Begging the Big Beglinger Question

The latest Marquette University Law School poll came out earlier this month. It’s the first new MU poll since June and it was taken right after the Aug. 9 primaries. Here’s what I think I learned.

Is it just a bump? In this latest poll both Republican gubernatorial candidate Tim Michels and Democratic Senate candidate Mandela Barnes each picked up five points on their opponents. In the June poll Michels trailed incumbent Democratic Gov. Tony Evers 48 percent to 41 percent. In this post-primary poll Evers leads by 45 percent to 43 percent. Same goes for Barnes. In June he led Republican Sen. Ron Johnson 46 percent to 44 percent, now it’s up to 51 percent to 44 percent. The identical five-point pick up for both Michels and Barnes suggests that this may be just a temporary bump due to their primary victories. 

But there’s evidence to suggest that the boost may be more enduring for Barnes. Former Milwaukee Journal Sentinel political reporter Craig Gilbert, who now works for Marquette Law School’s Lubar Center for Public Policy Research and Civic Education, points out that Johnson’s comeback potential may be reduced from what it was when he came from behind to defeat former Sen. Russ Feingold for a second time in 2016. In that year Johnson trailed Feingold by nine points in early August, only to come back and win by three points in November. But six years ago Johnson’s disapproval ratings were much lower and there were a lot more voters who didn’t have an opinion about him. He won by converting those neutral voters into supporters. This time he’s got a deeper hole to dig out of and fewer persuadable voters to reach. 

On the other hand, Michels’ bump could truly be ephemeral. He’s up against the most popular politician in Wisconsin. Evers’ approval rating has now hovered consistently just under 50 percent. In the old days that used to spell trouble for an incumbent, but in Wisconsin’s now deeply and evenly split political environment, a 47 percent approval rating looks tough to beat. And since he’s a well-known entity, that 47 percent is probably pretty firm. All he needs to pick up is another 3 percent or so and he’s got another four years. Except that he might not need even that much because of…

The Beglinger factor. Who, you may ask, is Joan Beglinger? That’s a question worth considering because the independent candidate for governor was at a remarkable 7 percent in the Marquette poll, the first time she’s shown up in it. It turns out that Beglinger is a former St. Mary’s Hospital administrator. Her website lists a host of positions that mirror those of Michels — she’s staunchly against abortion, she questions the integrity of our elections, she’s a Second Amendment absolutist, and on and on. Which begs the Beglinger question: Why is she running as an independent when she’s essentially a Republican? The answer she provides on her website — that both parties are corrupt — is less than convincing. Maybe she just figured she had no chance against Michels and former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch in the primary. But why would she want to take votes from the Republican in the general when she supports all their positions? I don’t know, but I do know that this will help Evers. Beglinger seems to be taking most of her support from conservative-leaning non-aligned voters, who are among the…

Conservative independent Joan Beglinger could seal the election for Evers.

Interesting independents. Independent voters headed in two different directions after June. In the governor’s race they broke toward the Republican Michels while in the Senate contest they broke toward Democrat Barnes. Evers held a strong 49 percent to 35 percent lead among independents in June, but his margin was down to only 41 percent to 37 percent against Michels after the primary. On the other hand, Barnes’ margin with independents jumped to 52 percent to 38 percent, up from a tie with Johnson back in June at 44 percent each. So, independents could help Barnes more than Evers, which seems counterintuitive given that Barnes is a much more outspoken progressive than Evers. This bears watching, but independents are less enthusiastic about voting while… 

The enthusiasm gap among partisans has closed. Back in June the Republicans had a substantial advantage in energy. They were champing at the bit to vote in November while Democrats seemed dispirited. But now 83 percent of Republicans and 82 percent of Democrats say they are “absolutely certain” to vote in the fall, while 66 percent of independents say the same. The increase in Democratic enthusiasm may be coming from a jolt of hope resulting from the Kansas vote in support of abortion rights or from a recent string of Democratic legislative successes in Congress. It’s hard to say for sure, but it probably suggests that…

The issue landscape has shifted in Democrats’ favor. The top four issues for voters are inflation, gun violence, crime and abortion. Two of those, inflation and crime, should work in the Republicans’ favor while the other two, gun violence and abortion, should help the Democrats. But it’s important to note that inflation at 67 percent, while still the top concern, is down eight points from where it was in June when 75 percent of people said it was their number one worry. If inflation continues to ease (gas prices have plummeted since June) then it’s likely that issues favoring Democrats, like abortion, will rise. That’s especially good for the Dems because it’s an issue that will help them win with independents, who favor abortion rights 62 percent to 31 percent. And beyond issues, all the candidates need to deal with…

National party leaders who are unpopular. Trump is viewed negatively by 57 percent of voters while 55 percent disapprove of the job Biden is doing. But I think the Republicans’ Trump problem is worse for two reasons. First, neither Evers nor Barnes have felt the need to get close to Biden while Michels tied himself to Trump at the hip during the primary. He’s trying to distance himself now, but don’t expect Evers’ camp to let him get away with that. And second, it’s unlikely that Trump will get any more popular in the next three months. He’ll continue to harp on his unfounded grievances about 2020. On the other hand, Biden’s numbers may improve after his big legislative victories, but only if inflation starts to ease across the board. 

Taken as a whole, this latest MU poll is chock full of good news for Democrats. But we’re still 11 weeks out from the election. I’ll make no predictions, but I do feel better about things than I did when the summer began. 

A version of this piece originally appeared in Isthmus.


Published by dave cieslewicz

Madison/Upper Peninsula based writer. Mayor of Madison, WI from 2003 to 2011.

14 thoughts on “Begging the Big Beglinger Question

  1. Amazing revelations:

    – Michels is not really a Trumper
    – Barnes is just a farmer / construction worker at heart

    Will we see:

    – Evers saying something nice about law enforcement?
    – Johnson saying something nice about abortion?
    – Packer fans saying something nice about the windy city’s football team?

    Hint: only 1 of those things will never happen.

    Honestly the musical chairs on inflation and the economy is the big question mark. Nothing but silence after Powell’s remarks on Friday, i.e., rates will continue to go up. Markets are reacting accordingly but that could change in a day or two.


    1. I will never, ever have anything nice to say about the Chicago Bears.

      Agree that the economy is the big wild card. If employment remains strong (despite recession fears) and inflation decreases significantly the Dems will do okay in the mid-terms. But okay probably means they still lose the House.


      1. I’m not hearing about any serious challenges to the Mayor. I have been hearing that former Soglin aide and school board president Gloria Reyes is interested, but I’m not seeing any evidence of a campaign. I think Satya will win.


  2. Hey Dave, speaking of elections, what if anything have you heard about the 2023 Mayoral race? It’s not THAT far-off. Presuming that Satya runs for a second term, who’s gonna challenge her? Any chance that a certain moderate Dem, who keeps his name in the public eye through his excellent political writing, would decide to attempt to reclaim the gavel?


    1. A bunch of people are going to jump into the race. Announcements will not get serious til after the fall election but people are circling.


      1. It’s a little late to circle, Tom. When I first ran in 2002 I started in earnest in June for a primary in February. Here it is September and nobody is making the kind of calls and putting out the kind of effort that gets noticed. It will take a minimum of $250,000 to run a credible race. It takes time to raise that.


      2. I know of at least one, I’m not in the circle so I don’t know any details, whether they pull the trigger idk. I know someone else whose itching to get involved but may look elsewhere and I got to imagine the left who hate Satya is going to run someone and they can raise quickly. Anyone who leans mod is going to get a lot of money behind them quick. The realtors and the Trades will open their pocket books for sure. There is a lane here we will see if anyone has the gumption to take it this time around. Madison area incumbent protection and ‘they’re Turn’ is a strong force around here.


  3. Here’s another thought about Joan Beglinger’s poll numbers, and it’s not good for Tony Evers: Most of the people who state, now, in August, that they support her will come home to Michels when they realize that their Beglinger vote is a waste. She has very little money and zero chance to become governor. She’s a protest vote, a brief mirage.
    In 1980, Rep. John Anderson, a liberal Republican, was polling pretty well in August and September but as November neared and it became obvious that he had no chance, most voters bailed on him. He earned about 5% in the general election for president, which Reagan won in a landslide. Same thing happened in ’92, with Ross Perot, who was in an early dogfight with Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush but ended up an also-ran.
    Joan Beglinger will not get 7% in November. I’ll take the under at 2%.
    I still think that Evers will win but I don’t like the trend in the most recent Marquette poll.


    1. I think you’re right that she won’t get nearly 7%, but if she only gets 1% that might have gone to Michels, in a race decided by 30,000 votes or so, like was last time, that could make a difference. And that 7% is really curious. I agree it might be some kind of protest vote, but if it is, then why wouldn’t at least some of them keep protesting in November? They had the option of Michaels in the primary and they didn’t take him then.


      1. It would seem, given she’s drawing a full-on 12% of independents and virtually no one had heard of her until the poll came out, that a lot of independents simply picked her because she was listed as an independent candidate (without actually knowing her platform). I would imagine once many of those voters actually take a quick peek at her extreme right-wing stances they would likely quickly change their mind and fall back to Evers or Michels, or simply abstain altogether. I don’t think that full 7% is just going to be split between Michels and Beglinger.

        Digging into the data more I’m quite surprised by how close the polling is for Evers vs. Michels (45 to 43) given that, in the same poll 54% said Evers cares about them to Michels 38%.

        Further, 50% said Evers shares their values to Michels 38%



  4. I’m not an inside baseball kind of political junkie but I do follow the news and, frankly, I had never even heard of Joan Beglinger until I saw her name in the Marquette poll. As you note, if she pulls just 1% from Michels, it could tip the election. Let’s hope so.
    On an unrelated topic, our current mayor stumbled out of the gate with her confused response to the George Floyd riots but has seemed to right the ship since then. Unless something really bad happens in our city, she has earned my vote in ’23.


  5. I am not surprised that independents moved to M Barnes and not Senator Johnson. I have quietly been asking independents and Republicans if they are backing Senator Johnson. More than expected say, they are not. I am anyone but Senator Johnson and so are other Republican leaning voters. Of the subset of anyone but Senator Johnson, more will vote for Michaels then Evers. WI could split the ticket if the “red” wave isn’t what everyone thinks it will be. I would have preferred another candidate to Barnes, but he gets the vote now. Evers also gets my vote.

    Liked by 1 person

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