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Marquette Poll: Ron Johnson continues lead over Mandela Barnes in US Senate race

Governor's race neck and neck, with Gov. Tony Evers holding 1 point advantage over Tim Michels

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., left, and his Democratic challenger Mandela Barnes shake hands before a televised debate
U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., left, and his Democratic challenger Mandela Barnes shake hands before a televised debate, Friday, Oct. 7, 2022, in Milwaukee. Morry Gash/AP Photo

Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson is leading Democratic Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes by 6 percentage points in the upcoming election, according to a new Marquette University Law School poll released Wednesday. Wisconsin’s race for governor remains exceptionally tight with Democratic Gov. Tony Evers holding a 1 point lead over Republican construction executive Tim Michels.

A presentation of Marquette’s third poll since the Aug. 9 primary was delayed somewhat due to a tornado warning that forced pollster Charles Franklin and members of media to seek shelter elsewhere in the university. A tweet from the MULawPoll Twitter account noted the delay was “a first in 10 years of releases.”

When the warning expired, Franklin held an abbreviated presentation of the survey of likely voters conducted between Oct. 3 through Oct. 9.

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In Wisconsin’s closely watched Senate race, Republican incumbent Johnson continued to hold a slight lead over Lt. Gov. Barnes with 52 percent of likely voters pledging support for Johnson and 46 percent saying they’ll vote for Barnes.

Johnson’s lead has expanded since Marquette’s poll in early September, which showed Johnson ahead of Barnes by 1 percentage point among all likely voters.

The largest shift in the race, according to recent Marquette polls, has been among independent voters.

“Independents, again, are the big part of what’s changed since August,” said Franklin. “In August, Barnes had a 15 point advantage with independents. Then in September, it was Johnson by 2 points with independents, and this month it’s 6 points with independents for Johnson advantage.”

That shift as been credited to relentless negative ads against Barnes that claim he supports defunding police and highlight his calls in 2018 to cut Wisconsin’s prison population in half.

On Oct. 1, the Barnes campaign launched a counter offensive aimed at shifting voters’ focus on Johnson’s long anti-abortion record with a “Ron Against Roe” tour and an ad highlighting Johnson’s support of federal “personhood” bill that would extend a right to life to unborn fetuses. Barnes claimed the bill amounts to an abortion ban with no exceptions for rape and incest.

Gov. Tony Evers and Tim Michels
Construction executive Tim Michels, left, and Gov. Tony Evers. The two will face off in the November election for governor. Angela Major/WPR

Governor’s race

In Wisconsin’s race for Governor, 47 percent of likely voters said they would vote for Gov. Tony Evers, while 46 percent said they’d cast their ballot for Michels. The results were well within the survey’s margin of error.

Marquette’s last poll, released Sept. 17, showed Evers with a 3 point lead over Republican construction executive Tim Michels.

The governor’s race has seen an equally notable swing among independents, said Franklin.

“In August, Evers had an 11 point advantage with independents,” said Franklin. “Then in September, that came down to a 6 point advantage. And now this month, it’s actually Michels with a 1 point advantage with independents.”

Wisconsinites have been inundated with election ads from both campaigns. Those from Michels’ campaign and Republican allies have focused on crime, an election strategy Republicans have been using around the country. The Michels campaign has spotlighted pardons and paroles of prison inmates by Ever’s Wisconsin Parole Commission and a broader theme accusing Evers of being soft on crime and botching the response to deadly 2020 riots in Kenosha.

Evers’ campaign and Democratic allies have targeted Michels’ support of Wisconsin’s 1849 abortion ban law and have worked to paint him as having a radical, anti-gun safety agenda claiming he opposes “red flag laws,” which allow judges to order individuals to temporarily give up their firearms if there’s reason to believe they’re a risk to themselves or others. Democratic candidates nationwide have been highlighting Republicans’ support for abortion bans made possible by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade.

Voters’ top concerns

Inflation continued to top the list of concerns cited by poll respondents, with 68 percent saying they’re very concerned about rising costs. Public schools came in second and gun violence came in third.

Abortion moved up the list of concerns from past polls, with 56 percent of respondents saying they’re very concerned about abortion policy.

The survey also found that 63 percent of respondents feel that Wisconsin is on the wrong track. That marks a 10 point jump from Marquette’s poll in September.

The Marquette Law School Poll surveyed 801 registered voters between Oct. 3 and Oct. 9. The margin of error among registered voters was 4.3 percent. The margin was 4.8 percent among likely voters.