One Year Out

Last week appeared to be the unofficial kick-off to the November 2014 campaign season. It marked a year out from 2014’s November 4 Election Day, it saw the end of the 2013 off-year elections around the United States, and we got our latest glimpse of the Marquette Poll, which explores statewide races and issues in Wisconsin.

In some previous off-year elections, we would start to see the beginnings of a national wave either one way or another, but we didn’t learn too much from the races in New Jersey, Virginia, or elsewhere this time around.

In Wisconsin, Democrat Mary Burke’s entrance into the race has put Gov. Scott Walker’s seat in play. Insiders expect Burke to spend millions of her own money, which could help close the gap on Walker’s fundraising prowess. Couple a smaller financial disparity with a state that remains split down the middle on Governor Walker and many expect the race to stay relatively close up until Election Day.

The recent Marquette poll dove into the Wisconsin race for Governor as well as other political intrigue surrounding our state.

So what does the Marquette Poll tell us about the race for Governor? Well, there are a few things of note. First off, these publicly released polls are snapshots in time that only scratch the surface in relation to how people perceive the candidates and their messages. They give us a glimpse into what the public is thinking, but not a full picture. Also, the Marquette Poll has had a good track record on predicting election outcomes and has been gaining more and more respect over the years.

As we look at the poll, we are going to assume that Burke will be the Democratic nominee.

Here are three takeaways from the Marquette poll:

The race for Governor could come down to the wire. While 2010 was a great year for Republicans across the state, 2012 was a reminder that as far as top of the ticket voting goes, Wisconsin leans Democrat. So it shouldn’t be too surprising that Walker doesn’t have a larger lead in polling to this point. In the Marquette poll , Walker’s numbers seem familiar: He has a narrow lead over his likely Democratic opponent (47-45), his job approval numbers tick slightly positive (49-47), he is loved by conservatives, has little support from liberals, and has a gender gap advantage with men (52-40) and disadvantage with women (42-49).

Those numbers seem like they could have been pulled from either of Walker’s previous two races against Barrett. From Walker’s perspective, this can be seen as good news; he has won twice in this environment and has lot of experience in this kind of race. From Burke’s perspective it is good news as well if two things are true: She is a better candidate than Barrett and she can cut into Walker’s fundraising edge.

The Democratic candidates are largely unknown. While Mary Burke, Kathleen Vinehout, and Peter Barca are well known inside the Beltline, they are largely unfamiliar to most of the rest of the state. This can be good and bad. The positive for the Democratic frontrunner Burke is that even though she hasn’t spent a penny, she sits in a dead heat against Governor Walker. The negative for Burke is that the lack of name identification with voters allows her to be defined by Walker, who has a good track record in crafting voters’ perceptions about the race and his opponent.

The November 2014 political environment is far from defined, but the economy continues to be the top issue. In 2013 we’ve moved quickly through controversial issues and it is currently unclear which ones will resonate in voters’ minds a year from now. From the NSA, to the Fiscal Cliff, to Syria, to the Shutdown and problems with ObamaCare, each time we stop on one of these hot-button issues, they seem to have the ability to contribute to a wave one way or another—they also seem to have the ability to be fleeting in the minds of the public as we quickly move to the next hot-button issue. According to the Marquette poll memo, one issue remains important in the minds of voters, and has for some time: jobs and the economy. This is why, regardless of how the political environment shifts, jobs and the economy will remain the focal point of the race. Did Walker do enough? Can Burke do better? Those questions will likely have the largest impact on who is Governor beginning in 2015.