MARY BURKE SECTOR67 3-03272014162129.jpg

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke during a tour of Sector67 in March.

Mike DeVries

The latest statewide poll is good news for Mary Burke and other Democrats seeking election in Wisconsin this year.

The poll, conducted by Marquette University Law School, showed Burke tied in her race with Gov. Scott Walker, 46-46, among registered voters. Among likely voters, Walker leads 48-45.

Both metrics show a dramatically tighter race than was indicated in the last Marquette poll, in March, when Walker led Burke 48-41 among registered voters.

Other answers given by respondents in the poll, which had a margin of error of 3.5 percent, indicated a couple of reasons why the race may have tightened.

First, far more people know Burke now than several months ago. Roughly half of state voters have at least heard of the former Trek Bicycle executive, compared to just 30 percent at the beginning of the year.

Respondents also indicated, by a 59-27 percent margin, that they would favor a candidate with business experience over one with political experience. That's good for Burke, who made her biggest mark in the private sector, and a bad sign for Walker, who has spent nearly his entire career as an elected official.

Burke’s jump in the poll may also reflect a general shift in public opinion in favor of Democrats. Contrary to expectations that Democrats will suffer losses in November, as the president’s party typically does in midterm elections, 47 percent of respondents said they hope to see Congress controlled by Democrats compared to only 40 percent who want to see Republicans in control.

In addition, when asked to describe with which party they identify more closely, 44 percent chose Democrats while 35 percent said Republicans. The nine point split in favor of Democrats exceeds the margin the party enjoyed in the weeks preceding the 2012 presidential election, when President Barack Obama carried the state by nearly seven points.

What the poll does not indicate is whether Burke’s fortune is a result of a decline in support for Walker. Walker’s approval rating actually jumped from 47 percent to 49 percent in the two months since the last poll.

President Obama’s approval rating has not changed much either. It rose from 47 to 48 percent.

The poll did not ask any questions about Obamacare, a topic it has addressed previously. In March, only 39 percent of the state regarded the health law favorably. How the law is regarded by independent voters may play a key role in determining the outcome of elections this year.

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Jack Craver is the Capital Times political reporter, focusing on elections, candidates and campaign finance.