Marquette poll shows Kleefisch and Barnes leaders in major primary contests

It’s early days and most voters aren’t paying attention yet.

But if you’re in the running for Wisconsin’s major primaries, Marquette University’s first law school poll provides some pointers.

So…as expected, former Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch and Lt. Governor Mandela Barnes, who are the best-known candidates, are leading their respective primaries, according to poll results announced Wednesday.

In the Republican gubernatorial race, Kleefisch is the choice of 30% of those polled, while Waukesha County businessman Kevin Nicholson is at 8% and State Rep. Timothy Ramthun , at 5 %.

The most significant figure is that 54% don’t know enough about the candidates to have an opinion.

In the Democratic U.S. Senate race, Barnes is the 23% pick, Milwaukee Bucks manager Alex Lasry is 13%, Outagamie County manager Tom Nelson is 5%, and state treasurer Sarah Godlewski is at 3%.

A substantial percentage of 48% gave no preference.

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“A lot of voters just haven’t listened to the races yet,” poll director Charles Franklin said.

About half of those polled have chosen a candidate and half have yet to make a decision, Franklin said.

“It shows the potential for change over the course of the campaign,” Franklin said. “And, of course, name recognition and familiarity play an important role.”

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, who faces re-election, received 50% job approval to 41% disapproval, up from last October when 45% approved of his job performance and 46% disapproved.

Despite high personal poll numbers for Evers, only 39% of voters say the state is heading in the right direction while 53% say it is on the wrong track. Additionally, the Republican-led Legislature is underwater, with 37% approval to 46% disapproval.

“I think the right direction, the wrong way (question) really draws a lot of pessimism about how the country is doing these days,” Franklin said.

Republican US Senator Ron Johnson, running for a third term, was viewed favorably by 33% and unfavorably by 45%, a slight drop from last October.

President Joe Biden, who appeared in Superior on Wednesday after Tuesday night’s State of the Union address, has a 43% approval rating in the poll, with an unfavorable rating of 52%.

Former President Donald Trump is viewed favorably by 36% and unfavorably by 57%.

The survey of 802 Wisconsin voters was conducted Feb. 22-27, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.8 percent.

Half of the samples had a margin of error ranging from plus or minus 5.4% to 5.8%. For the primaries, 363 Republican voters and 354 Democratic voters were polled, while about 400 people were polled for political questions.

On the issues, 68% of voters say they are very concerned about inflation and 28% say they are somewhat concerned.

Despite the state’s unemployment rate now below 3%, unemployment remains a key issue, with 31% saying they are very concerned about unemployment while 35% are somewhat concerned.

Regarding schools, 35% say parents should have the biggest role in determining public school curriculum, 33% say teachers, 13% say school boards, 9% say superintendents and principals while 5% say lawmakers.

Sixty-one percent of Wisconsin voters support legalizing marijuana and 31 percent oppose it.

In the 2020 election, 67% are very or somewhat confident that votes were cast and counted correctly, while 31% are not too confident or not at all confident.

As Republicans poll the results, partisan differences remain, with just 38% of Republicans confident and 61% not confident, compared to 96% of Democrats expressing confidence while 3% said they are not. Among the independents, he is 55% confident and 35% not confident.

Even though the bulk of voters did not pay close attention to the two key Aug. 9 primaries, the candidates raised campaign funds while making their best case to their party bases.

In the Republican gubernatorial race, Kleefisch announced his gubernatorial bid in September, while Nicholson joined the main field in late January and Ramthun entered in mid-February.

Kleefisch and Nicholson traded verbal fire. Kleefisch accused Nicholson of being an “opportunist” and a “shaper”, while Nicholson sought to portray Kleefisch as part of the “Republican political machine”.

The Democratic race for the US Senate started earlier, with Nelson launching his candidacy in October 2020, followed by Lasry in February 2021, Godlewski in April and Barnes in July.

In the Senate primary, Lasry made the biggest move yet, spending more than $3 million on television advertising in an effort to raise awareness for his name statewide. Lasry’s first ad began airing in October.

During this time, Lasry and Godlewski also poured money into their campaigns, according to public records, while Barnes accumulated a significant number of small individual donors.