New Poll Results: Even “Smidgens” of Change Provide Insight

The word for the day was “smidgeny” when a new round of Marquette Law School Poll results were released on Wednesday.

“I think smidgen is a word I’m going to wear out today because these differences are truly smidgeny,” Charles Franklin, director of the poll and professor of law and public policy at the Law School, said as he walked the audience at Eckstein Hall and online through the results of polling done from July 7 to 10.

A lot of the numbers on the presidential race, the US Senate race in Wisconsin, and other matters did not change much in recent weeks, even as major events focused on Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump occurred.

Overall, Clinton continued to lead Trump in Wisconsin among both all registered voters and those who are likely to vote. Democrat Russ Feingold continued to lead Republican Ron Johnson in the Senate race. Margins were in single digits, but Franklin said there was enough movement in answers to some questions to indicate both races are tightening.

And even if the numbers didn’t change much, the light that the poll results shine on what is happening remains strong. Franklin pointed to several important themes people should keep in mind as the campaign season unfolds in Wisconsin and nationwide. Among them:

Turn-out. The proportion of Republicans who said they were going to vote in November fell from 87 percent in the Law School Poll conducted in March to 78 percent in the June poll, which suggested problems for that party’s candidates. In July, 80 percent said they were going to vote, which brightened the Republican picture a bit. And the percentage of Democrats who said they were going to vote was 78 percent in July, compared to 84 percent in June, which suggested concerns for that party. Franklin said keeping an eye on trends related to who will actually come out to vote in November was going to be important.

Party unity. The new results indicated growing feeling among Democrats that the party was uniting as the contentious primary season fades and the election gets closer. In June, only 18 percent said the party was united, but in July that rose to 39 percent. Among Republicans, 12 percent said the party was united in June and that declined to 5 percent in July, with 46 percent saying the party is divided and will still be divided in November. Party unity will be a big issue for both Democrats and Republicans, Franklin said, which adds importance to the national conventions of each party to be held over the next two weeks. Will there be a convention bounce for either candidate?

The continuing strength of negative opinions of both Trump and Clinton. Large majorities of voters don’t like Clinton and Trump. In line with prior Law School polls and polls by others around the nation, both candidates have very high negative ratings on many questions. Overall in the new results, 29 percent had favorable views of Trump and 63 percent had unfavorable views. For Clinton, it was 36 percent favorable, 58 percent unfavorable. And the percentage of voters who say they would be “very uncomfortable” with the candidates as president was 43 percent for Clinton and 55 percent for Trump.

Third party candidates. For the first time, the Law School asked about support for Gary Johnson Libertarian candidate for president, and Jill Stein, Green Party candidate for president, as well as Phil Anderson, Libertarian candidate in Wisconsin’s Senate race. In a four-candidate question asked of registered voters on the presidential race, support came in at 40 percent for Clinton, 33 percent for Trump, 10 percent for Johnson, and 4 percent for Stein.  That leaves more than 10 percent not picking any of them, but it is enough to suggest more voters than usual may turn away from the main party candidates.

Gov. Scott Walker’s continuing poor poll numbers. Opinions of Walker’s job performance were consistently around 50 percent favorable in Law School Polls for several years. But after his presidential campaign failed in mid-2015, his numbers went down. In the new results, 38 percent said they approved of Walkers job performance and 58 percent disapproved. That is consistent with polling over the last year. Franklin said points to a long-term decline in Walker’s popularlty and not a short term blip.

There were plenty of other results in the poll that showed that even “smidgens” can add up to insight. The full results may be found by clicking here. And the one-hour conversation about the results between Franklin and Mike Gousha, the Law School’s distinguished fellow in law and public policy, may be viewed by clicking here.