Breakdown: The Top Five 2020 Democratic Candidates in Wisconsin (Part 2)

The latest Marquette University Law School Poll was released this week. Here’s an in-depth analysis of the important poll in what might be the most crucial state in the presidential election.

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

Joe Biden is most certainly the frontrunner in Wisconsin. Photo by Gage Skidmore, CC BY-SA 2.0.

Click here for Part I. 

Elizabeth Warren: 17 percent

We’ve arrived at the frontrunners. Biden and Sanders benefit from name identification in ways few other candidates could -- Biden as the vice president from an extremely popular administration and Sanders as the 2016 primary winner in the state -- and so far, it’s been Warren who has emerged from the rest of the crowded field to contend with them.

The strength of her candidacy in Wisconsin is with women voters. She ranks second (19%), behind Biden (29%) and ahead of Sanders (17%), among women’s first choices, and is the top second choice for women at 23% (she’s also the top second choice overall, at 20%). Warren has a net plus-6 favorability rating with women in the broader electorate (36%-30%), and women would back her in a matchup against Trump by a wide margin (52%-37%). 

She also has a strong favorability margin among black voters* (34%-7%), and is viewed favorably in the cities of Milwaukee (28%-22%) and Madison (42%-30%). So Warren does appear to have strong support from the Democratic Party’s base in Wisconsin -- women and black voters from the state’s two largest cities. 

But in Wisconsin, she is still firmly in third. 

Much of this could have to do with the fact that many voters don’t yet know her as well as they do the other two frontrunners. A combined 32 percent say they “haven’t heard enough” or “don’t know” her. For Biden, those numbers combine to 10 percent, and for Sanders, it’s 12 percent. People have their mind largely made up on those two.

So could that 13 percent of undecided voters be Warren’s for the taking?

That’s unclear. She’s a very strong candidate, but there are signs of weakness relative to others. She polls even with Trump in the head-to-head (45%-45%), doesn’t jump out among independents (29%-38% fav/unfav), isn’t a clear standout in any given region (and is tied with Buttigieg at 6% in the city of Milwaukee), and only polls at 10 percent among the first choice of voters age 18-29. 

Despite her high favorability numbers with black voters*, just 2 percent named her as their first choice -- tying her with Booker and former housing secretary Julian Castro, and putting her behind Harris (6%) and Buttigieg (5%).

Perhaps Warren’s biggest problem, however, is with Hispanic voters*. And it’s not just her problem. Connecting with Hispanic voters* a huge, huge, huge problem for Democratic candidates in Wisconsin. 

UPDATE (9/09/19, 11:30 a.m.): It looks like I made a mistake here.

I did not take the sample size into account when drawing the following conclusions. I’m going to leave them up, but put them in italics to note that they should not be taken, as the Marquette Law Poll puts it, as “substantive conclusions.” I’ll also be updating both parts of this piece with asterisks next to other small sample size data. I apologize for the error.

The state’s Hispanic population was at 6.6 percent in 2015, so certainly not as high as some other U.S. states, but growing considerably over the past 15 years -- up 95 percent from 2000 to 2015. More than 36 percent of Wisconsin Hispanics live in Milwaukee County, and the city of Milwaukee is now close to 20 percent Hispanic. 

In the state of Wisconsin, Donald Trump’s job approval among Hispanics* is almost even. He has better support among Hispanic voters* (49%-51%) than white voters (46%-52%), which might be the single most surprising result from the entire poll. 

And among almost all Democratic candidates, Trump would win a head-to-head matchup among Hispanic voters* handily. Here’s how the poll says he’d fare against the top five candidates (minus Buttigieg).

  • Biden 42% - Trump 54%

  • Sanders 51% - Trump 43%

  • Warren 28% - Trump 66%

  • Harris 24% - Trump 66%

Warren has a 1 percent favorability rating among Hispanic voters*, and 0 percent chose her as their first choice among the field. 

Still, much of this could have to do with non-Biden/Sanders candidates not being particularly well-known, and that is certainly the case among Hispanic voters* and Warren, where a combined 68 percent “haven’t heard enough” or “don’t know” her.

Even so, the Massachusetts senator clearly has a lot of work to do with minority voters* if she’s going to advance in Wisconsin. But if she makes progress there, she has a real opportunity to gain ground on Sanders and Biden. A win is certainly possible.

Bernie Sanders: 20 percent

The 2016 state primary winner has a lot of things going for him this time around, too. 

He has tremendous support from younger voters, including having the highest favorability rating (59%), and being the top choice among the 18-29 (24%) and 30-44 (39%) age ranges. He leads the field in Milwaukee with 34 percent, where he leads Trump 69% to 28% head-to-head. He’s second among black voters* (32%), and first among Hispanic voters* (42%), where he’s the only Democratic candidate with significant support. He’s a net plus-4 with independents (47%-43%) in a head-to-head matchup with Trump, where in general, he leads the president by four percentage points (48%-44%). Sanders is doing quite well where he needs to be doing well.

Two areas where he struggles compared to other candidates, however, are with women and with the oldest group of voters. 

With women voters, Sanders is behind Warren as a first choice (17%-19%) and behind Warren (23%), Biden (16%), Buttigieg (14%), and Harris (13%) as a second choice, at 9 percent. He is at net minus-2 with women voters (41%-43%) on favorability. He does, however, lead Trump with women voters 53% to 39% in the head-to-head poll.

With 60+ year-old voters, Sanders gets just 9 percent of first choice votes and 9 percent of second choice votes. His favorability rating among that age range is the worst among the top five candidates (35%-50%). He does, again, lead Trump in a head-to-head matchup there, at 50% to 43%.

Notably, the oldest demographic of voters is not particularly high on Trump. His approval rating among 60+ voters is further underwater (43%-55%) than his overall numbers, and all four Democrats polled lead him in the head-to-head matchup with older voters. Trump gets his strongest support from the 45-59 age range, where no Democrats lead the president and his approval rating is at 52 percent.

Also: Sanders polls third in the Madison area (19%), behind Warren (22%) and Biden (26%), which is weird enough to note on its own.

So if Sanders doesn’t have as strong of support with women or 60+ voters, is that where he could gain ground among the 13 percent undecided and take the lead from Biden? It’s certainly possible, but people seem to have their mind made up on the longtime Senator from Vermont. Perhaps he has a lower ceiling because of that. 

But he does so well with such a young and diverse set of voters, it’s hard not to see his path to a repeat victory in Wisconsin if Biden falters.

Joe Biden: 28 percent

In Wisconsin, there is a clear frontrunner in the primary and it absolutely is Joe Biden.

He has the best favorability numbers with women voters (51%-38%), older voters (52%-41%), black voters* (76%-13%), Democrats (77%-16%), and independent voters (45%-44%), where he’s the only Democrat in the net positive.

He leads Trump in a head-to-head matchup by nine percentage points (51%-42%), the best of any candidate. He has the best head-to-head numbers among women voters (57%-36%), young voters (60%-31%), older voters (53%-42%) and independents (49%-40%).

Among the Democratic field, he’s the first choice among men, women, 45-59 -year-olds, 60+ -year-olds, Democrats, independents, white voters, black voters*, and voters in every region of the state but the city of Milwaukee, where he’s a close 2nd at 31% (no one besides Sanders (34%) and Biden are above 6 percent in MKE).  

There are a few spots where Biden is head and shoulders above other candidates. He does really well with black voters*, where he has a 76 percent favorability rating. He tops the ranking of the field among black voters* at 42 percent as a first choice and 31 percent as a second choice, and head-to-head with Trump, he wins 84 percent to just 7 percent.

He also has a big lead among 60+ voters, at 42 percent as a first choice, with the next closest challenger at 17 percent (Warren). His favorability in the “rest of the state” region (47%-40%) is by far the highest. He’s the only candidate polling ahead of Trump among white voters (49%-44%). 

The former vice president isn’t running away with it, though. 

He isn’t doing as poorly as some candidates with Hispanic voters*, but his favorability is still underwater (31%-48%). He doesn’t have the crossover appeal some might hope for him, with only 10 percent of Republicans viewing him favorably (78% unfavorable). A lot of his numbers aren’t that much better than those from Sanders or Warren. He leads Trump among voters from the “rest of state” region, but so do all of the other Democratic candidates. Women support him in a matchup with Trump, but a majority of women support any Democrat polled against Trump. Biden would rack up big margins in the city of Milwaukee, but so would the other candidates.

Being well-known gives him less room to find new voters to connect to, and being the frontrunner makes him a constant target. But he’s not just the favorite in Wisconsin, he’s doing really well in key areas. He’s going to be tough to beat, but with 13 percent undecided, his lead isn’t insurmountable.

Franklin said during the presentation that looking at the polls at this stage in August, 14 months before the general election, is like being in the 2nd inning of a baseball game. There’s a lot of ballgame left, and many potential outcomes still in play.

Check out the full detailed results of the Aug. 25-29 poll here, and tweet at me @DanRShafer with questions and comments and further discussion.

*Data on black and Hispanic voters is from a small sample size of less than 40 people, giving it a large margin of error, as the folks at @MULawPoll have pointed out. I apologize for the error.

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