Johnson and Barnes (copy)

Republican Sen. Ron Johnson and Democratic Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes will face off in November to represent Wisconsin in the U.S. Senate. The race is forecasted to be among the tightest in the country.

Gov. Tony Evers will face a tough reelection test against construction magnate Tim Michels, and Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson has ground to gain on Democratic Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes in Wisconsin’s Senate race.

That’s according to a new Marquette University Law School poll released Wednesday, which found Evers with a narrow lead over Michels and Barnes with a more sizable lead over Johnson.

The poll was conducted between Aug. 10 and Aug. 15, and interviewed 811 registered Wisconsin voters. It had a margin of error of +/- 4.2 percentage points.

Governor

In the race for the governor’s mansion, Evers had a statistically insignificant advantage over Michels, leading 45% to 43%. That’s noticeably closer than in Marquette Law School’s June poll — which took place before the Aug. 9 primary — where Evers led Michels 48% to 41%.

During a Wednesday event announcing the results of the poll, Charles Franklin, who oversees the survey, said that Joan Beglinger, an independent who qualified for the November ballot, had support from 7% of voters. Beglinger had not been included in previous general election match-ups.

Michels, who won the Aug. 9 gubernatorial primary, is still introducing himself to Wisconsin voters. About one-third of registered voters didn’t have an opinion on him, and the remaining two-thirds were split evenly between favorable and unfavorable views. Just 12% of voters didn’t have an opinion on Evers, compared to 46% with a favorable opinion and 41% with an unfavorable view.

The poll is a sign that Evers “is in trouble,” Michels campaign manager Patrick McNulty said in a statement.

“Tim Michels was at zero percent in the polls in April and has been underestimated ever since. But we're building the campaign that grows every day,” McNulty said. “You need to look no further than the tens of millions in out-of-state special interest money flooding in to prop up Tony Evers to know everyone realizes Wisconsin is on the wrong track."

Evers senior press secretary Kayla Anderson said in a statement that Evers “has spent the last four years bringing people together to get things done and delivering for working families — and he is ready for what’s ahead."

"Wisconsinites trust Gov. Tony Evers to do the right thing for our kids, our economy, and working families. This latest Marquette poll shows what we’ve known all along — this will be one of the most competitive races in the country and we aren’t taking anything for granted,” Anderson said.

Both candidates are associated with national party leaders whose ratings are underwater. Former President Donald Trump, who campaigned for Michels in the primary election, is viewed unfavorably by 57% of Wisconsin voters, and favorably by 38%. And Democratic President Joe Biden’s job approval rating sits at 40%, while 55% disapprove. 

Senate

In the race to represent Wisconsin in the U.S. Senate, the polls found Barnes with a 7-point lead over Johnson. The lieutenant governor’s 51% to 44% lead over his incumbent opponent is fueled by his strength among independent voters, Franklin said.

Among voters who don’t identify with a party, Barnes led Johnson 52% to 38%. That 14-point lead is sizable, and underlines Johnson’s need to win back swing voters if he wants to win a third term.

The poll found that just 38% of registered voters had a favorable opinion of the two-term senator. Conversely, it found 47% had an unfavorable view of Johnson, and just 15% didn’t have an opinion of him.

Barnes was viewed favorably by 37% of voters and unfavorably by 22%. Forty-one percent of voters still don’t have an opinion of the lieutenant governor, who previously served in the state Assembly.

Wisconsin voters “are ready for a leader who will fight for middle class families,” said Barnes campaign spokesperson Maddy McDaniel in a memo to reporters. 

“Mandela has never taken any vote for granted,” McDaniel said. “He will continue to take his message of working for the middle class to voters in every corner of the state.”

Barnes’ lead comes in the wake of a crowded Democratic primary race during which few punches were thrown within the party, and attacks were instead directed at Johnson. In the week before the primary, Barnes’ closest Democratic challengers ended their campaigns and united behind him.

“Wisconsin voters will get to know Mandela Barnes' record and his extreme positions on just about every issue over the next 3 months,” Johnson campaign spokesperson Ben Voelkel tweeted following the poll’s release.

Issues

Inflation continues to top the list of issues concerning voters, but the share of voters who list it as their foremost concern has declined from 75% of voters who were “very concerned” in June to 67% in August. That shift follows dips in gasoline prices, Franklin noted.

Behind inflation, 61% of voters said they are very concerned about gun violence, and 58% said the same about crime. Abortion policy was very concerning for 55% of voters, closely followed by public schools at 54%.

The partisan breakdown on voters’ most significant election issues was dramatic. The top five issues for Republicans, in order of importance, were inflation, crime, taxes, illegal immigration and public schools. For Democrats, they were climate change, gun violence, abortion policy, public schools and crime.

Marquette will release three more polls ahead of the Nov. 8 general election, Franklin said.

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