Here is my full column that ran in the Washington County Daily News yesterday.
With a level of excitement akin to Christmas morning, political junkies tore open the latest Marquette Law School Poll to find the treasures within. With its history of being one of the most accurate polls in recent years, the Marquette Law School Poll has become the gold standard for political prognosticators. The most recent poll was taken after the August primary election and gives the first snapshot for the general election.
In the race for governor, the Marquette poll indicates that Republican Gov. Scott Walker is in a dead heat with Democratic candidate Tony Evers. Both candidates are receiving support of 46 percent of likely voters with Libertarian candidate Phil Anderson polling at 6 percent.
The race for U.S. Senate is also a virtual tie, according to the poll, with 49 percent supporting incumbent Democrat Tammy Baldwin and 47 percent supporting Republican Leah Vukmir. With a margin of error of plus-or-minus 4.5 percent, the race is a statistical tie.
What is remarkable about the poll’s results is that so few people are undecided. Only 2 percent of the respondents for governor, and 3 percent for Senate, are undecided with more than two months until the election. This is despite the fact the two challengers, Evers and Vukmir, are not nearly as well known as the incumbents. Thirty-five percent of the respondents do not have any opinion of Evers and 41 percent do not have an opinion about Vukmir.
These results tell us a couple of things. First, Wisconsin remains politically divided with the left and right remaining firmly entrenched. It would be too far to suggest that the candidates do not matter, but the poll clearly indicates that there is a sizable contingent of the electorate who will vote Republican or Democrat irrespective of who the candidate is.
The second thing the results tell us is that the next two months of campaigning are going to be brutal. Neither side is going to spend much time or money trying to lure voters from the other side, nor there are many people undecided. Instead, the campaigns are going to focus on motivating their bases to get out and vote.
Whichever side turns out more of their base will win the election.
This means the campaigns will focus largely on emotional appeals, both positive and negative. While gratitude and hope are strong emotions, hate and fear are more powerful when it comes to motivating people to vote. Until the election, the voters are going to be under a rolling barrage of negative ads that will escalate as Election Day nears.
This will be especially true in the Senate election because of the national implications. The Marquette poll shows that Baldwin is vulnerable in a year when the Democrats are anticipating a blue wave. National interest groups will be pumping money into Wisconsin’s Senate race and it is going to get very, very muddy.
Many other polls around the country indicate that there is an enthusiasm gap with Democrats being much more excited about voting this November than Republicans. The same is not true in Wisconsin. According to the Marquette poll, 69 percent of Republicans are very enthusiastic to vote, while 67 percent of Democrats are very enthusiastic. That is a change from the same poll in July when 62 percent of Republicans and 69 percent of Democrats were very enthusiastic. That is a significant upward swing in enthusiasm for Republicans in only a month. There may be a blue wave in the rest of the nation in November, but it does not appear that it will wash over Wisconsin.
According to the Marquette poll, the dynamics in this election are shaping up to look very much the same as it has in the past few years. That bodes well for Wisconsin’s Republicans if national forces can be kept at the state border.