New survey finds older voters favor Republicans for Senate, governor

Their issue priorities offer Democrats a chance to gain advantage, pollster says

By: - September 30, 2022 6:30 am
"I voted" stickers in Primrose (Photo by Henry Redman)

“I voted” stickers in Primrose (Henry Redman | Wisconsin Examiner)

Voters 50 and older are leaning toward Republicans running in the Wisconsin races for the U.S. Senate and for governor in November, even as some of their top policy priorities would appear to favor the Democrats, according to a survey released Thursday.

The survey, commissioned by AARP, found that 50% of the likely voters polled  favored Republican Tim Michels in the race for governor, 3 points ahead of Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, with 47%.

That lead is attributable entirely to voters age 50 to 64 in the survey, said Bob Ward of the Republican-leaning polling firm Fabrizio Ward. The firm teamed up with Democratic-leaning Impact Research to conduct the poll. 

In the race for Senate, Republican incumbent Ron Johnson held a 51% to 46% lead over Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, his Democratic challenger. That lead was consistent across most age groups in the survey, and strongest among voters ages 50-64, who favored Johnson by 56% to 41% for Barnes. The exception was voters 65 and older, where Barnes and Johnson were tied at 49% each.

In striking contrast to the stated candidate preferences of voters 50 or older, however, are their top policy concerns in the same survey. Asked about Social Security, 80% called that a “very important” or “extremely important” issue to them. In addition, 72% said that about Medicare and 66% said that about prescription drug costs.

Voters in the survey expressed those concerns even more emphatically when asked about their likelihood of supporting a candidate. 

Fully 84% said they were “more likely” or “much more likely” to vote for a candidate who would support protecting Social Security from cuts. An equal percentage said the same for a candidate who would protect Medicare from cuts and for a candidate who would support allowing Medicare to negotiate lower prices for prescription drugs.

All of those priorities could provide inroads for the Democrats, said Matt Hogan of Impact Research.

Democrats from President Joe Biden down have been hammering Johnson after the Republican said in early August that Social Security and Medicare should be moved to the federal discretionary budget — requiring them to be negotiated every year instead of guaranteeing them.

During his Labor Day visit to Milwaukee, Biden also criticized Johnson’s vote against the Inflation Reduction Act, which for the first time authorized Medicare to negotiate the prices of certain prescription drugs with pharmaceutical manufacturers. 

The importance that voters place on Social Security “is just a real important opportunity for Barnes,” Hogan said, “especially given that he’s currently trailing with voters 50-plus.” 

The same is true for Medicare, he added, and particularly for the program’s newly established ability to negotiate prescription drug prices. 

“Earlier in the year, we were hearing a lot in focus groups about frustrations with Congress not passing things to help lower costs,” Hogan said. Having delivered on that in the Inflation Reduction Act, “it’s really important [for Democrats] to remind voters … over the next six weeks.”

Ward said the contest for governor is “an incredibly competitive race,” with the two candidates trading leads depending on their demographic group. 

Among voters ages 18 to 49, Evers and Michels are evenly tied at 49% each. Voters ages 50 to 64 favor Michels by 51% to 46% for Evers. By contrast, among voters 65 or older, Evers leads by 3 points, with 50% to Michels’ 47%.

Among all women voters, Evers had a 2-point lead, 50% to 48% for Michels, while among men, Michels led with 52% to 47%.

Evers was strongest among college-educated voters as well as urban voters in the survey, with 62% of each group. Rural voters favored Michels with 60% to 38% for Evers; among voters with fewer than four years of college, Michels led with 59% to 38%.

The survey paints a picture of a remarkably disgruntled electorate in the state.

All four candidates who were polled are underwater with likely voters overall on how they’re viewed, with more people viewing them unfavorably than favorably. Nearly three out of four, 74%, said the country is going in “the wrong direction,” and almost as many, 73%, said that of the state.

Ward said that represented “a stiff headwind for the governor.”

Independent voters favored Michels in the race for governor and Johnson in the Senate race, but the survey suggests they didn’t think highly of their choice. “They’re viewed negatively among independents — by 4 points for Michels and by 3 points for Johnson,” Ward said. “Yet [among independents is] where both of these candidates are leading in this race.”

The survey consisted of interviews with a total of 1,399 likely Wisconsin voters, including a statewide sample of 500, an additional 550 likely voters age 50 and older and 349 Black likely voters age 50 and older. The oversampled groups’ responses were weighted in calculations for the survey of overall voters to reflect their demographic proportions in the population, Ward said.

The survey was conducted Sept. 18-25, with 30% of the contacts made by landline calls, 35% to mobile phones, and 35% via text messaging. The margin of error is 4.4% for the state wide sample, 3.4% for the 50 and older sample, and 4.9% for the sample of Black voters 50 and older.

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Erik Gunn
Erik Gunn

Deputy Editor Erik Gunn reports and writes on work and the economy, health policy and related subjects, for the Wisconsin Examiner. He spent 24 years as a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine, Isthmus, The Progressive, BNA Inc., and other publications, winning awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, beat coverage, business writing, and commentary. An East Coast native, he previously covered labor for The Milwaukee Journal after reporting for newspapers in upstate New York and northern Illinois. He's a graduate of Beloit College (English Comp.) and the Columbia School of Journalism. Off hours he is the Examiner's resident Springsteen and Jackson Browne fanboy and model railroad nerd.

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