Analysis

The Polling Ends; Now Do Your Duty and Vote, Franklin Says

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.”

Poll Shows State’s Presidential Race Is Tight, So Where’s the Hot Campaigning?

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.

July, August, November: New Poll Results Portray Shifting Election Currents

It’s July again in Wisconsin. What does that say about November?

Most likely, it says that the two big political contests in Wisconsin, with 10 electoral votes for president and a US Senate seek at stake, are not done-deals and that there will be continuing volatility among voters and intense campaigning by candidates for the next 10 weeks.

You can think of this as July in terms of the results of the Marquette Law School Poll. A new round of results, released on Wednesday, showed that both the presidential and Senate races had tightened since the most recent round of polling three weeks earlier. And the bump that Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton received in the early-August poll, conducted shortly after the national political conventions and amid a series of troubled developments for the Republican candidate Donald Trump, is gone. “The electorate in Wisconsin has returned to about where the vote stood in July, prior to the conventions,” said Charles Franklin, director of the poll and professor of law and public policy at Marquette Law School.

After a series of troubled developments for Clinton in recent weeks, her numbers were less favorable on a range of questions and she and Trump were back in a close race. The poll found Clinton ahead in Wisconsin by five percentage points among registered voters and three percentage points among likely voters.

Trump continued to have poor but generally stable results on questions such as whether you have a favorable opinion of him, whether you think he is honest, and whether you would be comfortable with him as president. But Clinton’s results on those questions were not much different than his.

In the Senate race, Democrat Russ Feingold led Republican Ron Johnson by four percentage points among all registered voters, down from six points three weeks earlier. And Feingold led among likely voters by three percentage points, down from eleven points in early August. Those results were also more like the July results than the early August results.

Franklin said trends to keep an eye on in coming weeks will include indicators of voter turnout. The new poll showed an increase in Republicans intending to vote and a decrease in Democrats intending to vote. The changes were not large, but they could be enough to be important.

Interesting results in the new poll include two sets of data. One shows that Trump is winning in Wisconsin among higher income voters while Clinton is doing well among middle and low-income voters. That differs from some commentaries that have painted many Trump supporters as lower income. A second set shows Trump winning among the nearly-half of all those polled who think the next generation of Americans will not have as good a life as the current generation, while Clinton does well among those who are more optimistic about the future or think it will, at least, not be worse than the present.

Near the end of the program three weeks ago when poll results were released, a member of the audience asked if, in reality, the presidential and Senate races were as good as over in Wisconsin. Franklin said then that he wouldn’t agree with that and things change during the course of a campaign.

At the session this week, no one asked a question like that, and it was clear that Franklin was right.

Full results of the new poll may be found by clicking here. Video of the hour-long “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” program at which Franklin presented results may be viewed by clicking here.