Partisan Divides Are Vivid in New Law School Poll Results

“If there’s a subtitle to today’s presentation, it is partisan differences.”

That comment from Professor Charles Franklin, director of the Marquette Law School Poll, as a new round of poll results was released Wednesday at Eckstein Hall, spotlighted a striking and important aspect to public opinion in Wisconsin (and probably across the United States). In short, there are two different worlds of perception on what is going on when it comes to politics and policy.

Start with the most obvious example, opinions of President Donald Trump. Overall, 42 percent of registered voters polled in Wisconsin approved of Trump’s job performance and 50 percent disapproved. In polling a month ago, it was 44 percent and 50 percent. Since Trump took office, those numbers have not varied much.

But break it down by partisanship and there’s a canyon of difference. Among Republicans, 86 percent approve of how Trump is doing as president and 8 percent disapprove. Among Democrats, 3 percent approve and 93 percent disapprove.

That gap in opinion along party lines could be seen (although not always to quite that degree) in answers to questions about the job performance of Gov. Scott Walker and Sen. Tammy Baldwin and on issues including tariffs, Supreme Court nominations, and immigration policy. It showed up also in answers to questions about abortion, although (perhaps significantly) not to the same degree as on some other subjects. Franklin said Democrats generally are more “pro-choice” and Republicans “pro-life,” but nearly half of Republicans said they thought abortion should be legal in most cases or in all cases.

Nonetheless, the degree to which Wisconsin’s political life involves two camps with sharply different views of leaders and issues was striking in the results released at the “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” program on Wednesday.

One other divide was illustrated in a question which was asked for the first time in the new round of polling. Franklin said the Law School Poll has asked for opinions on transportation issues often. But the new question asked simply how people described the quality of roads and highways where they live.

Generally, people in northern and western Wisconsin showed more unhappiness than people in the Milwaukee and Madison areas. Some specifics:

Statewide, 59 percent of voters rated the roads where they live as fair or poor and 40 percent rated them as excellent or good. In northern and western Wisconsin, the overall rating was 34 percent saying roads were good or excellent and 66 percent saying they were poor or fair. In southern Wisconsin, the overall results were 48 percent saying good or excellent and 52 percent saying fair or poor.

Perceptions of the state of roads may be an important issue in the November election for governor. One indication of that was that, unlike on some other questions in the poll, almost everybody had an opinion on roads.

The most striking examples of cases where a lot of people had no opinion involved the two major primaries that are four weeks away, involving the Democratic nomination for governor and the Republican nomination for a US Senate seat. A large portion of registered voters (30 percent who say they will vote in the Republican primary and 38 percent who say they will vote in the Democratic primary) have not made up their minds yet. And the percentage of voters who say they don’t have enough information to have an opinion of a candidate was greater than 50 percent for each candidate for the two offices.

That said, the poll results indicated that, in the Republican Senate race, Leah Vukmir has taken a small lead over Kevin Nicholson and, in the Democratic race for governor, Tony Evers is a clear leader. Evers was supported by 31 percent of those who said they are going to vote in that race, while none of seven other candidates drew support from more than 6 percent of those polled.

But Franklin said a lot could change in both races before the Aug. 14 primary, especially as the campaigns heat up and increase their visibility with television advertising.

This was the last Marquette Law School Poll before that primary. Franklin said the next poll will be in August, after the candidates who will be on the November ballot have been determined.


New Poll Shows Consistent Results Amid Changing Political News

With all the tumult in the political picture for the nation in recent months, it seemed to make sense to anticipate interesting changes in public opinion in Wisconsin when the first round of Marquette Law School Polls results in more than four months was released on Monday.

But perhaps the most interesting result of the poll was how much had not changed over time, not in the last few months and in some cases not in recent years.

President Donald Trump’s job ratings? Among 800 registered voters in Wisconsin who were polled from Feb. 25 through March 1, 43 percent approved of Trump’s performance and 50 percent disapproved. In June 2017, the numbers were 41 percent who approved and 51 percent who disapproved.

Gov. Scott Walker? In the new results, 47 percent approved of how he is doing his job, 47 percent disapproved. In June 2017, the numbers were 48 and 48. And the results are in line with the long-term close-to-even split on Walker.

With the large amount of interest in gun-related issues in the aftermath of the Feb. 14 killings at a high school in Florida, has there been change in opinion on gun control proposals? Not very much. The new poll found 81 percent of Wisconsin voters in favor of background checks for gun sales at gun shows and in private settings. The last time the poll asked the question, in June 2016, the figure was 85 percent. A ban on assault-style weapons was supported by 56 percent in the new poll; in March 2013, the support level was 53 percent.

Immigration issues drew similar results in the new poll as in earlier polls. The new results showed 71 percent in favor of a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants currently working in the United States, and 86 percent in favor of a path to citizenship for those who are undocumented but who were brought to the United States as children.

But if the consistency of opinion was one of the main take-aways from the new poll, there were some results that showed change or that shed light on fresh issues. Three examples:

For one, the poll examined sentiment on the state offering more than $3 billion in support for building the Foxconn flat-panel display factory in Racine County. Overall, 38 percent of voters statewide think the plant will provide at least as much benefit as the state’s investment, while 49 percent think the state will pay more in incentives than the plant will be worth. Sentiment on Foxconn was more favorable in the Milwaukee area (outside the city of Milwaukee) than elsewhere in the state. Charles Franklin, director of the Law School Poll and the Law School’s professor of law and public policy, said that result and related results on other Foxconn questions shed light on how people outside the Milwaukee and Madison areas are unhappy with policies they don’t see as benefitting their parts of the state.

A second point: The poll showed a noteworthy shift in sentiment toward funding public schools. In March 2014, voters were asked which was a higher priority for them, holding down property taxes or increasing spending on public schools. Forty-nine percent said reducing property taxes, while 46 percent said increased school spending. But in the new poll, 63 percent favored school spending increases while 33 percent chose reducing property taxes. That shift sheds light on the positions Walker and Republican legislators have taken in the last year that increased school spending.

A third point: There were signs of shifts in the partisan alignment of voters, including fewer voters identifying as Democrats and more identifying as independents who lean Democratic. But the percentage of votes who said they are “very enthusiastic” about voting in this year’s elections was higher among those planning to vote for Democrats than among those planning to vote for Republicans. Franklin said that could prove significant, just as at some past points greater enthusiasm among Republican voters preceded favorable election results for Republicans.

It was clear from the results that large percentages of registered voters have not tuned in yet to the races for governor and a United States Senate seat that will be on the ballot in November. Large majorities of voters had no opinions on the field of Democratic candidates for governor or the two main Republican candidates for the Senate.

Franklin said there is still a long way to go to the fall election and public awareness of the candidates will rise. He pointed out the Tammy Baldwin, who will be running as a Democratic incumbent in this year’s Senate election, had low name recognition at this point in 2012, when she went on to win.

However, the race for a seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court will be decided in a month and fewer than a quarter of voters had an opinion, favorable or unfavorable, on either of the candidates who will be on the ballot, Rebecca Dallet or Michael Screnock.