Obama Leads GOP Field as Santorum Surges in Primary

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Released: February 22, 2012

Marquette Law School Poll shows Obama leading GOP Field, Santorum leading in Wisconsin Republican primary 

A split decision in the U.S. Senate race; “John Doe,” jobs, mining also polled 

Milwaukee, Wis. — President Barack Obama leads each of his Republican rivals in Wisconsin, according to the new Marquette Law School Poll. Obama leads former Senator Rick Santorum 51 percent to 40 percent and leads former governor Mitt Romney by 53 percent to 38 percent. In January, Obama’s lead over Romney was 48 percent to 40 percent. The president holds a 52 percent to 36 percent lead over Rep. Ron Paul and a 56 percent to 33 percent margin over former Speaker Newt Gingrich.

Santorum leads among those who said they would vote in the Republican primary in Wisconsin on April 3 with 34 percent. Romney has the support of 18 percent while Paul has 17 percent. Gingrich trails at 12 percent, with 17 percent saying they are undecided. Santorum has recently surged in national polls and in Michigan polling. Among only Republican respondents who said they would vote in the primary, Santorum received 44 percent to Romney’s 20 percent. Wisconsin’s open primary allows any registered voter to participate.

In other results the poll found 72 percent of the public had heard or read of the “John Doe” investigation of former aides and associates of Governor Scott Walker while he was Milwaukee County executive. Of those who were aware of the investigation, 52 percent said that the investigation is “really something serious,” while 40 percent said that it is “just more politics.”

In the race for U.S. Senate in Wisconsin, former Governor Tommy Thompson has a small lead of 48 percent to 42 percent over Rep. Tammy Baldwin. Baldwin has a slight lead over former Rep. Mark Neumann, 44 percent to 40 percent, and a somewhat larger lead over state Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald, 45 percent to 37 percent.

Governor Walker’s favorability rating slipped in February to 46 percent with 48 percent unfavorable. In January his favorable rating was 50 percent with 45 percent unfavorable.

The Marquette Law School Poll of 716 Wisconsin registered voters was conducted February 16-19 by both landline and cellular telephone.

Professor Charles Franklin, director of the Marquette Law School Poll and visiting professor of law and public policy at Marquette Law School, noted, “The highly competitive Republican presidential primary has prevented the GOP from uniting behind a single candidate, helping Obama’s performance in the trial heats. The latest surge by Santorum is reflected in Wisconsin, and Romney’s slippage against Obama since January shows that his quest for the Republican nomination faces some serious challenges.”

“John Doe” Investigation

Recent developments in the Milwaukee prosecutor’s “John Doe” investigation of former aides and associates of Scott Walker while he was county executive have caught the attention of nearly three quarters of respondents to the poll. Seventy-two percent said they had heard or read about the investigation, while 23 percent said they had not. Among those aware of the investigation, 52 percent said the investigation is “really something serious” while 40 percent said it is “just more politics.”

Among both Democrats and Republicans, 75 percent were aware of the investigation, while only 56 percent of independents were aware. Partisan differences were much larger on the question of the seriousness of the investigation. Sixty-eight percent of Republicans said it is “just more politics,” with 25 percent saying it is “something serious,” compared to 16 percent of Democrats who see it as “just more politics” and 80 percent “something serious.” Among those independents who had heard of the investigation, 45 percent said it was “just more politics” while 32 percent said it was “something serious.

Possible Recall Election

The still-developing field of potential Democratic candidates for a possible recall election against Walker shows little change in name recognition or favorability since January. Kathleen Falk is viewed favorably by 22 percent and unfavorably by 28 percent, with 47 percent saying they don’t know enough to have an opinion. That compares to 19 percent favorable, 25 percent unfavorable and 51 percent with no opinion in January.

Recently announced candidate, state Senator Kathleen Vinehout has 9 percent favorable, 14 percent unfavorable and 68 percent with no opinion. Vinehout was not included in the January poll.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, who has said he is seriously considering entering the race, polled 30 percent favorable, 27 percent unfavorable and 40 percent unable to rate, compared to 34 percent favorable, 27 percent unfavorable and 35 percent unable to rate in January.

Also included in the poll were former Congressman David Obey with 22 percent favorable, 19 percent unfavorable and 55 percent unable to rate, and Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, who has occasionally been mentioned as a possible candidate, with 12 percent favorable, 12 percent unfavorable and 70 percent unable to rate.

Governor Walker’s rating was 46 percent favorable, 48 percent unfavorable and 4 percent unable to rate. In January his ratings were 50 percent favorable, 45 percent unfavorable and 3 percent unable to rate.


Respondents were also asked about jobs in the state. More respondents said Wisconsin had fared better in the recession than the country as a whole, 27 percent, than thought it had fared worse, 13 percent. A majority of 56 percent thought the recession had hit Wisconsin about the same as the rest of the county. But when asked about job growth in the last year, respondents were somewhat more negative about Wisconsin than about the nation as a whole. Twenty-two percent said jobs had increased in Wisconsin, compared to 31 percent who saw jobs increasing nationally. Thirty percent said jobs had declined in Wisconsin, while 28 percent saw a national decline. Forty-five percent saw no change in Wisconsin, while 39 percent saw no national change.

Iron-ore mine

The potential development of an iron-ore mine in northwestern Wisconsin has been the subject of recent public debate and legislative consideration. The question posed to respondents described the issue: “There is a proposal to develop an iron-ore mine in northwestern Wisconsin. Supporters argue that the mine will create 700 jobs and long-term economic benefits. Opponents argue that not enough environmental protections are in place to preserve water and air quality. Do you support or oppose developing the mine?” Fifty-two percent said they support developing the mine, while 33 percent opposed the mine and 15 percent hadn’t heard of the mine or didn’t have an opinion.


About the Marquette Law School Poll

The Marquette Law School Poll is the most extensive independent statewide polling project in Wisconsin history. Running monthly through the 2012 election, it will provide a snapshot of voter attitudes from across the state on the possible gubernatorial recall election and the campaigns for president and U.S. Senate, in addition to gauging opinion on major policy questions.

Members of the public are invited to attend “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” at 12:15 p.m. today at Marquette Law School, where Professor Franklin will provide further context on the poll results. Similar events will be held at the release of each poll throughout the year.

The poll interviewed 716 registered Wisconsin voters by both landline and cell phone February 16-19, 2012. The margin of error is +/- 3.7 percentage points for the full sample. The Republican primary subsample had 424 respondents and a margin of error of +/- 4.9 percentage points. The entire questionnaire, full results and breakdowns by demographic groups are available at http://law.marquette.edu/poll.