Do latest poll numbers suggest a recall-style rout for Walker?

M.D. Kittle
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May 22, 2014 7:52 AM
Do latest poll numbers suggest a recall-style rout for Walker?

By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter

MADISON, Wis. — The Wisconsin media’s major storyline from the latest Marquette Law School Poll is the shift in numbers in recent weeks, drawing the race for governor into a statistical dead heat.

But could the polling numbers below the surface point to a recall election-like rout by Republican Gov. Scott Walker over his latest Democrat challenger, Madison millionaire Mary Burke?

The poll, released Wednesday, finds the incumbent Walker tied with Burke, at 46 percent, with 6 percent undecided.

The law school’s latest gauge of voter sentiment interviewed 805 registered Wisconsin voters via landline and cell phone May 15-18. The poll has a margin of error of 3.5 percent.

“If you look only at how they’re polling, it is remarkable the shift over the two-month period, especially when you consider that neither side is doing much media so far,” said Charles Franklin, professor of law and public policy and director of the Marquette Law School Poll.

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ABOUT BASE: Wisconsin’s 2012 recall election turned out “pent-up” Republicans for Gov. Scott Walker. Will they come back in November?

Walker led by 7 percentage points, 48 percent to 41 percent two months ago.

Burke’s campaign simultaneously rejoiced and attacked.

“Wisconsin voters face a clear choice in this election between two very different approaches and it is clear that voters recognize that Walker’s top down, trickle down approach that puts big corporations and special interests ahead of hard working Wisconsinites isn’t working,” the campaign said in a statement.

But mine down the latest poll numbers and there could be greater cause for concern for Burke, a Madison school board member, former Trek Bicycle executive and Commerce secretary in Democrat Gov. Jim Doyle’s administration.

The Marquette poll finds Walker beats Burke 48 percent to 45 percent among likely voters — those who say they are absolutely certain to vote in November, although the lead still is within the margin of error. Ask those who say they definitely will vote in the election and are excited about voting, and Walker’s lead edges up to 5 percentage points, 50 percent to 45 percent.

Those numbers could be reminiscent of Wisconsin’s 2012 recall election, in which Walker knocked off his opponent, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, by 7 percentage points, buoyed by massive turnout in Republican strongholds. The surge, experts said, was pent-up energy from Republican voters — and recall haters — forced to sit back and take the media-drenched spotlight on an unprecedented recall campaign led by Democrats and Big Labor.

“The silent majority was out there, and I think people were fed up at all the recalls, and I think they wanted to come out and voice their opinions,” said then- Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald, R-Horicon, following the election.

Statewide turnout was roughly 58 percent of voting-age adults, an amazing participation rate for an election in the first part of June. And Republican voters came out in droves.

Walker netted 627,000 votes in an inconsequential recall primary, about 38,000 fewer than Barrett and his Democratic primary opponents, former Dane County Executive and union darling Kathleen Falk, Wisconsin Secretary of State Doug La Follette and state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout of Alma.

While there was a swell of Dem voters in some traditional bastions of the left, the 900,000-plus signatures on the petitions to recall Walker did not translate into nearly enough votes to beat him.

“On balance, there was more Republican mobilization than there was for Democrats,” Franklin said. “We saw the internal motivation of partisans coupled with the skills of the campaigns targeting voters. Both will have a role to play this time.”

Democrats blamed the record amounts of money involved in what turned out to be a national proxy battle for the right and left, but national unions and left-leaning organizations pumped in millions of dollars into the recall effort.

The historic mid-term slump could present another problem for Burke. Wisconsin Democrats turned out in force for Barack Obama in the presidential contests of 2008 and 2012, but they didn’t show up in nearly the same numbers in 2010.

“Democrats in the mid-terms have a bit more of a challenge turning out their supporters as opposed to Republicans,” Franklin said. “It’s about internal motivations — how much Walker supporters intrinsically are willing to turn out versus those for Democrat’s campaign.

“One conclusion is pretty clear, in a close election, relatively moderate differences in turnout can play a significant role,” he added.

The recall is two years in the rear-view mirror, and while Walker is campaign tested and has built a reputation as a powerful national fundraiser, will his supporters carry the same fire in November as they did in June 2012?

“We’ve come a long way, but we’re not done yet,” the Republican Party of Wisconsin tweeted Wednesday, after the party sent out a call for grassroots action.

Despite some internal squabbling on issues like the controversial Common Core State Standards and sparring with a small but vocal secession movement, the Wisconsin GOP sounded positive earlier this month after its annual convention.

“The Republican Party of Wisconsin is energized and working toward victory in November,” Brad Courtney, chairman of the Republican Party of Wisconsin, said in a statement. “Following a successful State Convention, the Party’s message and momentum is clear: We are focused on re-electing Scott Walker, (Lt. Gov.)Rebecca Kleefisch, and our Republican legislative majorities in order to continue moving Wisconsin forward.”

As of May 5, the party counted 16 offices statewide, each with a mission to register new voters, identify supporters and, most important, get them to the polls.

Burke’s biggest problem at present is that she is invisible, at least according to half of the respondents in the Marquette poll.

Fifty-one percent of voters say they haven’t heard enough about the candidate or don’t know if they have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of her. Burke is making strides. In January, 70 percent of respondents didn’t know who she was. The poll found 27 percent of voters surveyed have a favorable opinion of Burke; 22 percent have an unfavorable view of the Democrat.

Wisconsin voters, whether they like him or not, know Walker. His favorability rating is at 47 percent in the latest poll, with a 48 percent unfavorable rating. That’s down a skosh from March’s poll.

Meanwhile, 52 percent of voters say the Badger State is heading in the right direction, while 42 percent believe it’s off track. That’s in the same range as the March poll, when the numbers were 54 percent and 42 percent respectively.

The latest Marquette Law School poll’s sample universe is made up of 32 percent Democrats, 24 percent Republicans, and 44 percent independents.

Here’s a question that may play into a race that will in large part be defined by a philosophy of limited government versus that of expanded government: Do you trust your government?

The poll finds two out of every three voters, 67 percent, agree or strongly agree that “you really can’t trust the government to do the right thing.” And 90 percent agree or strongly agree that “government wastes a lot of money we pay in taxes.”

Contact M.D. Kittle at mkittle@watchdog.org