New Marquette Law School Poll finds Carson, Trump and Rubio atop tight Wisconsin GOP primary race

Clinton holds edge among Wisconsin Democrats

MILWAUKEE – A new Marquette Law School Poll finds Ben Carson the favorite of 22 percent in the Wisconsin Republican presidential primary, closely followed by Donald Trump and Marco Rubio at 19 percent each. In the September Marquette poll, Trump held 20 percent, Carson 16 percent and Rubio 14 percent.

In the new poll, which was in the field shortly after the Nov. 10 Republican debate in Milwaukee, Ted Cruz receives 9 percent, Jeb Bush 6 percent, Carly Fiorina 5 percent and Chris Christie 4 percent. Mike Huckabee, John Kasich and Rand Paul receive 1 percent each, while Jim Gilmore, Lindsey Graham, George Pataki and Rick Santorum are each below one-half percent. Bobby Jindal, whose decision to suspend his campaign came after surveys for this poll were completed, also receives less than one-half percent.

In the Democratic race, Hillary Clinton leads with the support of 50 percent of Democratic registered voters, followed by Bernie Sanders with 41 percent and Martin O’Malley at 2 percent. In September, with Joe Biden included among the choices, Clinton had 42 percent, Sanders 30 percent and Biden 17 percent.

In the race for U.S. Senate, Democrat Russ Feingold is supported by 49 percent of registered voters while Republican incumbent Ron Johnson receives 38 percent support. In September, Feingold was at 50 percent to Johnson’s 36 percent.

The poll was conducted from November 12 to 15. The full sample includes 803 registered voters interviewed by cell phone or landline, with a margin of error of +/-4.2 percentage points. Results for the Republican nomination are based on 326 registered voters who consider themselves Republicans or independents who lean to the Republican Party. The Democratic results are based on 374 Democrats or independents who lean Democratic. The margin of error for the Republican sample is +/-6.6 percentage points, and for the Democratic sample it is +/-6.1 percentage points.

The Senate candidates are slightly better known to voters in November than they were in September, with 59 percent able to give a favorable or unfavorable rating to both Feingold and Johnson, up from 55 percent in September. Sixteen percent are unable to rate either candidate in this poll, down from 20 percent. Of those able to rate only one candidate, 19 percent can rate Feingold but not Johnson while 6 percent can rate Johnson but not Feingold—virtually unchanged from September, when 18 percent could rate only Feingold and 6 percent rated only Johnson.

Feingold is rated favorably by 42 percent and unfavorably by 36 percent, with 22 percent unable to give a rating. In September, his rating was 42 percent favorable and 32 percent unfavorable, with 26 percent unable to rate. Johnson is rated favorably by 27 percent and unfavorably by 38 percent, with 35 percent unable to rate him. In September, his favorable rating was 27 percent, unfavorable was 36 percent and 38 percent were unable to rate him.

In possible matchups for November, Carson and Rubio edge Clinton by one point each, while Clinton holds a lead over Trump. Sanders holds an advantage over all three Republican candidates:

  • Carson 45 percent, Clinton 44 percent. (Not asked in September.)
  • Rubio 45 percent, Clinton 44 percent. (September: Clinton 48 percent, Rubio 40 percent.)
  • Clinton 48 percent, Trump 38 percent. (September: Clinton 50 percent, Trump 36 percent.)
  • Sanders 47 percent, Carson 41 percent. (Not asked in September.)
  • Sanders 46 percent, Rubio 42 percent. (September: Sanders 49 percent, Rubio 36 percent.)
  • Sanders 52 percent, Trump 35 percent. (September: Sanders 53 percent, Trump 34 percent.)

Paul Ryan
In the aftermath of his election as Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Rep. Paul Ryan is viewed favorably by 49 percent of registered voters and unfavorably by 34 percent, with 17 percent unable to give a rating. When last asked about Ryan in October 2014, 46 percent had a favorable view, 35 percent an unfavorable view and 19 percent were unable to rate him.

Asked if they think “being Speaker will help Ryan represent the people in his district or will it require him to pay more attention to issues outside his district?,” 23 percent say it will help him represent the district while 63 percent think it will require his attention to issues outside the district.

State of the state
Asked about the state budget, 30 percent say it is in better shape than a few years ago, 24 percent say it is about the same and 39 percent say it is in worse shape now. When last asked in August, 36 percent said the budget was better, 19 percent said the same and 41 percent said the budget was in worse shape. In October 2014, 44 percent said better, 23 percent the same and 27 percent said worse.

In November, 57 percent of registered voters say Wisconsin is lagging behind other states in job creation, with 31 percent saying job creation is about the same as other states and 6 percent saying Wisconsin is creating jobs faster than other states. In August, 50 percent said Wisconsin was lagging, 36 percent said it was about the same and 9 percent said Wisconsin was adding jobs faster than other states. In October 2014, 42 percent said the state was lagging, 38 percent said it was about the same and 13 percent said jobs were growing faster than other states.

Seventy percent of registered voters say they heard of the recent announcements of plant closings at GE in Waukesha and Oscar Mayer in Madison, while 30 percent did not hear. Seventy-six percent of respondents from the Milwaukee media market and 88 percent from the Madison market say they heard of the closings, while 56 percent of those in the rest of the state heard of the closings.

Fifty percent of respondents heard about Amazon and Quad/Graphics adding jobs in the state, with 49 percent saying they did not hear. Awareness of these job additions was concentrated in the Milwaukee media market, where 73 percent heard of the additions. In the Madison market, 36 percent heard of them, as have 33 percent in the rest of the state.

Approval of Walker and legislative parties
Approval of how Scott Walker is handling his job stands at 38 percent, with 58 percent disapproval. In September, 37 percent approved and 59 percent disapproved.

Thirty-one percent say they approve of the way Republicans in the legislature are handling their job, with 60 percent disapproving and 9 percent saying they don’t know. For Democrats in the legislature, 39 percent approve while 49 percent disapprove, with 12 percent saying they don’t know.

Views of policy proposals
The public varies in its awareness of recent policy debates in the legislature. Fifty percent have not heard or lack an opinion of proposals to replace state hiring based on the civil service exam. Forty-seven percent say they have not heard or don’t have an opinion about proposals to change the structure of the Government Accountability Board. Twenty-eight percent are not aware of plans to borrow $350 million for road construction. Twenty-six percent are unaware of changes to campaign finance regulations. Twenty-four percent are unaware of a proposal to create a state agency to refinance student loans. Nineteen percent are unaware of a proposed ban on the use of fetal tissue from abortions in medical research.

Support and opposition to these proposals also vary. Sixty-one percent support an agency to refinance student loans, while 15 percent are opposed and the rest are unaware or have no position.

Thirty percent support replacing the civil service exam with resume-based hiring of state employees, with 19 percent opposed.

Thirty-eight percent support borrowing an additional $350 million for road construction, with 34 percent opposed.

Twenty-five percent support splitting the Government Accountability Board into two new boards and replacing retired judges as members with an equal split of Republicans and Democrats, with 28 percent opposed.

Thirty-two percent support a ban of the use of fetal tissue from abortions in medical research while 47 percent oppose such a ban.

Thirteen percent favor doubling current campaign contribution limits and allowing unlimited contributions by individuals to political parties, while 61 percent oppose that change.

Presidential qualities
Voters are almost evenly split over whether a president should have experience in the political system or should be someone from outside the existing political establishment. Forty-nine percent say experience is more important, while 45 percent say someone from outside the establishment is more important. Sixty-one percent of Republicans say an outsider is more important, with 32 percent preferring experience. Among Democrats, 77 percent favor experience while 19 percent say getting an outsider is more important. Among independents, 55 percent favor an outsider, and 39 percent say experience is more important.

Among Republicans saying experience is more important, Rubio is the top presidential choice of 32 percent, followed by Bush at 15 percent, Carson at 13 percent, and Cruz at 12 percent, with no other candidate in double digits. Among Republicans saying an outsider is most important, Trump is the choice of 28 percent followed by Carson at 27 percent and Rubio at 12 percent, with no one else in double digits.

Among Democrats ranking experience more important, Clinton is supported by 55 percent to Sanders’ 38 percent, while among those ranking an outsider more important, Sanders receives 51 percent to Clinton’s 35 percent.

Seventy-eight percent of registered voters say it is more important that a president be willing to compromise in order to achieve some of their goals, while 18 percent say it is more important for a president to be uncompromising about principles. Party differences are smaller on this question, with

68 percent of Republicans, 91 percent of Democrats and 76 percent of independents saying compromise is more important. Twenty-seven percent of Republicans, 6 percent of Democrats and 20 percent of independents say it is more important for a president to be uncompromising on one’s principles. Among Republicans with a favorable view of the Tea Party, 54 percent say compromise is more important while 41 percent favor uncompromising support for principles.

Of Republicans who prefer uncompromising positions, 25 percent favor Carson, 24 percent Trump and 18 percent prefer Rubio, with all others below 10 percent support. Among those who prefer compromise, Carson and Rubio each receive 20 percent support, followed by Trump at 18 percent and Cruz at 10 percent.

Among Democrats preferring an uncompromising approach, Sanders receives 51 percent support to Clinton’s 45 percent, while those preferring compromise give Clinton 51 percent to Sanders’s 40 percent.

Views of government
Eighty-four percent of registered voters agree or strongly agree (hereafter “agree”) that “government is run by a few big interests,” while 14 percent disagree or strongly disagree (hereafter “disagree”). Seventy-two percent of Republicans agree, as do 91 percent of Democrats and 86 percent of independents. Twenty-five percent of Republicans, 8 percent of Democrats and 13 percent of independents disagree.

Sixty-nine percent agree that “government ignores the interests of hard working Americans,” while 28 percent disagree. Sixty-six percent of Republicans, 70 percent of Democrats and 70 percent of independents agree. Twenty-nine percent of Republicans, 27 percent of Democrats and 28 percent of independents disagree.

Fifty-nine percent agree that “government is taking away my personal freedoms and liberty,” while 39 percent disagree. Among Republicans, 71 percent agree while 28 percent disagree. Among Democrats, 42 percent agree and 55 percent disagree. For independents, 64 percent agree while 35 percent disagree.

Sixty-nine percent of respondents say income differences in America are too large, with 28 percent disagreeing. Among Republicans 43 percent agree while 53 percent disagree. Ninety percent of Democrats agree and 9 percent disagree, while 72 percent of independents agree and 24 percent disagree.

Forty-eight percent agree that government should do something to reduce income differences, while 49 percent disagree. Among Republicans, 22 percent agree while 75 percent disagree. For Democrats, 73 percent agree and 23 percent disagree. Among independents, 46 percent agree and 52 percent disagree.

About the Marquette Law School Poll
The Marquette Law School Poll is the most extensive statewide polling project in Wisconsin history. This poll interviewed 803 registered Wisconsin voters, by both landline and cell phone, from November 12-15, 2015. The margin of error is +/- 4.2 percentage points for the full sample. For Republicans and independents who lean toward the Republican Party, the sample size is 326, with a margin of error of +/-6.6 percentage points. For Democrats and independents who lean toward the Democratic Party, the sample size is 374, with a margin of error of +/-6.1 percentage points. Republican and Democratic presidential primary items were asked of the corresponding party samples.

The partisan makeup of this sample, including those who lean to a party, is 41 percent Republican, 47 percent Democratic and 11 percent independent. The long-term estimate over the previous 30 statewide Marquette polls, with 25,924 respondents, is 42 percent Republican and 47 percent Democratic, with 9 percent independent. The partisan makeup excluding those who lean to a party is 27 percent Republican, 31 percent Democratic and 38 percent independent, compared to the long-term estimate of 27 percent Republican, 31 percent Democratic and 39 percent independent. The entire questionnaire, full results and breakdowns by demographic groups are available at

The methodology statement can be found here.