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Poll Indicates Democrat Mandela Barnes' Views May Come Back to Bite Him

Wisconsin's races have certainly been ones to watch, especially when it comes to whether Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) and Gov. Tony Evers (D-WI) can hold onto their seats. Both have been considered some of the more vulnerable incumbents this cycle. It's worth emphasizing, though, that while Johnson's support has increased in certain polls, Evers is tied in his race against Republican Tim Michels. 

Sen. Johnson is running against Wisconsin's Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes, a particularly progressive candidate whose views on defund the police and crime have certainly been a focus for this race. 

The CBS News Battleground Tracker has in recent days conducted polling in individual battleground states, including Wisconsin, where Johnson has 50 percent support while Barnes enjoys 49 percent. At a margin of error of plus or minus 3.7 percent, Johnson's lead is within that margin, though this isn't the only poll where he enjoys a lead.

The poll asked voters about their view on candidates and certain issues, including on crime and on whether or not they believe Barnes is in favor of defunding the police. 

A plurality of respondents, at 44 percent, believe that Barnes' policies make them "less safe than crime," while just 29 percent said such policies would make them "more safe from crime." For Johnson, a plurality of respondents, at 42 percent, said that Johnson's policies would make them "more safe." Just 26 percent said they would make them "less safe." Further, close to a majority, at 49 percent, believe that Barnes does want to defund the police, something even CNN acknowledged Barnes has communicated support for. 

It's also worth noting that far more many respondents say they're voting for Johnson because they like him, with 53 percent saying so. Just 29 percent say so about Barnes, as more respondents are likely to say they're voting for him to oppose Johnson, at 55 percent.

Another advantage is that Johnson's supporters are more likely to say that they are "very enthusiastic" to support him, with 59 percent saying so. A plurality of Barnes' voters, at 49 percent, say they're "very enthusiastic."

The poll's write-up from CBS News highlights how Johnson is thus in a better position than other battleground Republican candidates are:

In some ways, these midterms are a referendum on President Joe Biden. On that note, more are casting their Senate votes to oppose him than support him, and Johnson is easily winning those voters in Wisconsin. 

The power of incumbency may also be helping Johnson. Most of his backers call his Senate record a major factor in their vote, plus, Republicans like him personally. That's different than the dynamic in other battleground states where Republicans are not incumbents. In Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Arizona, Republicans are voting more out of opposition to Democrats than affinity for their own nominee.

What also helps Johnson, and Republicans running across the country, is that voters who prioritize the economy favor Johnson and Republican candidates. Voters who prioritize abortion favor Barnes, which is also a pattern for Democrats running throughout the country. A tweet from the CBS News Poll's account highlighted how this helps Johnson.

The poll also shows a gap, though, in how voters prioritize their candidates and issues. For instance, 83 percent say they're supporting Johnson due to his "economic policies," while it's 73 percent of voters who say so when it comes to Barnes' "stance on abortion."

Among likely voters in Wisconsin, abortion tied for the fourth highest issue which respondents said was "very important." Seventy-eight percent of likely voters said that the economy was "very important," while 75 percent said as much about inflation, 62 percent said so about crime, and 51 percent said as much about immigration and abortion. 

As the poll's write-up mentioned:

The abortion issue is helping keep the race close, but Johnson is boosted by a wide lead with voters who prioritize the economy, inflation, and crime, which are all issues that voters rank higher in importance than abortion. Among all issues measured, Johnson's widest margins come from voters who say immigration and crime are very important — even more so than those prioritizing economic issues.

The poll was also discussed on Sunday's episode of CBS News' "Face the Nation," including during the panel discussion. CBS News' Nikole Killion pointed out that crime is "certainly is a Republican talking point and an issue that they want to put front and center." In sharing how she talked to Johnson in Wisconsin, she pointed out "he did say that he feels that that should be a defining issue in this election."

This poll was conducted October 3-7, with 1,138 registered voters. Some questions were asked of likely voters specifically. 

RealClearPolitics has Evers and Michels tied, while Johnson has a +2.8 lead, in part thanks to a Marquette poll conducted around the same time that shows Johnson leadings 52 percent to Barnes' 46 percent. Forecasters consider the gubernatorial race to be a "Toss-Up," while the Senate race ranges from "Toss-Up" to "Tilt Republican" or "Lean Republican."


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