A new round of results from the Marquette Law School Poll, released on Tuesday, provided food for thought about one of the many curious aspects of this year’s presidential election.
The spotlighted finding of the poll was that the contest between Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton is tight in Wisconsin, a notch tighter now than three weeks ago and definitely tighter than six weeks ago. Among likely voters, Clinton leads Trump by two percentage points, 44 percent to 42 percent. Among all registered voters, Clinton’s lead is five points, 43 percent to 38 percent. In either case, the race is close and the portion of voters who say they will vote and who are undecided who to vote for is larger than the gap between the candidates.
So where’s the hot campaigning? Ohio, Florida, North Carolina and a handful of other states are seeing a lot of Clinton and Trump in person and far more energized campaigns overall. Neither of the candidates has been in Wisconsin recently and the ground campaigns and television buys have been quiet here, especially compared to some past presidential campaigns. With 10 electoral votes, Wisconsin is neither the biggest nor smallest prize in the race, but those votes could make a big difference to the outcome, as some experts see the national map of the race.
Professor Charles Franklin, director of the Law School Poll and the Law School’s professor law and public policy, was asked about the paradox of a close race and tepid campaigning by a television reporter after the “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” program at which the poll results were released. Franklin offered no simple answer. There has been an intense focus on several other states. And a factor is Trump’s unusual campaign, which is built almost entirely on personal appearances at rallies and news coverage of the campaign rather than ”the ground game” and paid television ads at the heart of conventional campaigns. Franklin also said during the program with Gousha that the presidential debates, which begin on Monday, Sept. 26, could have more impact on the race this year than in many other presidential contests.
The results released Wednesday offered some insights into what voters are thinking in Wisconsin. Among them:
The campaigns of Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson and Green Party nominee Jill Stein are attracting some attention and support, but their poll numbers remain fairly small. And the margin between Clinton and Trump remains almost the same whether voters are asked to choose between only the two major candidates or between all four candidates.
A large majority of Republicans and independents who lean Republican (68 percent) still say they would have liked the party to nominate someone other than Trump. And more Wisconsin Democrats and people leaning Democratic (48 percent) wish Bernie Sanders had been nominated by the party than Hillary Clinton (43 percent). About a third of voters who wish someone other than Trump or Clinton were their party’s nominee indicated they would not vote for either of the major candidates.
There has been some moderation in views about the two presidential candidates, but they each still has high negative numbers. In this poll, Clinton is viewed favorably by 43 percent of all registered voters and unfavorably by 50 percent, compared to figures of 35 percent and 58 percent in late August. Trump is viewed favorably by 31 percent and unfavorably by 61 percent, compared to late August figures of 28 percent and 63 percent.
A majority of voters (51 percent in this poll) continue to say they would be “very uncomfortable” with Trump as president, while 42 percent would be “very uncomfortable” with Clinton as president.
In the US Senate race between Republican incumbent Ron Johnson and Democratic challenger (and former senator) Russ Feingold, Feingold continues to lead. The new results had Feingold over Johnson 47 percent to 41 percent among likely voters and 46 percent to 40 percent among all registered voters. Those margins compared to figures from three weeks ago of a three point Feingold lead among likely voters and a four point lead among all registered voters.
With a bit under seven weeks to go until the election, a campaign season that has brought so many surprises and raised so many questions is likely to have more surprises to spring and questions to consider. For Wisconsin, a key question will be whether the closeness of the presidential race will be matched by the energy of the campaigns themselves and the heat of public interest the race generates.