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Marquette poll: Wisconsin governor race tied

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By James Hohmann

The Wisconsin governor race is tied, 46-46, in a new Marquette Law School poll of registered voters.

Marquette’s March poll gave Republican Gov. Scott Walker a 7-percentage-point lead, 48-41, over Democrat Mary Burke, a former Trek Bicycle executive.

The margin of error for the live-dial survey, conducted May 15-18, is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. This is historically the most reliable polling of the Badger State. The sample here is of 805 registered voters, so the actual electorate is likely to be more favorable to Republicans.

Even still, this is another strong indicator that Wisconsin will be one of 2014’s most competitive governor’s races.

Walker’s standing in the highly polarized state is on par with Barack Obama’s. The governor won his recall election in June 2012 by 7 percentage points, and then the president carried the state by 7 percentage points that November. POTUS’ approval is now 48 percent, and Walker’s approval is 49 percent.

Burke, a member of the Madison school board, still remains relatively unknown. The most important dynamic in the contest is the battle to define her over the next five months. She is currently viewed favorably by 27 percent and unfavorably by 22 percent. But a majority, 51 percent, don’t know enough to offer an opinion.

Because of the recall and the polarized climate, fewer than 5 percent don’t offer an opinion of Walker.

Burke could get traction if she successfully sells herself as a job creator: 59 percent said business experience is more important than political experience before becoming governor.

The most important issue in the race will be the economy. Walker promised to create 250,000 jobs when he ran in 2010, and he’s going to wind up short of that goal — which Democrats will continue hammering him on.

Slightly more voters feel the economy has gotten better, 28 percent, than worse, 24 percent — but a plurality, 46 percent, feel it has stayed the same over the past year. Thirty-six percent expect the economy to get better in the coming year compared to only 14 percent who think it will worsen.

Asked about job creation in Wisconsin, 43 percent said the state is lagging behind most other states, and 38 percent said they are creating jobs at about the same clip. Only 13 percent think Wisconsin is growing faster than other places.

Another Achilles’ Heel for Walker is the widespread perception that he plans to run for president in 2016. Two-thirds of voters said they don’t want him to compared to 50 percent who said they don’t want Paul Ryan to run. And 65 percent said no governor can run for president and still handle their job duties.

Yet there are some significant topline numbers that bode well for the incumbent: 52 percent say the state’s on the right track, and about half of voters say the state budget is in better shape than it was a few years ago. Nearly 70 percent agree with the statement that Walker is “someone who is able to get things done.”

Democrats plan to attack Walker as someone who wants to advance his own political career and the interests of billionaires like the Koch Brothers. The poll may only encourage this approach. Just 44 percent agreed with the statement “Scott Walker is someone who cares about people like me.” A majority, 52 percent, disagreed.

Wisconsin is very much a bluish-purple state. Democrats have a 7-percentage-point lead on the generic congressional ballot, 47-40. Only 23 percent view the tea party favorably, while 55 percent said they favor allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally.

There is even a tie on the question of whether voters would prefer higher taxes for more services or lower taxes for fewer services.

Review the toplines. More on the methodology.

To view online: