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Marquette Poll: US Senate race tightens, Johnson leads Barnes by 2 points

Tony Evers, Tim Michels tied in Wisconsin governor's race

A blue yard sign says "VOTE" near a line of early voters
Voters at UW-Madison wait in line to vote early Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020. Angela Major/WPR

Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson’s polling lead over Democratic Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes has narrowed, according to the latest survey of Wisconsin residents by the Marquette University Law School. The results show the state’s race for governor is a dead heat, with pollster Charles Franklin labeling both races as toss-ups.

Wisconsin’s senate race has been one of the nation’s most closely watched contests with Democrats hoping Barnes will flip the seat in order to maintain or expand a slim majority in that chamber. Republicans are hoping to keep Johnson in office and take control of the U.S. Senate by way of equally close Senate races in Arizona, Georgia and Nevada.

In Marquette’s final poll before the midterm election, 50 percent of likely voters surveyed between Oct. 24 and Nov. 1 said they would cast their ballots for Johnson, while 48 percent said they would vote for Barnes.

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Franklin noted the 2-point advantage for Johnson is well within the poll’s margin of error.

“So, the right characterization of this is, this is purely a toss-up race at this point,” Franklin said.

Johnson’s lead was cut by more than half since Marquette’s previous poll, released Oct. 12, which showed 52 percent of likely voters pledging support for Johnson and 46 percent saying they’ll vote for Barnes.

Swings among independent voters in Wisconsin’s senate race have been significant. Shortly after Barnes won an all-but-uncontested Democratic primary in August he held a 15 point advantage over Johnson among independents. Two months later, that lead had disappeared and Johnson was ahead of Barnes with independents by 2 percentage points.

Wednesday’s Marquette results show 53 percent of independents favoring Johnson and 46 percent favoring Barnes.

“So, Johnson seems to have opened up that advantage with independents,” said Franklin. “But Barnes, at the same time, has recovered some of his support with Democrats.”

Among likely voters identifying as Democrats, 98 percent said they will vote for Barnes. That’s up from 93 percent of Democrats surveyed in early October.

Much of the shift among independents in the Senate race has been credited to a wave of Republican attack ads painting the lieutenant governor as soft on crime. Johnson’s campaign and allied outside political action committees have continually hammered Barnes for past statements about reallocating police funding to pay for social services and reducing Wisconsin’s prison population by half.

Since October, Barnes and allied outside political action committees have doubled down on attacking Johnson for his long anti-abortion record. The ads have highlighted Johnson’s past votes on national abortion ban legislation and a personhood bill that Barnes claims is akin to an abortion ban with no exceptions for rape and incest.

“Like most elections in Wisconsin, this will be close,” said Johnson campaign spokesperson Ben Voelkel in response to the Marquette survey, “But voters should remember: Mandela Barnes is an extremist who wants more of the same Biden economic policies that have led to 40-year high inflation and record gas prices, and he wants to defund the police.”

Barnes campaign spokesperson Maddy McDaniel said they too expect a toss-up.

“We’ve said from day one that this is going to be a close race, and in these closing days we’re focused on mobilizing Wisconsinites across the state to turn out and fire Ron Johnson.”

In Wisconsin’s hotly contested race for governor, Republican construction executive Tim Michels and Democratic incumbent Gov. Tony Evers are locked in a dead heat, according to Marquette’s survey results.

Wednesday’s results show 48 percent of likely voters said they would vote for Michels and 48 percent said they’d choose Evers. That’s the tightest the race has been since Michels entered the race in April and was endorsed by former President Donald Trump in June.

“This is truly reminiscent of four years ago when we had the governor’s race tied in the final poll as well,” Franklin said.

In 2018, Evers narrowly defeated former Republican Gov. Scott Walker by a margin of 1.1 percent.

Among independents surveyed by Marquette, 47 percent said they planned to vote for Evers while 46 percent said they’d support Michels. In August, Evers held an 11-point advantage over Michels with independents. That was winnowed down to 6 percentage points in September and flipped to a 1 percentage edge for Michels among independents in early October.

Michels and allied outside political action committees have blanketed Wisconsin with negative ads attacking Evers for being soft on crime. Much of the advertisements have focused on pardons and paroles of prison inmates by Evers’ Wisconsin Parole Commission and the governor’s response to the deadly 2020 riots in Kenosha.

Evers’ campaign and his Democratic allies have countered with attack ads focusing on Michels’ support of Wisconsin’s 1849 abortion ban law and his opposition to gun control laws.

Evers campaign spokesperson Kayla Anderson said the latest Marquette results show Wisconsin’s governor’s race will be one of the closest in the nation.

“With just one week to go until Election Day, Wisconsinites know that Governor Tony Evers is the only candidate for governor who will do the right thing to invest in our kids, lower costs for working families, and keep communities safe,” Anderson said. “As Tim Michels continues to embrace radical policies that are completely out of touch with Wisconsinites, Governor Evers is traveling across the state to talk to voters about the stakes of this election and highlight his record of moving the state forward.”

Michels campaign manager Patrick McNulty agreed the race will be “extremely close” but said the latest results show momentum is on the Republican’s side.

“Governor Evers and his allies are pulling out all the desperate smears and dirty tricks as he limps to the end of his campaign,” McNulty said. “Tony Evers has failed. In just six months, Tim Michels has built a broad coalition of Wisconsinites ready for proven leadership that will strengthen our economy, reduce crime, and empower parents in our education system.”

Inflation remains top concern among voters

Among all voters surveyed by Marquette, 68 percent said they were very concerned about inflation. Inflation has been a top concern in surveys throughout 2022.

Public schools came in second, followed by crime and gun violence. Abortion policy came in sixth, with 52 percent of registered voters saying they’re very concerned about the issue.

The Marquette Law School poll surveyed 802 registered voters between Oct. 24 and Nov. 1. The margin of error for the full sample of voters was 4.6 percent. The margin of error among the 679 likely voters surveyed was 4.8 percent.