Wisconsin’s GOP Gov. Scott K. Walker leads Mary Burke, his presumed Democratic challenger 49 percent to 44 percent, according to a late March Human Events/Gravis poll of 988 registered Wisconsin voters.
“When looking at these data on the level of party identification, the election for governor appears to be following partisan lines with 82.5 percent of Democrats voters supporting Burke and 91.1 percent of Republican voters supporting Walker,” said Doug Kaplan, the president of Gravis Marketing, the Florida-based polling firm that conducted the poll.
The poll carries a 4 percent margin of error.
Kaplan said the state’s independent voters were more evenly divided.
“Independents were split between Burke and Walker 37.7 percent and 47.4 percent respectively,” he said. The Gravis telephone surveys are conducted using automated calls contacting registered voter lists provided by the State of Wisconsin.
“Across all party identifications, President Barack Obama’s approval rating was 40 percent with 11 percent expressing uncertainly,” he said. “When viewed on party identification, the President’s disapproval rating was nearly 97 percent among Republicans, 47.1 percent among Independents and 10.2 percent among Democrats.”
“If you are going to handicap it, Walker seems to be the favorite,” he said. “All other things being equal, one would expect him to win, but there are a lot of things that are not equal.”
Watch Gov. Scott K. Walker on CNBC with Larry Kudlow:
The state’s governor’s race will be a national contest with outside groups from both sides involved, he said. “I could say it is his race to lose, but that is probably a little strong.”
The top line results of the poll, 49-44, is in range with other polls, he said.
“I would describe it as a reasonable poll, given the understood house-effect, this poll probably overestimates Walker’s support by a little bit—not a lot, but a little bit,” he said.
The professor said he was concerned about an underweighting of minority voters and a house-effect in Gravis polls that shades the firm’s polls two percentage points towards the GOP. “If this was a 55-40, I would say you could ignore it, but that’s not what’s going on.”
The race between Walker and Burke is tighter than Mayer expected, because he was looking for Burke’s support to recede after it because clear that she was going to be the nominee, he said. Instead, Burke’s support has remained steady, while Walker has been caught up in a streak of negative news stories.
“Burke has a lot of appealing qualities for the Democrats,” he said. “She is the CEO of a major corporation in the state, she is an outsider,” he said. “If you look at the way Walker and the outside groups have and will portray her as another Madison liberal, but she is not on the left edge of the Democratic Party, I would describe her as a moderate.” The Republican Governors Association currently running negative ads on Burke in the state.
Burke, a sitting member of the Madison school board, led the Waterloo-based Trek bicycle manufacturer, and she was the state’s commerce secretary.
Mayer said there have been no polls that show Walker over 50 percent.
“He has been ranging between 49 and 45 percent.” The Walker campaign has to be worried on two counts, he said. First, after an election and recall and he being in office, if the governor has not convinced a voter to support him yet, he is unlikely to make the sale now—and that anyone who is undecided with break for the challenger.
“If people are really undecided about him, it is not clear what he could say or do to persuade them.” The second problem is that Walker needs a solid win in his own state before launching his run for the White House, he said. If Walker wins a new term, the professor expects him to top out at 52 to 53 percent.
The professor said Wisconsin has a highly polarized and unsettled electorate. “Madison and Milwaukee are deep blue and most of the rest of the state is pretty dark red.”
Although, the state has a liberal reputation, the professor said the suburbs surrounding Milwaukee are among the most conservative areas in the country. These suburbs are the backbone of Walker’s support.
After Walker survived the June 2012 recall election, Republicans assumed that their momentum would carry through to the 2012 presidential election, he said. Instead, even with favorite son Rep. Paul D. Ryan on the GOP ticket for vice president, President Barack Obama won the state.
Obama did not win Wisconsin in a landslide, but it was a solid win, and significantly not what any Republicans expected, he said.
“For the last 20 years, Wisconsin has been almost an archetype of a swing state,” he said. “We have had united Democratic control, we’ve had unified Republican control—in 2010, the state elected one of the most conservative senators, Ron Johnson, two years later, we elected one of the most liberal, Tammy Baldwin.”
While the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is unpopular, it is Wisconsin voters do not have the anger about the federal health care reform that there is in other states. Obama is also unpopular in the state, he said. In a recent visit to the state, Burke did not appear with the president, citing a scheduling conflict.
If the president’s approval ratings were in the 50s or 60s, Burke would have changed her schedule to be seen with him, he said.
In the end, the election will not turn on Obama, but on Walker v. Burke, with both sides looking to leverage the passion for and against Walker, he said.
In 2014, Republicans adore Walker. “Democrats despise him.” The big unknown is turnout, he said. “Obviously, you don’t know what the exact result will be until Election Day.”