Presidential race is close in Wisconsin according to the Marquette Poll

By: - October 28, 2020 3:49 pm
Turnstiles on subway in New York labeled Republican Democrat Undecided

Photo by Eden, Janine and Jim from an ad in New York City via Wikimedia CC BY 2.0

Wednesday’s Marquette Law School Poll contained good news for President Donald Trump, who in this poll is lagging behind Democrat Joe Biden by only 5 points — not far from the margin of error and consistent with past Marquette polls, but a major difference from a Washington Post and ABC News poll released earlier in the day that was met with much skepticism as it showed Biden 17 points ahead.

The Marquette poll showed Biden is the choice of 48% compared to 43% for Trump. Libertarian candidate Jo Jorgensen came in at 2%, which left just 8% not naming any candidate.

Screen capture from Marquette Law School Poll briefing 10/28/20
Mike Gousha and Charlies Franklin (Screen capture from Marquette Law School Poll briefing 10/28/20)

Moderator Mike Gousha and poll director Charles Franklin uttered some variation on the word “consistent” or “stayed the same” quite a few times during a briefing tied to the poll’s release because much of the data in the final poll before the election — regardless of the questions asked — showed little variation.

The poll put Biden at 47% to Trump 42% in early October and in early September Biden was at 48% and Trump at 44%. The change over these polls are close, if not within, the polls’ margin of error.

Findings on favorability are similar, Franklin said. Trump was at 44% favorable, 55% unfavorable. His favorable numbers were lower before he was elected and rose a bit after his election, but have recently shown little variation. “That’s barely changed. [There’s] a lot of stability in his evaluation, ” said Franklin. However he also noted that Biden’s favorability has risen. Further back, he’d been net negative from August 2019 until March when that switched and continued to rise.  Biden is at 49% favorable, 46% unfavorable.

CLEVELAND, OHIO - SEPTEMBER 29: U.S. President Donald Trump and former Vice President and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden speak during the first presidential debate at the Health Education Campus of Case Western Reserve University on September 29, 2020 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Morry Gash-Pool/Getty Images)
President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden at the first presidential debate. (Photo by Morry Gash-Pool/Getty Images)

The Marquette Poll predicted a Hillary Clinton win in 2016. Gousha pointed out that in the week before the election Hillary Clinton was at a net negative favorability. Another question that helped form a more complete picture of voters’ take on whether a candidate understands their needs focused on empathy. 

Does Joe Biden care about “people like you”? 56% of all registered voters say yes, 40% say no. In mid-June, it was 46% yes, 42% no. 

Does Donald Trump care about “people like you”? 43% of all registered voters say yes, 54% say no. In mid-June poll, it was 39% yes, 57% no. 

Biden has a clear empathy lead with voters surveyed, but again Franklin cautioned: “The one that is more net negative can still go ahead to win.”

Given that Franklin has been studying and conducting polls for decades, everyone pays attention when Franklin says any finding is surprising. When Gousha asked him that question Wednesday, he dug down into the crosstabs of poll results for his answer. 

“We have a more Republican group of 18-29 year olds,” said Franklin, noting it has been “a solidly pro-Biden” group and this poll contains a far narrower divide than he said he had seen in the past. But he notes “it is not that unusual to see a small group bounce around,” because the margins are much wider when viewing data from a smaller group. “I’ll leave it to you to make what you will,” Franklin added, noting it didn’t affect the statistics overall very much.

Wisconsin politicians
Gov. Tony Evers had a net positive approval of 7 points, although his record high of 65% approval in March has dropped to 50% approval, back to where it was before the pandemic.

Gov. Tony Evers standing outside
Gov. Tony Evers

Respondents reported what Gousha described as “a fairly dramatic change since earlier this year.” The Marquette Poll asked if those surveyed approved or disapproved of how the Legislature is handling its job. Franklin made it clear the question on the Legislature was not tied to any one issue and was asked before subsequent questions on the pandemic and other issues.

While Evers was plus 7 points, the Legislature was at minus 14. (That’s just 36% approval, and 50% disapproval. A drop in approval of 10 points.)

When Evers and the Legislature were first sworn in creating partisanly divided government in January of 2019, the poll began asking this question and found 52% approval of the Legislature and 31% disapproval. In May of this year it was 46% approve, 40% disapprove.

“In each of the polls we’ve done through May of this year, which was the last time we asked about the Legislature, that approval rating has been a net positive, in May was 46% approved, 40% disapprove, with 13% undecided, But this month, that’s reversed pretty sharply,” said Franklin. “

“It’ll be interesting to see if this sustains itself, as we’re past the election and in the next year,” Franklin said, “But let’s not forget next year the Legislature is back in session and will be called on to deal with a budget. After a number of months with the Legislature not in session, this will pose an interesting question of whether people’s views of Legislature has permanently shifted here or whether this is just episodic.”

Other favorability statistics from the late October poll included the two Wisconsin senators.

Senators Tammy Baldwin and Ron Johnson (official Senate photos)
Senators Tammy Baldwin and Ron Johnson (official Senate photos)

Tammy Baldwin: 44% favorable, 44% favorable, 36% unfavorable.

Ron Johnson: 38% favorable, 36% unfavorable.

“This is a longstanding pattern that Sen. Johnson is the senior senator, but he’s consistently a little bit less known,” said Franklin.


On top issues

Other non-presidential race questions hit on various topics:

Worry about COVID-19

Despite the increase in cases and deaths, the percentage that is very worried (22%) is actually down a bit, although another 35% are somewhat worried.  “This represents a bit of a division within the state of a sizable 1 in 5 that really think that this is not something for them to worry about,” Franklin said.

Mask wearing

Asked, ‘Do you wear a mask in public?’ a majority of 64% said they always wear a mask, while 12%  said occasionally and 3% said they never wear one.

Are you comfortable eating inside a restaurant?

“It falls in the middle,” said Franklin. Most (80%) are comfortable visiting a family or friend in their homes while few were comfortable thinking about attending a mass gathering.  This month 52% are comfortable eating inside at a restaurant — which has shifted since May. “It’s an evolution in the public thinking,” Franklin said, adding “It’s not a radical reversal.”

U.S. Supreme Court nominee

The answers on Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court, “reflect the highly partisan times that we live in,” said Gousha, reporting that the pollsters asked how people would have voted if they were in the Senate, and 38% said they would vote to confirm and 38% said they would vote against confirmation while the rest were unsure. Not surprisingly, these results were largely partisan, while many independents — 1 in 3 had no opinion.

The Affordable Care Act

On Nov. 10, the Supreme Court will be hearing oral arguments on the ACA. Those surveyed were asked: Would you favor the Supreme Court declaring the ACA unconstitutional? In the Marquette poll, 35% favor striking it down, “There’s actually a partisan gap but it is actually a little bit narrower than it is with Coney Barrett,” said Franklin, who noted that 89% of Democrats oppose striking down the law. Independents are “pretty lopsided” with 69% opposing striking it down. “This represents an enduring shift in opinion about Obamacare.” 

Racial injustice

Does the public approve of the protests? The numbers have fluctuated somewhat since George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police in late May, sparking ongoing recent protests. “This month they do — 50% approve, 45% disapprove … up a little bit,” said Franklin.  In June it was far higher, but had fallen to 48-48 before Kenosha protests happened in reaction to the police shooting of Jacob Blake.

Opinions of Black Lives Matter was also highest in June, but has remained favorable at  47-39 this month.

The economy

Since the pandemic began people have been saying the economy has been worse than it was a year ago. This poll showed a huge net negative 30 point difference, 24% saying they are better off and 54% say it is worse off. 

Yet looking ahead and asked if a respondent thinks it will be better a year from now — that changes markedly.  “People are kind of stunningly positive about that — 35% say it’ll be better and just 13% say it will be worse, or a net difference of 32 points,” said Franklin. “So what we’re seeing there is a good deal of optimism about the future, even as people are quite negative about where we stand today versus 12 months ago.” 

That says something about where Wisconsinites are at psychologically, he added. “For all the things we’ve been going through in 2020, people still remain optimistic about the future.” 

The late October Marquette Law poll  interviewed 806 registered voters in Wisconsin between Oct. 21-25 and had a margin of error of +/- 4.3 percentage points. Full poll results, including cross tabs by a variety of subsets, are posted on the Marquette Law School website, the program with Franklin and Gousha is on YouTube.

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Melanie Conklin
Melanie Conklin

Melanie Conklin is proud to be a native of the state of Wisconsin, which gave humankind the typewriter, progressivism and deep-fried cheese curds. Her several decades in journalism include political beats and columns at Isthmus newspaper, the Wisconsin State Journal and other publications. When not an ink-stained wretch, she served time inside state, local and federal government in communications. She is excited to be back at the craft of journalism as Deputy Editor of the Wisconsin Examiner. It’s what she’s loved ever since getting her master’s degree in journalism from the UW-Madison. Her family includes one husband, two kids, four dogs and five (or more) chinchillas.