The latest Marquette University (MU) Law School poll, released Sept. 18, is the most indicative evidence so far of the “blue wave” that some are predicting will shift Wisconsin elections to the left in November. The poll, conducted Sept. 12-16, showed favorability numbers dropping for almost every Republican politician and Democratic candidates gaining significant leads.
After tying at 46 percent in the previous poll, Democratic governor candidate Tony Evers took a four point lead over Gov. Scott Walker among likely voters in September. Evers won 47 percent to 43 percent in a head to head question including him, Walker, and Libertarian candidate Phil Anderson. Including leaners, Evers held a five point lead at 49 percent to Walker’s 44 percent.
Evers’s favorability ratings remained about the same as in the August poll, with 40 percent viewing him favorably and 29 percent viewing him unfavorably. 25 percent had still not heard enough about him to form an opinion.
Meanwhile, Walker’s approval ratings and favorability ratings dropped. Those who approve of the governor dropped from 46 percent to 50 percent since August. Those who disapprove jumped to 51 percent, Walker’s highest disapproval rating in a MU poll in 2017-2018. Walker’s favorability also dropped from 45 percent favorable and 52 percent unfavorable, compared to 49 percent favorable and 47 percent unfavorable in the previous poll. The September poll did show Walker with an advantage in name recognition with only 1 percent of likely voters saying that had not heard enough about him to form an opinion.
In the U.S. Senate race, Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin expanded her lead against Republican state Sen. Leah Vukmir to 12 points. In a head to head between the two candidates, Baldwin led 52 percent to 40 percent, a significant jump from the two point lead she held in August. Baldwin’s favorability also improved to 48 percent favorable and 40 percent unfavorable, compared to 46 percent favorable and 42 percent unfavorable in the previous poll. Vukmir’s favorability was 26 percent favorable and 38 percent unfavorable, compared to 30 percent favorable and 29 percent unfavorable in the previous poll. 28 percent have not heard enough about Vukmir to form an opinion, while only 8 percent have not heard enough about incumbent Baldwin.
The poll showed numbers for other national Republican politicians dropping as well. President Donald Trump’s approval rating dropped to 43 percent approval and 54 percent disapproval, Trump’s highest MU poll disapproval rating since taking office. U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson’s numbers were also down at 41 percent favorable and 37 percent unfavorable, compared to 44 percent favorable and 35 percent unfavorable in the previous poll.
Even retiring House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Janesville) dropped to his lowest numbers of 2018 with 42 percent of likely voters viewing Ryan as favorable. The number of people who view Ryan as unfavorable has climbed steadily from 39 percent in April, to 41 percent in June, to 46 percent in August, to a high of 49 percent in the latest poll.
Also a bad sign for incumbent Republicans was a decline in voters who think Wisconsin is headed in the right direction. 50 percent of voters said Wisconsin is headed in the right direction (compared to 53 percent in the previous poll), and 47 percent said the state is on the wrong track (compared to 43 percent in the previous poll). These were the lowest numbers for the right direction/wrong track question since first poll of 2017-2018.
Incumbent Republican Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel was an outlier among the declining Republican numbers. In the first head to head question from the MU poll in this year’s attorney general race, Schimel led his opponent Josh Kaul 44 to 38 percent. However, the attorney general candidates are still largely unknown, with 69 percent saying they have not heard enough about Kaul, and 44 percent saying they have not heard enough about Schimel.
Although Republicans appear to have lost ground in the September poll, previous years have shown polls are not always indicative of what will happen in the general election. In 2016, an August MU poll showed Russ Feingold with a six point lead over Sen. Ron Johnson, but Johnson went on to close that gap and beat Feingold in November. Early polls are not necessarily election predictions, but instead provide snapshots of voter preferences at a particular point in time.