MU Law Poll: Most Wisconsin voters undecided for August primary

Candidates in two upcoming statewide primaries have a big problem: Voters don’t know much about them. A new Marquette University Law School Poll released on Wednesday, March 2 found inflation is the biggest concern, while fears of the coronavirus pandemic have eased quite a bit. Many of you are still undecided about those running for senate and governor.

Released online Wednesday, the results of the first Marquette University Law School Poll of the year show candidates on both sides of the aisle have work to do before the August election.

"A lot of voters simply haven’t tuned in to the races yet.  Fifty-one percent of our sample of registered voters said they don’t know yet who they will support in either the Republican or Democratic primary," said Charles Franklin.

Case in point: Rebecca Kleefisch.

Rebecca Kleefisch

"Rebecca Kleefisch, who is a GOP candidate for governor served eight years as lieutenant governor. Nevertheless, half of registered voters in this state, 50%, say they don’t know enough about her to have an opinion, or they don’t know what they think," said Franklin.

Meanwhile, Democratic Governor Tony Evers’ job approval is split.

Gov. Tony Evers

"Since October, it’s been a small improvement for him on his net numbers," said Franklin.

Mandela Barnes tops Democrats running against Republican incumbent Ron Johnson for U.S. Senate. He's the current lieutenant governor, and yet, 62% really don’t have an opinion of him.

"Let’s look at job approval ratings of Biden – his overall is 43% approve, 52% disapprove," said Franklin.

Here's where it gets interesting. Researchers called the 802 registered voters for this poll last week, largely before the conflict in Ukraine escalated.

President Joe Biden in Superior, Wisconsin

"Watch the national polls over the next two weeks or two and a half weeks," said Franklin. "It takes time to get a poll in the field and for these developments to sink in."   

Former President Donald Trump has seen his favorability drop off since leaving office, but his numbers haven’t really budged since October – 36% like him while 57% don’t. Another revelation was that 51% of Republicans now favor legalizing marijuana, a first for this poll.

More Marquette poll findings

The MU Law Poll says Republicans and Democrats are about equally unsure whom to vote for – with 54% unsure in the GOP governor primary and 48% in the Democratic Senate primary. 

Officials say this shows the potential for change over the course of the campaigns.

MU Law Poll officials say many do not have opinions of even the two most widely known candidates, Rebecca Kleefisch in the Republican primary for governor (50% with no opinion) and Mandela Barnes in the Democratic primary for Senate (62% with no opinion). For most other candidates in both races, 80% or more of those polled have no opinion.

The poll results show among all voters, 23% have a favorable opinion of Kleefisch while 26% view her unfavorably. For Kevin Nicholson 10% view him favorably and 9% unfavorably. For Timothy Ramthun, 4% of voters view him favorably – 9% unfavorably.

On the Democratic side, among all voters, 22% have a favorable opinion of Barnes – while 14% view him unfavorably. For Alex Lasry, 16% view him favorably, 10% unfavorably. For Tom Nelson, 7% favorably and 8% unfavorably. For Sarah Godlewski, 5% view her favorably while 6% view her unfavorably.

When asked about Gov. Tony Evers' performance, 50% of poll respondents approve – and 41% disapprove. In October 2021, it was 45% approve, 46% disapprove. 

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The latest results are from polling done Feb. 22 through Feb. 27 by cellphone and landline with 802 registered voters. The margin of error is +/- 3.% points for questions to the full sample. 

Primary vote choice

The best-known candidates are leading their respective primaries at this early stage of the campaign. Among Republicans and independents who say they will vote in the Republican primary, Rebecca Kleefisch is the choice of 30%, Kevin Nicholson is preferred by 8%, Tim Ramthun is supported by 5%, and 54% say they don’t know whom they will vote for. 

In the Democratic U.S. Senate primary, Mandela Barnes is supported by 23%, Alex Lasry is supported by 13%, Tom Nelson is the choice of 5%, and Sarah Godlewski is preferred by 3%.

Approval ratings

Forty-three percent of voters approve of the job President Joe Biden is doing, 52% disapprove, and 3% say they don’t know. 

Gov. Tony Evers’ job approval stands at 50%, while 41% disapprove. When last measured in October 2021, 45% approved and 46% disapproved. 

The Wisconsin legislature has a job approval rate of 37%, while 46% disapprove and 16% say they don’t know. 

Favorability

Sen. Ron Johnson is viewed favorably by 33% of voters and unfavorably by 45%, with 21% saying they haven’t heard enough or don’t know.

Sen. Tammy Baldwin is rated favorably by 42% of voters and unfavorably by 36%, with 21% lacking an opinion of her. 

Favorability to former President Donald Trump is at 36%, with an unfavorable opinion at 57% and 5% not expressing an opinion.

Direction of the state

Thirty-nine percent of voters say the state of Wisconsin is headed in the right direction, while 53% say it is on the wrong track. In October 2021, 41% said it was moving in the right direction and 51% said it was on the wrong track.

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