At a Time of High-Charged Events, New Law School Poll Sheds Even-Handed Light

There are ways in which the volatility of the current political scene seeped into the release Wednesday of the latest round of Marquette Law School Poll results. But there are more ways it didn’t.

An extraordinary time in American politics has brought an extraordinary week in Wisconsin politics, with the state’s presidential primary on April 5 standing as the next major event on the political calendar. All five of the remaining major candidates for president have spent at least two days in the state this week, with several developments of national significance occurring on our home turf.

The passions of thousands attending events with Republican candidate Donald Trump and Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders, the political drama of the battle (including insults) between Trump and Ted Cruz, the search by Hillary Clinton for ways to build more fire behind her support in Wisconsin, a three-hour “town hall meeting” with Trump, Cruz, and John Kasich, telecast by CNN from Milwaukee’s Riverside Theater – this is just aa partial list of events in Wisconsin this week.

So stakes are high as Wisconsin returns to being a battleground in the presidential race. High stakes bring high tension and high levels of partisanship.

And then there was a release of the poll at Eckstein Hall, with Professor Charles Franklin, director of the Marquette Law School Poll, and Mike Gousha, distinguished fellow in law and public policy at the Law School, leading a tour of the new results. Calm. Level-headed. Insightful. Strictly non-partisan. Much the same as several dozen poll-release events since the Marquette Law School Poll started in 2012.

But you could see the drama of what is going on in Wisconsin in the poll results. Among the highlights:

Cruz’ sharp increase in support from the February round of polling, bringing him to a 10-point lead over Trump and framing the question of whether stop-Trump Republicans will score an important victory here .

Sanders’ continued strength on the Democratic side, leaving him with a lead of four percentage points over Clinton, compared to the one-point lead he had in February.

The high number of voters who say they are “very uncomfortable” with the idea of either of the two national frontrunners becoming president. For Trump, 55 percent overall (89 percent of Democratic voters, 23 percent of Republican voters) said they were “very comfortable” with the possibility of him in the White House. With Clinton, Democrats don’t have much problem (only eight percent were “very uncomfortable”), but 82 percent of Republicans have that “very uncomfortable” reaction to her.

Sanders amazing strength among voters who are 18 to 29. The poll found 83 percent of younger voters who are planning to take part in the Democratic primary support Sanders – a number so high it brought an audible reaction among those attending the session. On the other hand, Clinton is the choice of 63 percent of those over 60 and, as Franklin pointed out, older voters have a track record of turning out to vote in much higher percentages than younger voters.

Beyond the presidential races, the poll also suggested a tightening of the race for the United States Senate, which won’t be decided until November. In this round of results, Democrat Russ Feingold led Republican Ron Johnson by five points, 47 percent to 42 percent. In February, Feingold’s lead was 12 points.

And it pointed to a tight race for the Wisconsin Supreme Court, with Justice Rebecca Bradley holding a five point advantage over Appeals Court Judge JoAnne Kloppenburg, although many likely voters say they are undecided. The poll also showed how much support for each of the candidates in the non-partisan court race aligns with partisanship in the presidential race. Among those who say they will vote in the Republican primary, 69 percent support Bradley and 11 percent support Kloppenburg. Among Democratic primary voters, 64 percent support Kloppenburg and 12 percent support Bradley.

The poll results and the session offered even light and facts about what people are thinking at a time of high heat and sometimes-little attention to facts.