5 Takeaways From the October 2019 Marquette University Law School Poll

Undecided Democratic primary voters are disappearing, and Ron Johnson remains surprisingly anonymous. Plus: Breaking down voters' views on Medicare-for-all, small farm support, and impeachment.

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

Wisconsin’s senior senator, Ron Johnson, has been a staunch Trump loyalist, holds an extremely prominent position in the Senate, and has held office for most of the decade, but there’s still a huge number of people who don’t have an opinion on him. Photo by The Council of the Federation of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation [CC BY 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)].


Wisconsin might be the most important state in the 2020 presidential election, and the Marquette University Law School Poll is the state’s gold standard of measuring where voters stand, so here at The Recombobulation Area, each new poll is going to be monitored closely. 

Here are five takeaways from the October poll:

1. Undecided Democratic primary voters are disappearing

Among the most notable results from the poll released in early September was how many undecided voters there were, at 13 percent. But less than two months later that number dropped to just four percent. Here’s who registered voters selected as their first choice in the primary, with percentage point movement from the previous poll in parenthesis:

  • Joe Biden: 31% (+3)

  • Elizabeth Warren: 24% (+7)

  • Bernie Sanders: 17% (-3)

  • Pete Buttigieg: 7% (+1)

  • Kamala Harris: 5% (+2)

  • Don’t Know: 4% (-9)

  • Amy Klobuchar: 3% (+2)

  • Andrew Yang: 3% (+1)

  • Tulsi Gabbard: 2% (+2)

As she’s been doing nationally, Elizabeth Warren is rising the highest in Wisconsin. Sanders was the only candidate to see numbers drop, but it’s this poll was conducted right after he suffered a heart attack, which could be one explanation. Biden’s overall number grew as he remains the frontrunner in the state. But largely, until you get down to the longest of long-shots like Beto O’Rourke, Tom Steyer or Steve Bullock, many of the candidates still in the race made a dent in the 13 percent of undecided voters in Wisconsin. 

“Don’t know” results dwindling was also the case among Democratic primary voters’ second choice, down from 13 percent to four percent. Here, too, Warren rose the most (+7), and continues to lead the field in this category at 27 percent.

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2. Many Wisconsinites still don’t really know Senator Ron Johnson

Wisconsin’s senior senator has held office for more than eight years and has been re-elected, but somehow, Wisconsin voters aren’t all that familiar with him. This despite his frequent appearances in the news cycle this month (including one where he defended Trump on Meet the Press by promoting a wild conspiracy theory), and his hugely prominent role as the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, one of the most important oversight roles in the nation’s highest legislative body -- a pretty important job in 2019 when you have a president on the verge of impeachment, and a continued human rights catastrophe at the southern border, to just name, you know, a couple things.

A surprising 24 percent of Wisconsinites “haven’t heard enough” to have an opinion on Johnson, and another six percent “don’t know” where their opinion lies on him.

This number being this high is one thing, but it’s also much higher than comparable data on Wisconsin’s junior Senator, Tammy Baldwin, for whom only 11 percent “haven’t heard enough” and three percent “don’t know.”

So, who is it that doesn’t know the former manufacturing executive from Oshkosh?  

Drilling down, one demographic stands out above the rest: young people. Among voters ages 18 to 29, a staggering 49 percent “haven’t heard enough” and another eight percent “don’t know” where they stand on Johnson. The senior senator also has a sizable net favorable rating even in this age group, at 28 percent favorable to 15 percent unfavorable.

Johnson has been among Trump’s most loyal allies in the Senate, defending him even at times when others even in his party are unwilling. And in that 18-29 age group, Trump’s favorability ratings are among his worst, with 27 percent favorable to 62 percent unfavorable. 

Trump also has a huge net unfavorability rating with women in Wisconsin, with 38 percent favorable to 58 percent unfavorable. But with Johnson, he’s at a net positive -- 36 percent favorable to 29 percent unfavorable. 

Here again, the “haven’t heard enough” number is a significant one -- 29 percent.

This is in part a failure on the part of Democrats in Wisconsin. If Democrats want to show how the GOP is Trump’s party and that problems with Republican leadership go well beyond one man -- which, to win elections up and down the ballot, they really need to do -- they can’t allow Johnson to skate by with his many faults unheard from among the Democratic voters. They have to get the message out on who Johnson has been in his extremely prominent office. 

Another group that’s more unfamiliar with Johnson than most: Independents. More than 35 percent of independents in Wisconsin either “haven’t heard enough” or “don’t know” on Johnson. That should be viewed as unacceptable.

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3. The majority of Wisconsinites support financial support for small farms, but there’s a distinct partisan divide

A big issue in Wisconsin recently has been agricultural policy, as Trump’s farm bailout is now double the cost of the auto bailout. The Marquette poll asks about whether the federal government should support “small farms.” 

Before breaking this down, it is worth noting that Trump’s Agriculture Secretary, Sonny Perdue, recently told a group of Wisconsin dairy farmers that “In America, the big get bigger and the small go out," so saving “small farms” might not be the precise goal of this administration. Wisconsin lost 700 dairy farms in 2018 and the pace of these closures continues to accelerate in 2019.

Nevertheless, helping “small farms” is an issue with broad support in Wisconsin. Men or women, young or old, urban or rural, most people think “the government should financially support small farms that are struggling to stay in business.”

But support on this issue is quite different on partisan lines. While 78 percent of Democrats are in favor of supporting small farms, only 50 percent of Republicans do, too. 

Along ideological lines, the support for small farms becomes greater the more liberal respondents are. 

It’s hard to say what conclusions there are to draw from this, as this question is a new one from the MU Law Poll, but as Wisconsin farmers struggle to determine where their support lies in 2020, this is an issue worth following. 

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4. Medicare-for-all is supported by a clear majority of Wisconsin voters

Among the biggest splinter issues among candidates in the Democratic primary has been support for “Medicare-for-all,” or some other version of expanded access to health care. And in this poll, “Medicare-for-all” is supported by 51 percent, opposed by 42 percent. 

That’s a pretty big deal. This is the first time the poll has asked this question using that particular language, and while some more moderate Democrats are running from the policy proposal, voters in this Midwestern state that Democrats are desperate to turn blue in 2020 largely support the policy. 

Even independents support it in huge numbers -- 63 percent to 27 percent. Moderates support it 55-35. It’s pretty popular, and that’s pretty significant.

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5. Impeachment doesn’t have majority support -- yet

The headline news to come from the Marquette Law School poll was that 46 percent of Wisconsin voters think there is indeed cause for Congress to move forward with impeachment hearings, with 49 percent saying there’s not enough cause, and five percent unsure. A smaller percentage, 44 percent, say Trump should be removed from office, with 51 percent opposing impeachment and removal.

The poll was conducted between Oct. 13 and 17, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the formal impeachment inquiry on Sept. 24. The story surrounding what many consider Trump’s impeachable offenses obviously continues to evolve, and in the one month following the announcement, much has been revealed.

Notably, independents are largely opposed to impeachment, with 35 saying there is enough cause and 53 percent opposed. At the same time, independents are the group least likely to have read the “rough transcript” of the call between Trump and Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelensky where the president asks the foreign leader to investigate a domestic political rival. Only 26 percent of independents said they had read what was released on Sept. 25, well below the 40 percent of Wisconsinites who did read the rough transcript. Of the people who read the transcript, 50 percent said Trump should be impeached and removed, with 40 percent opposed. 

Additionally, a vast majority of Wisconsin voters — 67 percent — said it is improper for the president to ask China and Ukraine to conduct investigations of American citizens. 

While support of impeachment is not yet a majority opinion in Wisconsin, it stands to reason that as more information emerges, support could build.


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