Democrat Tony Evers has opened up a 5-point lead over Gov. Scott Walker in the latest Marquette University Law School poll.
The poll of about 600 likely voters from Sept. 12-16, released Tuesday, showed Evers leading Walker 49 percent to 44 percent. That’s inside the margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 points. The poll sample skewed slightly in favor of the liberal candidate, with 46 percent of respondents identifying with the Democratic Party, compared to 45 percent with the GOP.
The new results are an improvement for Evers, the state schools superintendent, as the last survey from Marquette, released last month, showed the race in a dead heat. The university’s June poll had Walker leading by 2 percent.
Poll director Charles Franklin said the trajectory of the last three polls could be considered a trend favoring Evers.
"If you think it’s just bouncing around, the ball’s bounced in Evers’ favor this time," Franklin said.
Franklin also pointed out Evers has a substantial lead over the governor among independent voters. The poll showed Evers with the support of 52 percent of independents, compared to 32 percent for Walker.
"I pointed to the independents last time, to show you they were moving in a Democratic direction, and I’m pointing to them right now to show you they’re still in a Democratic direction," Franklin said.
The poll also showed some additional bad news for the governor. His approval rating slipped to 45 percent, down from 49 percent in August. That echoed a similar slip for President Donald Trump, whose approval slid from 45 percent to 42 percent.
Baldwin Leads In US Senate Race
The poll also had good news for Democrats regarding the U.S. Senate race. The results showed incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin widening her lead over her GOP challenger, state Sen. Leah Vukmir.
Among likely voters, Baldwin received the support of 53 percent of those polled, compared to 42 percent for Vukmir. That represents a substantial shift from the August poll, which had Baldwin leading by just 2 percent among likely voters surveyed.
"This time it’s not tight at all," Franklin said of the incumbent’s new 11-point advantage.
Schimel Ahead Of Kaul In AG Race
However, the GOP did come out ahead in the race for state attorney general. In the poll’s first head-to-head matchup in the race, GOP incumbent Brad Schimel lead his Democratic challenger, former federal prosecutor Josh Kaul, by 7 percent among likely voters.
Franklin pointed out that Kaul remains relatively unknown among Wisconsin voters, with 87 percent of those surveyed saying they don’t know enough about him to have an opinion.
"The AG’s race tends to be overshadowed — and this year with a governor’s race and a senate race, I think the AG candidates are going to have to really work hard to get known and get visible," he said.
Roads, Budget, Affordable Care Act, Foxconn
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Democrats also saw some movement in their direction when registered voters in Marquette's September sample were asked about issues in this year's campaigns.
When asked the condition of roads near them, 35 percent of voters said they were excellent or good compared to 64 percent who said they were fair or poor. When Marquette asked the same question in July, 40 percent of voters said their roads were excellent or good compared to 59 percent who said fair or poor.
The 5 percent negative shift comes as Evers and Democratic groups have made Walker's handling of road funding a centerpiece issue in the race for governor.
"This really could be a campaign effect," Franklin said. "As the issue of roads and highways is being debated and talked about in the news, it may be urging people to develop an opinion about it and the effect of that has been to be a bit more negative."
Marquette's poll found 31 percent of voters believe the state budget is in better shape than a few years ago, while 28 percent say it's about the same and 29 percent say it's in worse shape.
While those numbers are positive the incumbent administration, they're considerably lower than when Walker ran for re-election in 2014. At that time, 41 percent said the budget was in better shape.
When asked about the Affordable Care Act, another issue Democrats are highlighting in 2018, 47 percent of voters had a positive view compared to 45 percent who have an unfavorable view.
A strong majority of voters favor keeping the law, with 4 percent saying it should remain unchanged and 55 percent saying it should be kept and improved. Among those who want the law repealed, 25 percent say it should be replaced with something else while 10 percent say it should be repealed and not replaced.
One area where the numbers improved modestly for Republicans was on Foxconn, but people still had an overall negative view of the state's deal with the tech giant.
Forty-four percent think the state is paying more than the Foxconn plant is worth, which was down from 46 percent in Marquette's July survey.
When asked if businesses where they live will benefit from Foxconn, 32 percent said yes compared to 30 percent in July.
"It's up a little bit," said Franklin, "But it's not sort of taking off."
Walker has run ads promoting the benefits of Foxconn and has traveled the state to promote it to other regions.
Editor’s note: This story was last updated at 2:39 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018, with additional reporting from Wisconsin Public Radio.