It was the final release of Marquette Law School Poll results before the Nov. 8 election. That means Wednesday’s “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” program attracted a lot of attention from news organizations and aficionados of understanding politics in Wisconsin and beyond.
That means that the reputation of the Law School poll, which has been built on a great record since 2012 of being very close to the mark in calling elections, is about to be put to the test again. The comparison between the final results and the actual outcome of an election is taken by many (not always fairly) as the measure of a poll.
And that means that Charles Franklin, the director of the Law School Poll and professor of law and public policy, had a few broader thoughts to share at the session in the Appellate Courtroom of Eckstein Hall.
Franklin opened the program with thanks to alumni whose donations have supported the poll for almost five years, and he thanked John Johnson, who works with him on the poll and related research.
“And finally,” Franklin said, “maybe most importantly in some sense, I want to thank the 36,152 people who have taken the time to respond to the poll since 2012. This poll couldn’t exist without people being willing to share their views about public affairs and help us all collectively understand public opinion in the state. For all the flaws that polling can have and its limitations, it’s really an important civic-participation act to take part in sharing opinion. So thank you very much to those 36,000-plus respondents.”
The poll results themselves showed small, but perhaps significant changes in the state of the two major races that Wisconsin voters will decide: Whether Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump will earn the state’s 10 electoral votes and whether the re-match for a US Senate seat will be won by Russ Feingold or Ron Johnson. In 2010, Johnson defeated Feingold, who had held the seat for the prior 18 years.
In brief (very brief – for more, read the summary on the Law School’s web site or any of many news accounts, such as this one and this one from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel), Clinton was leading Trump by six percentage points, 46% to 40%, among likely voters in Wisconsin. Feingold led Johnson by one point, which is effectively a tie. Despite major developments such as the news that the FBI was investigating new material related to Clinton’s e-mail, preferences in the presidential race hadn’t changed much, although there were indications that some Republicans who had been reluctant to vote for Trump are now deciding to do so. Perceptions of the personal traits of Clinton and Trump, as well as Feingold, have changed little in recent rounds of polling, but perceptions of Johnson have improved gradually and perhaps significantly.
At the end of the hour, the moderator, Mike Gousha, the Law School’s distinguished fellow in law and public policy, asked Franklin for final thoughts.
Franklin summarized the state of the two races:
“I think number one is, of course, the presidential race looks relatively stable but maybe a little bit tighter. But the Senate race has clearly been tightening . . . . We end up on the Senate side with a race that clearly is . . . . not just within the margin of error but is right on the knife’s edge and could go either way.”
Franklin said that other polls in recent days have put Feingold ahead by wider margin than the Marquette Law School Poll, while one released on Tuesday had the race as a tie.
“That really shows why it’s important to have more than one poll,” Franklin said. “I appreciate that people think of the Marquette poll as a thing to look at here, but every poll can be wrong and any pollster who polls long enough is going to be wrong in close races. I hope that’s not this time for me, but it could be.
“And the most important thing is that nobody’s vote counts for talking to me. The only votes that get counted are the ones that get put in a ballot box, either early or late. I hope that the function of our poll is to put some context in the election, help illuminate what people are thinking and how things are moving.
“But there’s only one thing to do, whether you like the results or don’t like the results, and that is to go out and make results, come Tuesday. So, go, do your duty.”