A Polling Dichotomy in Wisconsin

By Jim Ellis

Superintendent of public instruction, Tony Evers (D), left, and Gov. Scott Walker (R)

Superintendent of public instruction, Tony Evers (D), left, and Gov. Scott Walker (R)

Sept. 15, 2018 — Two succeeding polls were just released with one showing Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) barely leading in his fight for a third term, while another predicts he will be blown out. Yet, the two seemingly contradictory polls both find an almost identical Senate race status.

NBC News/Marist College went into the field during the period of Sept. 30-Oct. 3 (943 Wisconsin adults; 781 registered Wisconsin voters; 571 likely voters) and found Democratic superintendent of public instruction, Tony Evers, leading Gov. Walker by a whopping 53-43 pecent among the likeliest of voters (52-43 percent within the registered voter segment). But, Marquette University Law School, a prolific Wisconsin pollster since the 2012 election cycle, actually finds the governor clinging to a one-point, 47-46 percent edge in their just-released survey (Oct. 3-7; 1,000 registered Wisconsin voters; 799 likely voters).

Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D), left, and state Sen. Leah Vukmir (R-Brookfield)

Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D), left, and state Sen. Leah Vukmir (R-Brookfield)

While the two pollsters are far apart in how they see the governor’s race, they are very consistent in projecting the US Senate contest between first-term incumbent Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D) and state Sen. Leah Vukmir (R-Brookfield). NBC/Marist gives Sen. Baldwin a 54-40 percent advantage within their likely voters cell, while Marquette finds a similar 53-42 percent spread.

A simple explanation suggests that the governor’s race is quite volatile while the Senate campaign is virtually decided. The two polls were run consecutively with NBC/Marist ending on Oct. 3 and Marquette beginning on that day. Obviously, this means the Marquette data is the most recent.

The Marquette sampling universe looks to be the stronger, as both the registered and likely voter cells are larger than NBC/Marist’s. Additionally, since Marquette exclusively polls the Wisconsin electorate and does so on what appears to be a quarterly basis but more frequently when closer to an election, their knowledge of the voter base is likely superior to NBC/Marist, which is a national pollster. Therefore, the greater local knowledge likely provides them a superior ability to better pull a reflective sample.

There is no other poll that finds such a deep spread between the two gubernatorial candidates. Most find results more in line with Marquette, a conclusion that continues to point to a very close electoral contest. Since the beginning of September, four gubernatorial polls have been conducted, including one from Marquette, and the average spread between the two candidates when averaging these surveys is 4.5 percent, but all in Evers’ favor.

Interestingly, of the aforementioned September polls, the second-best finding for Evers (plus-five percentage points) comes from Marquette. (Ipsos/Reuters online polling found Evers holding a 50-43 percent advantage, which is the Democrat’s strongest position.). Thus, the change from their Sept. 12-16 poll to the Oct. 3-7 version is a net six percentage points in Gov. Walker’s favor.

Scott Walker first won his position in 2010 with a 52-46 percent victory over Milwaukee mayor and former congressman Tom Barrett (D). He then won a recall vote in 2012 with a 53-46 percent margin. Over 356,000 more votes were cast in the special election as compared to the first general election. In 2014, the governor’s re-election victory margin was 52-47 percent, this time over former local official Mary Burke (D).

Evers was first elected to his statewide education position in 2009, and he has been re-elected twice. Over his three statewide electoral efforts, Evers has averaged 62.7 percent in his odd-numbered year campaigns. In the 2018 gubernatorial primary, the superintendent defeated nine other Democrats with 41.8 percent of the vote.

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