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Marquette poll: Lt Gov. Barnes ahead of Sen. Johnson, Gov. Evers & Michels in tight race

Stickers for voters, during Wisconsins state primary day on August 9, 2022 at the Village Hall of Waukesha in Waukesha, WI.
Alex Wroblewski
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Stickers for voters, during Wisconsins state primary day on August 9, 2022 at the Village Hall of Waukesha in Waukesha, WI.

A new Marquette University poll shows Democrat Mandela Barnes has opened a lead in this year's U.S. Senate contest against Republican incumbent Ron Johnson, and Democrat incumbent Tony Evers and Republican challenger Tim Michels are in a tight race for Wisconsin governor.

Marquette conducted the telephone survey of 811 registered Wisconsin voters from last Wednesday, through Monday of this week. The margin of error in the poll is plus or minus about 4%.

Barnes lead Johnson in Wisconsin's U.S. Senate race

Mandela Barnes and Ron Johnson
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Democratic Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes is ahead of Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson in the August Marquette poll.
Marquette poll: U.S. Senate race

The poll shows Democratic Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes at 51 percentage points and Republican Sen. Ron Johnson at 44, with 5% answering neither, don't know or refusing to answer.

Marquette pollster Charles Franklin says one of the reasons Barnes has increased a lead from a poll in June, and overall is ahead by 7, is that he's 14 percentage points ahead of Johnson among independents.

"So, Barnes is getting a nice post-primary bump. Not with partisans, because in June, partisans were very united behind Barnes as well in the hypothetical matchup. But he's getting it with independents," he says.

Franklin has a cautionary note for Barnes, though. The poll shows while the Democrat is ahead of the Republican on public perception that Barnes cares about them, and shares their values, about one-quarter of respondents say they don't know enough about Barnes to answer those questions.

"So, there's room for that to change — either to get better or to get worse. And, of course, campaigns have two sides and will be telling rather different stories about all of these candidates. So. what happens to the 'don't knows' is really worth watching," he says.

Franklin's other note of caution for Barnes is that Johnson trailed early in the 2016 polling against Democrat Russ Feingold, but came back to win that contest.

But the pollster also cautions Johnson, saying more people now know the controversial senator, and don't like him. "Since 2020, 'don't knows' for him have come down from around 30 to around 15 now. But it's almost all unfavorables that went up, while favorable has been flat. So, the magic that worked so well in 2016, converting 'don't knows' into favorables, seems to be working the other way in 2022."

Franklin says Johnson now has a much smaller group of people to try to influence during this fall's campaign. But the pollster says the two-term senator could still make that happen.

Evers & Michels in tight race for Wisconsin's governor

Evers and Michels
Melina Mara - Pool, Scott Olson
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Democratic Gov. Tony Evers has a slight lead of Republican challenger Tim Michels in the August Marquette poll.
Marquette poll: Wisconsin governor's race

The poll shows Democrat Tony Evers with just a two-point lead over Republican challenger Tim Michels in the race for Wisconsin governor.

That said, Evers is at 45 percentage points, Michels is at 43 and independent candidate Joan Beglinger is at 7%, with just 5% saying they don't know or refusing to answer. On her website, Beglinger claims Evers and President Joe Biden are responsible for the worst economic environment in decades.

Charles Franklin
Chuck Quirmbach
Marquette pollster Charles Franklin at the release of the August poll.

Marquette pollster Charles Franklin says the governor's race has tightened since June, when Evers led Michels by 7 in a hypothetical contest, and Beglinger wasn't included in polling. Franklin says now, the Democratic and Republican parties are strongly united behind their candidates, with Democrats having slightly more unity and Independents favoring Evers by about four percentage points.

"That small advantage Evers has with independents, the very small greater party loyalty difference of two points, 91-89, tiny crossover vote. Those are the things that manufacture that two point Evers advantage in the overall race," he says.

Franklin says looking ahead, Evers has a strong advantage over Michels both in public perception of whether the candidates care about them, and share the public's values. Less than 10% aren't sure about the Democratic incumbent. But 23% don't know about the Republican challenger.

"Campaigns matter — what happens with that 23% between now and November, as they come to form impressions of Tim Michels. Do they develop positive images in which case his balance of cares and not cares is going to improve for him, or do they develop negative images?," he asks.

Franklin says perceptions of Evers can also change, but probably less so, because people are pretty familiar with the governor after nearly four years in office, plus his previous years as state school superintendent.

Franklin says support for independents like Beglinger tends to slip, closer to the general election.

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