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Marquette Poll Breakdown: Tony Evers is a Popular Governor
Plus: The continued high favorability of the Black Lives Matter Movement, primary polls for Senator and Governor, marijuana legalization, and more.
The Recombobulation Area is a weekly opinion column by veteran Milwaukee journalist Dan Shafer. Learn more about it here.
The Marquette University Law School Poll is the state’s gold standard of measuring where voters stand, so here at The Recombobulation Area, we take a close look at each new poll. Find the full results of the poll here.
It’s time for another trip through the Marquette University Law School Poll. This is the first poll they’ve conducted in 2022, and there’s much to be gained from these results and midterm election year politics began to heat up. Let’s dive in.
1. Tony Evers is a popular governor
If there’s any number that really pops from this new poll, it’s Gov. Tony Evers’ approval rating. The job he’s doing is approved by 50% of Wisconsin voters, with just 41% disapproving.
Being at a +9 net-positive is a really strong number in a state as evenly split between the two parties as Wisconsin. But what makes that an especially significant result is that Evers is notching those numbers even as President Joe Biden’s approval rating is under water a net minus-9 rating, with 43% approving of the job he’s doing as president and 52% disapproving.
Being at +9 even as Biden is -9 is great news for the governor.
To put that in greater context, that +9 net-positive approval rating is a slightly better margin than any of Scott Walker’s in the Marquette poll’s history. Walker’s best net approval rating came in Jan. 2014 with a 51%-43% (+8) mark. The case could be made that Tony Evers is a more popular governor in Wisconsin than Scott Walker ever was.
This result is also closer to the norm for Evers. Other than one poll last October where he was a slight net-negative – one we indicated could be an outlier – Evers’ approval rating has never dipped below +5 during his entire time as governor, and has mostly been in the +7 to +10 range since fall of 2020 (after being as high as +36 in the first month of the pandemic).
Evers has an especially high approval rating with women (55%-36%), the 60+ age group (56%-40%), people with lower incomes (60%-29%), and those in the Madison media market (68%-26%). A political moderate himself, he also does well in that ideological group, 53%-37%.
Although 2022 projects to have some difficult headwinds for Democrats to navigate, Evers is on very solid footing heading into his re-election campaign this fall.
2. The Black Lives Matter Movement continues to be very popular in Wisconsin
One of the hallmarks of the Marquette poll is it’s “Fav/Unfav” question, asking if voters have a favorable or unfavorable view of what’s usually an individual politician, but could also be something like “public schools,” “private employee unions” or “the police.”
One that’s been included regularly in the poll since the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis is “The Black Lives Matter Movement.” Of all the Fav/Unfav questions asked in this poll in Feb. 2022, the Black Lives Matter Movement had the best favorability rating, with 50% viewing the movement favorably, and just 35% having an unfavorable view.
That’s better than Tony Evers (47%-41%) or Tammy Baldwin (42%-36%) and far better than Ron Johnson (33%-45%) or Donald Trump (36%-57%).
Political leaders need to continue to pay attention to this. With young voters especially, the Black Lives Matter Movement is viewed especially favorably – 63%-17% among the 18-29-year-old age group. Even moderates go 55%-25% in favor.
Democrats, in particular, ignore this at their own peril. The support for this movement comes from their side of the aisle, and the previous Marquette poll showed that Joe Biden’s approval rating dropped most precipitously among Black voters. While Democrats are running as fast as they can away from the phrase “defund the police” – take Biden’s State of the Union remarks this week as the highest-profile evidence of that – they would be making a real mistake to skip out on the issue of racial justice and law enforcement reform entirely. The support is there, and it’s the right course to take.
3. The Primaries
Before we dive into the numbers for the Republican gubernatorial and Democratic Senate primaries, a bit of caution. By and large, people are not yet meaningfully engaged in these races, and the poll does not sample likely primary voters, so there’s less to be learned in these results than there will be in the coming months. Take these results with all the road salt remaining on Milwaukee streets.
That said, they’re also not nothing. With less than six months to go before the Aug. 9 primary, these campaigns are bound to hit another gear soon, and if nothing else, what’s here is a good gauge of those voters who are meaningfully engaged in these races.
Starting with the Republican gubernatorial primary, here’s how things are currently stacking up.
Rebecca Kleefisch: 30%
Kevin Nicholson: 8%
Timothy Ramthun: 5%
Kleefisch is indeed the frontrunner in this race, and is by far the most well-known candidate. On the Fav/Unfav question, she has a slight net-negative rating (23%-26%), but for the other two candidates, neither are well-known enough for voters to have an opinion of them – 80% don’t have an opinion of Nicholson; 84% don’t have an opinion of Ramthun. It’s really, really early for this one.
Then, on to the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate. Here’s how it’s shaping up among the top four candidates:
Mandela Barnes: 23%
Alex Lasry: 13%
Tom Nelson: 5%
Sarah Godlewski: 3%
Barnes retains frontrunner status here, but that’s no surprise, given his greater name recognition compared to the rest of the field. He also had solid favorability numbers at 22%-14%. Again, still early, and more than 60% of voters don’t have an opinion of him. This race really isn’t on people’s radar yet.
Any noticeable movement in the field is from Alex Lasry, who is starting to show signs that he’s separating from Godlewski and Nelson. Lasry also released an internal poll this week that showed him at 27% and Barnes at 35%. Signs of where Lasry’s support could be coming from include slightly better numbers with independents and voters over 45 years old.
But again, it’s all so early.
4. Inflation and Education
Two of the issue-specific topics polled as ones that could be especially important come this fall’s election season: Inflation and education.
On inflation, it’s a huge, huge issue. A whopping 96% of voters said they are concerned over inflation – 68% very concerned and 28% somewhat concerned. It goes without saying, but this could be a serious political liability for Democrats in November if inflation continues to be a problem.
On education, the new poll got into the weeds a bit, polling on school curriculum, the state of public schools, public education standards, and voucher expansion. After all of the upheaval in schools caused by the pandemic over the past two years, education reform is bound to be a significant issue, particularly at the state level in the gubernatorial race and in state legislative races.
5. Legalize it!
More than 60% of Wisconsin voters think marijuana should be legal. And this is not just medical marijuana, it’s just legal, period (like our neighbors in Illinois and Michigan). Even a majority of Republicans now think marijuana should be legal, and moderates favor legalization by a 68%-24% margin.
Wisconsin is one of just 12 U.S. states that has not legalized medical or recreational marijuana. That needs to change. Public opinion has shifted. What are we waiting for?
6. Most voters don’t have an opinion of Robin Vos
Robin Vos is one of the most powerful politicians in the state, and as Assembly Speaker for the last decade, has constantly been in the headlines. He’s a very polarizing figure. We’ve written about him ad nauseum here, and as Recombobulation Area readers know, we’re not fans of his.
Few people are, it turns out. Just 13% of those polled have a favorable view of the Republican from Burlington. Among women, that number is just 10%.
But 59% of voters don’t have an opinion of him at all.
It’s a telling number.
Dan Shafer is a journalist from Milwaukee who writes and publishes The Recombobulation Area. He previously worked at Seattle Magazine, Seattle Business Magazine, the Milwaukee Business Journal, Milwaukee Magazine, and BizTimes Milwaukee. He’s also written for The Daily Beast, WisPolitics, and Milwaukee Record. He’s won ten Milwaukee Press Club Excellence in Journalism Awards. He’s on Twitter at @DanRShafer.
Follow Dan Shafer on Twitter at @DanRShafer.