin legislators aren’t good either. Asked if they approve of the job Republicans legislators are doing overall, 31% gave a positive answer and 60% gave a negative answer. As for legislative Democrats, it was 39% positive and 49% negative.
The poll found that among Republicans voters, 22 percent favor Carson for president, with 19 percent each for Trump and Marco Rubio. That compared to results in late September in which Trump drew 20 percent, Carson 16 percent, and Rubio 14 percent.
Among Democratic voters, 50 percent favor Hillary Clinton and 41 percent favor Sanders. That compared to late September, when Clinton had support from 42 percent and Sanders from 30 percent, whileJoe Biden, who was included in that poll, was supported by 17 percent.
But in interesting results, Sanders did better than Clinton overall in trial match-ups against Carson, Trump, and Rubio.. For the first time in Marquette Law School Polls, Clinton did not lead in trial heats against all Republicans. The new poll found 45% in favor of Carson and 44% in favor of Clinton in that hypothetical match, and found Rubio ahead of Clinton by the same numbers. While the results were well within the margin of error, they showed a shift toward the Republicans, Franklin said.
Clinton continued to lead over Trump, 48 percent to 38 percent, but that 10 point margin compared to a 14 point lead in September.
Sanders led in a match-up with Carson, 47 to 41 percent; in a match-up with Rubio, 46 to 42 percent; and in a match-up with Trump, 52 to 35 percent.
Franklin said there were no simple explanations for why Sanders, who is considered to be to the left of Clinton, did better against Republicans than Clinton did.
What does all this say? Let’s suggest three things: There are a lot of people in Wisconsin who are unhappy about what is going on in the broad picture around them; those feelings are shaping their choices in the upcoming elections; and there is still a long way to go and a lot of developments to come before the outcome of the 2016 elections is known.