New MU Poll: That Sinking Feeling

We’re out of the prediction business here at YSDA, but the latest Marquette University Law School poll is filled with bad news for Democrats.

Rather than trying to predict how things will actually turn out in November, let’s just raise some interesting questions.

Is it possible to have a split result? Democrat Mandela Barnes is now six points behind incumbent Sen. Ron Johnson while Gov. Tony Evers remains in a dead heat with his Republican challenger Tim Michels. In a deeply divided state where there is little ticket splitting anymore, could we have a Democratic governor and a Republican senator both winning reelection?

Will national Democrats abandon Barnes? With Barnes down by a substantial margin and the trend moving against him, will national Democrats decide that their campaign ad dollars are better spent in Pennsylvania or Georgia or Arizona or some other place where their candidate is ahead or trailing within the margin of error? Or maybe the ad buys are already locked in with nowhere to expand in the more competitive states, so they’ll keep at it here.

Why is there such a yawning gap between voters who are certain to vote and those who are less sure to show up? While Barnes trails by six points and Evers leads by only one among people who say they are dead certain to vote, both candidates hold a 20-point lead among voters who say they’re not sure they’ll cast a ballot. That’s astounding. Obviously, if it’s possible to get those voters off the bench it could mean better results for the Democrats, but I’m at a loss to explain a gap this big between sure voters and less committed ones.

Why is crime working for Republicans? While Democrats have tried to make this election about abortion, Republicans have sought to make it about crime. It appears Republicans have won that fight. Independents are breaking hard away from Barnes. He held a 15-point lead among them in August and now he’s behind by six. All those ads attacking him for being soft on crime have worked. But why? The poll found that crime ranked fifth out of nine issues and that almost eight out of ten voters felt safe in their own communities. (Ironically, the place in the state where people felt least safe is Milwaukee, where Barnes will win by a healthy margin.) Independents opposed stiffer sentences for convicted criminals by a 51-34 margin.

Will there be a Beglinger Effect after all? Joan Beglinger was a conservative independent candidate who got her name on the ballot only to drop out and endorse Michels. Yet, she still has the support of 4% of voters. It’s likely that those folks will either vote for her just to express their distaste for both parties or they’ll vote for Michels. That’s bad news for Evers because it means that Michels may have some votes out there that will break to him right at the end. In a close race those votes could decide it.

What about AG and other races? It’s disappointing that Marquette does not poll on the important Attorney General or Secretary of State races. In a wave year you might expect those offices to follow the leaders at the top of the ticket, but what if it’s an Evers/Johnson split?

Why did Democrats nominate a hard-left candidate in a right-center state? The most interesting result for me was the table below. It shows that only 24% of registered voters describe themselves as liberal or very liberal while 41% say that they are conservative or very conservative. Almost a third say they are moderate. That’s a picture of a center-right state and yet Democrats nominated Barnes, the most outspoken liberal candidate in the primary field.

Why am I still a Democrat? I’m among the 3% of Democrats who strongly oppose student loan forgiveness. Meanwhile, 60% of Republicans feel as I do. Overall, 59% of voters approve of Biden’s program and it even has strong support among independents. I confess to not getting it. For me, the arguments against doing this are overwhelming and polling numbers don’t change facts or reason.

With everything trending against them and no good news on the horizon it seems likely that the Democrats’ prospects to avoid a red wave both here and nationally are fading. This morning’s stubborn inflation numbers probably seal their fate. At this point it feels like if they could just salvage Evers they’d be doing well. But you never know. The Packers were supposed to win in London.


Published by dave cieslewicz

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

9 thoughts on “New MU Poll: That Sinking Feeling

  1. MU poll: Oct 26-31, 2016
    Clinton 46% – Trump 40%
    Feingold 45% – Johnson 44%

    I don’t understand why Franklin and the MU poll enjoy any credibility.


    1. Yes. There’s a problem with the fundamental premise of polling: that the respondents are a random and representative sample of the population. While this might have been the case in the days before caller ID and cell phones, I no longer believe that it is.

      Researchers/companies that are in this business are trying to hold on and keep it up because I don’t know that there is a reasonable new approach figured out yet.


  2. “Why am I still a Democrat?”

    When was the last time you voted for a non-Democrat? My guess is never. If so you might be on auto-pilot as so many people are. If you haven’t voted already, take a flyer on a non-Dem. I recommend Douglas Alexander for Congress. Don’t worry it will not make a difference and you will realize that your head won’t explode from the sacrilege.

    Maybe then you can morph into an independent.


    1. Just to be clear, I don’t claim to be an independent. I’ve written several times that I regard myself as a “non-partisan Democrat,” meaning that I readily admit to voting for Democrats but I won’t defend one when I think he’s wrong and I won’t attack a Republican just for being one. Having said that, I have voted for two Republicans in my lifetime.


      1. I wasn’t implying that you’re an independent. But you seem to be “independent curious”.

        Time to take a walk on the wild side?


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