5 Marquette Poll Takeaways: Huge Support for "Safer-at-Home," Zoomers and Boomers for Biden, More

Plus: Why no region is ready to fully reopen, strong approval ratings for Governor Tony Evers, and how the economic crisis is disproportionately impacting African Americans in Wisconsin.

The Recombobulation Area is a weekly opinion column by veteran Milwaukee journalist Dan Shafer. Learn more about it here.

By a 20-point margin, more Wisconsinites trust Gov. Tony Evers to lead the state’s reopening than the Republican-led Wisconsin State Legislature. Photo of Evers signing the legislature’s lone piece of coronavirus legislation on April 15. Photo via Facebook.

Like it has with everything, COVID-19 upended the focus of the Marquette University Law School Poll. No longer is the highest-of-high stakes presidential election in perhaps the closest of swing states the headline from these poll results. It’s now dominated by the coronavirus, how it’s affecting people, and elected leaders’ response to the crisis it has unleashed.

But the results can tell us a great deal about what’s happening to people and how they’re responding to this crisis. Let’s dive in.

1. A huge majority of Wisconsinites support the “Safer-at-Home” public health order

Nearly 70 percent of people polled said the set of decisions made to close schools and businesses and limit public gatherings was an “appropriate response,” while only 26 percent said it was an “overreaction.”

The support was rather sizable across the board. Every age group, education level, income level, race, religion and region said the response was “appropriate.”

Well, except for one group. Sixty percent of “Very Conservative” voters said the state’s response has been an overreaction. Republicans, however, still support the measures taken by a margin of 49 percent to 43 percent. Even those in the “Conservative” group approve of these measures by a 50-40 margin, and moderates by a staggering 78-17 margin. 

In fact, most Wisconsinites are more worried about opening up too soon (56%) than not opening soon enough (40%). Two-thirds of the 60+ age group and the group of people making under $40,000 per year are more concerned about jumping the gun on reopening.

Only the furthest-right wing of a party that continues to lurch away from the center considers “Safer-at-Home” to be an overreaction. The safe, silent supermajority is still supporting policies that are helping save the lives of our fellow Wisconsinites.

And these public health measures sure seem to be working. Wisconsin met a key criteria of Gov. Evers’ phased reopening plan Tuesday, with a 14-day downward trajectory of the percentage of new COVID-19 cases. Only four percent of those tested in Wisconsin were positive for the virus on Tuesday, and Wednesday’s numbers showed a continuation of the downward trend. Just one of the six criteria has not yet been met, and it is something -- a decline in “flu-like illnesses” -- the state met less than a week ago. Policies like “Safer-at-Home” have put the state on the right track to make this safer environment possible. 

2. No region is ready for a full reopening

There’s been much discussion in Wisconsin as of late about a regional approach to reopening certain shut-down elements of the state’s economy. Several other Midwestern states, including Illinois and Michigan, are pursuing such plans. 

Republicans in Wisconsin have for weeks advocated for such an approach, but have not yet released any actual plans in the legislature, so there is no polling on their nonexistent alternative. And now in a significant and rather abrupt shift, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said Monday the whole state should reopen now. So who knows where they really stand on any of this? 

Regardless of how this unfolds, turning the sign out front from “closed” to “open” will not magically make people ready for any kind of full return to the activities we all enjoyed in the Before Times. Whether it’s a regional reopening or a more phased-in approach like what the governor is implementing — in Monday’s “dial-turn,” he said most retail stores could reopen to a limited number of customers — there’s little evidence to suggest that huge majorities of people in any region are clamoring for a full return to normal any time soon. 

For many, the first step after a stay-at-home order is lifted would be to visit a close friend or family member. If the stay-at-home order were lifted tomorrow, 77 percent say they’d be comfortable doing so. But just 42 percent of people statewide would be comfortable eating out at a restaurant under the same circumstances.

The poll asked about how people would approach five scenarios, and here’s how how those five questions break down in the results:

Visiting friend:
Comfortable: 77%
Uncomfortable: 21%

Eating out: 
Comfortable: 42%
Uncomfortable: 57%

Shopping:
Comfortable: 56%
Uncomfortable: 42%

Attending worship service:
Comfortable: 45%
Uncomfortable: 52%

Attending a large event (sports, concerts, etc.):
Comfortable: 25%
Uncomfortable: 73%

Here’s how each of these break down regionally (by media markets):

(Note: the city of Milwaukee has the smallest sample size and therefore the greatest margin for error)

Visiting friend:
Statewide: 77-21
MKE city: 56-40
Rest of MKE: 75-24
Madison: 74-24
Green Bay/Appleton: 88-11
Rest of State: 80-19

Eating out:
Statewide: 42-57
MKE city: 15-83
Rest of MKE: 43-56
Madison: 36-64
Green Bay/Appleton: 46-49
Rest of State: 50-50

Shopping:
Statewide: 56-42
MKE city: 50-49
Rest of MKE: 55-43
Madison: 46-52
Green Bay/Appleton: 64-35
Rest of State: 61-38

Attending worship service:
Statewide: 45-52
MKE city: 30-64
Rest of MKE: 47-51
Madison: 34-63
Green Bay/Appleton: 52-43
Rest of State: 49-50

Attending large event:
Statewide: 25-73
MKE city: 16-83
Rest of MKE: 29-70
Madison: 20-79
Green Bay/Appleton: 27-72
Rest of State: 28-72

Are there differences from region-to-region among what type of activities people would be comfortable with? Of course. There’s a whole lot of opinions that vary region-by-region in Wisconsin. 

But is there an overwhelming across-the-board readiness to return to anything resembling pre-covid normalcy? Clearly, there is not. 

The choice between saving lives or saving the economy is a false one. The shutdown isn’t driving the economic crisis, the pandemic is. The economic crisis is still going to be here after “Safer-at-Home” ends -- as will the virus. Both will need dedicated attention from our elected leaders for the foreseeable future. 

It’s magical thinking to suggest any reopening plan -- whether it’s a measured, phased-in one like what Gov. Evers is implementing; a regional one like many Republican legislators have suggested they’d support; or a full and immediate reopening like what Vos now advocating -- will be a silver bullet to end the economic crisis that’s caused 500,000 Wisconsinites to apply for unemployment. We’re going to need much, much more than a simple end to the public health shutdown. 

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 3. Gov. Tony Evers continues to have significant majority support

Not unlike the overall support for shutdown policies waning slightly, approval ratings for the first-term Wisconsin governor aren’t quite as sky-high as they were in the last poll. But he still has a huge majority of support during this crisis. 

Evers’ overall job approval rating is at 59 percent approve to 33 percent disapprove. Even in the Republican stronghold of the Milwaukee suburbs, the governor has a 54 percent approval rating. 

And his handling of coronavirus is approved by 64 percent of Wisconsinites, far ahead of President Donald Trump’s 44 percent approval rating on his handling of the outbreak. That difference is especially wide among women. Just 37 percent of women approve of Trump’s response to the outbreak, and 70 percent of women approve of Evers’ response.  

Evers is also the one Wisconsinites trust to lead the reopening of the state. 

In the question on who do you trust more to make decisions on reopening, respondents said:

Governor: 53%
Legislature: 33%

Legislative Republicans have allowed one brief and barely adequate bill, marred by an extremely costly ($25,000,000 costly!) delay, to be its only action in the two months since the pandemic became an official state emergency. Evers’ leadership has kept Wisconsin’s number of coronavirus-related deaths per 100,000 people lower than any other state in the Midwest. It’s pretty clear who has taken this crisis seriously and who is doing little more than obstruct and delay. 

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4. Zoomers and Boomers support Joe Biden

Amidst everything, there is still a campaign for president going on. And in the extraordinarily crucial swing state of Wisconsin, former Vice President Biden is in the lead, 46 percent to Trump’s 43 percent. It’s still a close race, and it will undoubtedly continue to be for the next *checks date* 173 days until Election Day on Nov. 3.

Among the trends to watch in this head-to-head matchup is how Trump is polling with older voters. As noted in this space back in February, every Democratic candidate still in the race at the time was trouncing Trump in the 60+ age group.  

In this poll, that’s the group supporting Biden in the biggest numbers. Here’s how the matchup breaks down by age:

18-29: 
Biden: 51
Trump: 41

30-44: 
Biden: 37
Trump: 49
(Neither: 11)

45-59:
Biden: 41%
Trump: 48%

60+:
Biden: 55%
Trump: 37%

Older Millennials, younger Baby Boomers and Gen X voters largely support Trump, while younger Millennials, Zoomers and Boomers support Biden. There’s a fascinating generational divide unfolding during this campaign. 

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5. The coronavirus crisis is disproportionately affecting black people in Wisconsin

The coronavirus has been infecting black people at much higher rates. In Wisconsin, less than seven percent of the population is African American, but 28 percent of deaths and 21 percent of confirmed cases have been black people. In Milwaukee County, too, which is about 27 percent black, nearly 40 percent of cases and almost half of deaths are black people.  

In Milwaukee County, where about 70 percent of Wisconsin’s African American population lives, 1,629 people have contracted the deadly virus and 109 people have died. 

"We can see that an African American person is nearly three times more likely to die of COVID19 in Milwaukee County than a white person," Dr. Ben Weston, director of medical services for the Milwaukee County Office of Emergency Management, said in a Wisconsin Public Radio report. "And we can see that they are a staggering seven times more likely to die than a white person in the state of Wisconsin."

The economic crisis, too, is having a far greater impact on Wisconsin’s African American community. According to the Marquette poll, “combining the March and May polling, 29 percent have lost a job and an additional 48 percent have had a family member other than themselves lose a job.” There is greater concern, and greater struggle among black people in Wisconsin. 

There needs to be a proportionate response — and then some — to help communities of color who are suffering the greatest from the effects of this terrible virus. 


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