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Poll puts Senate candidate Mandela Barnes ahead of unpopular incumbent Ron Johnson

Marquette University Law School’s latest poll also found Democratic Gov. Tony Evers within the margin error of his Republican opponent, businessman Tim Michels.

By Nick Vachon - August 18, 2022
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Mandela Barnes

On Wednesday, the first post-primary poll of Wisconsin voters found that the two Democratic nominees for Senate and governor, Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes and incumbent Gov. Tony Evers, lead their Republican opponents. Barnes, who is challenging Sen. Ron Johnson, is up 7 points over the two-term senator, one of the most unpopular members of the U.S. Senate.

The poll also found that Evers leads Republican nominee Tim Michels 45% to 43%, within the poll’s +/- 4.2% margin of error. Michels won a hard-fought Republican primary for governor after former President Donald Trump endorsed him over former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch.

The poll, conducted by Marquette University Law School from Aug. 10 to 15, surveyed 811 registered voters by cell and landline. Marquette’s sample was 30% Republicans, 29% Democrats, and 41% independents, which is roughly equivalent to Wisconsin voters’ party identification.

Democrats view Barnes’ campaign as one of their best opportunities to flip a Senate seat this cycle.

NBC reported Wednesday that Johnson, upset about his declining popularity and Democrats’ efforts to brand him as an out-of-touch millionaire, is attempting to rebrand himself by focusing on his personal biography while assailing Barnes as a “radical.”

Johnson is one of Trump’s closest allies, quarterbacked efforts in Wisconsin to overturn the 2020 election, and is worth an estimated $48 million.

One ad funded by a pro-Johnson political action committee ties Barnes to progressive lawmakers such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN). Another ad details Johnson’s teenage jobs mowing lawns, washing dishes at Walgreens, delivering papers, and starting his plastic manufacturing company with his brother.

According to Marquette’s latest poll, Johnson has his work cut out for him. When asked if the senator “cares about people like you,” almost half of Wisconsin voters, including 52% of independents and 55% of women, said Johnson does not.

Much of Barnes’ lead is thanks to his high favorability among independents, among whom he has a 16-point lead. The poll found that many Wisconsin voters have not yet formed an opinion of their lieutenant governor: 30% say that they have no opinion of Barnes yet, compared to only 9% who say the same about Johnson.

Similarly, 24% of voters say they have not heard enough about Michels to form a favorable or unfavorable opinion of him.

Since Michels became the nominee, Democrats have launched a flurry of ads aimed at defining the Republican candidate as a “divisive radical.”

One Democratic Governors Association ad targets Michels for supporting legislation that would allow loaded guns on school grounds.

In May, the DGA announced it had reserved $21 million in TV advertisements to defend Evers.

A series of 15-second spots from the Evers campaign focuses on issues such as Michels’ entertaining conspiracy theories about the 2020 election and support for decertifying it, which is blatantly illegal, and his opposition to adding rape and incest exceptions to Wisconsin’s 173-year-old abortion ban.

The latter is an especially unpopular position in Wisconsin, where 88% of voters say that women should be able to receive an abortion in the case of rape or incest, including 79% of Republicans.

The poll is Marquette’s first statewide poll conducted in the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization that overturned Roe v. Wade, the decision that guaranteed the right to abortion. 60% of voters say they oppose the Supreme Court’s decision, and roughly equal percentages of Republican and Democratic voters now say they’re “certain” to vote. In June, Democrats trailed Republicans by 5 points in that measure of voter enthusiasm.

The parties are on “a pretty even footing now despite the enthusiasm gap in June,” said Marquette poll director Charles Franklin. “It looks more like what we were seeing in the winter and spring without much of an enthusiasm gap.”

Concern about inflation decreased for the first time this year, a sign that voters have taken notice of falling gas prices and slowing inflation.

The poll also found that for the first time, a majority of voters from both parties support legalizing marijuana. Paid parental leave, a policy historically supported by Democrats, also received support from more than half of Republican voters. Michels and Kleefisch had both endorsed the idea in the closing days of the Republican primary.

The United States is one of just seven nations with no national law mandating paid maternity leave.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.


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