Experts: Election Day turnout will decide Walker vs. Burke

According to the latest Marquette University Law School Poll, Gov. Scott Walker leads Democratic challenger Mary Burke 50% to 43% among likely voters, with 3% undecided. Among registered voters, the race remains tight, with Walker leading Burke 46% to 45%.

The poll, released Oct. 29, is the Marquette Law School’s final look at the governor’s race prior to the Nov. 4 election.

“The latest poll indicated that Gov. Walker’s supporters are much more likely than Mary Burke’s supporters to say they will show up on Election Day,” stated Michael Wagner, associate professor in the UW-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication and the Department of Political Science. “More than nine out of 10 Republicans say they will be turning out to vote while only eight out of 10 Democrats say the same.” That type of disparity is “par for the course in midterm elections,” he added.

Among likely voters, the Marquette poll showed that women support Burke 49% to 43%, while Walker holds a 58% to 36% advantage among men.

The previous Marquette poll, which was released on Oct. 15, showed Walker and Burke tied among likely voters at 47%. “Shifting turnout intentions have provided most of the dynamics of the race this fall,” said Charles Franklin, director of the Marquette Law School Poll, in a release. Walker has a slight advantage, he noted, but the race has really come down to turnout. The results “drive home how important turnout is. That’s the message of this. Ultimately, polls don’t vote. Voters vote, and that’s still very much in their hands next Tuesday.”

A still-unknown effect, Franklin says, is whether new technologies (e.g., social media) being used by both parties in an effort to reach out to voters will have an impact in converting some not-likely voters into voters. “That’s the game being played out by the get-out-the-vote efforts statewide.”

Wednesday’s poll results found that 93% of Republicans say they are certain to vote on Tuesday, a number that is “right at par” with where they were before the 2012 recall elections, according to Franklin. In comparison, 82% of Democrats and 75% of independents are making the same promise.

“Democrats are actually reporting turnout rates about 5% above where they were at the recall, but they’re not as high as the Republicans.” And independents, he adds, appear to be lacking in enthusiasm. “They’re reporting turnout rates about 5% to 7% below where they were before the recall.”

National concerns could also play a small role in voter turnout, Franklin says. “The historical pattern is that presidential approval is the most important driver of midterm election outcomes, aside from the candidates themselves.” In other words, the more popular the president, the better the party performs. “[President Obama’s] approval in Wisconsin, I think, is close to the national average,” he says, “but his role in the broader national issues [e.g., ISIS, Ebola], I think, may affect overall aggregate turnout or enthusiasm a bit.”

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Meanwhile, in the race for attorney general, the Marquette poll found that Republican candidate Brad Schimel is supported by 43% of likely voters, compared to 39% for Democrat Susan Happ, while 14% of respondents still claim to be undecided. With just days left before the election, most registered voters say they either haven’t heard of or don’t have an opinion of either Schimel or Happ.

“It is a bit shocking that a hotly contested, highly competitive attorney general’s race has failed to engage so many Wisconsinites,” observed Wagner.

Poll respondents also weighed in on a variety of issues. Among registered voters:

  • Fifty-one percent believe the state is headed in the right direction; 44% say it is on the wrong track.
  • Fifty-seven percent support increasing the minimum wage; 39% oppose.
  • Fifty-six percent favor permitting same-sex marriage; 34% oppose.
  • Sixty percent are in favor of requiring a photo ID to vote; 36% oppose.
  • Fifty-two percent oppose requiring an ultrasound for a woman seeking an abortion; 41% support it.
  • Fifty-five percent believe recipients of food stamps and unemployment benefits should undergo required drug testing; 41% oppose.
  • Fifty-four percent have an unfavorable view of existing health care reform compared to 34% who have a favorable view of it.
  • Fifty-four percent believe people are unemployed because of a lack of skills; 35% believe it is because of a lack of jobs.
  • Fifty-six percent believe first-offense drunk driving should be a criminal misdemeanor, while 39% believe the current law, resulting in a non-criminal ticket for a first offense, should remain in place.
  • And regarding Act 10, 50% say the limitations on unions should be retained, while 43% say collective bargaining should be restored.

The poll of 1,409 registered voters was conducted between Oct. 23 and 26 on both landline and cell phones and has a margin of error of +/-2.7%. The margin of error is +/- 3% among likely voters.

So who will win on Nov. 4? “It honestly depends who shows up at the polls,” Franklin reiterated. “I’m now happy to be finished with the polling season and happy to hand this task off to the voters themselves to ultimately make the decision.”

 “Get the chips and salsa out!” he laughed. It could be a long night.

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