Heading into Labor Day weekend, a new Marquette Law School Poll shows Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and U.S. Senate candidate Russ Feingold leading their Republican opponents by much narrower margins in the state than three weeks ago.
Clinton leads Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump by three points (45-42) in the state among likely voters. The last poll three weeks ago showed Clinton coming out of the national conventions with a 15-point lead over Trump among likely voters, those who say they are certain to vote in the Nov. 8 election.
Poll director Charles Franklin said the shift from three weeks earlier could be the result of a number of factors, including the last poll coming right after a likely bounce for Clinton after the Democratic National Convention.
“We were at a high water mark in early August,” Franklin said. “It’s not much of a surprise that we would see more competition after that convention bounce was removed.”
The previous poll also came at perhaps the low point of Trump’s campaign, particularly in Wisconsin. He had spent the previous week withholding an endorsement for House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Janesville, who went on to thump a right-wing challenger who had been promoted by the conservative website Breitbart.com.
Since then Trump has shaken up his campaign staff, hiring Breitbart executive Steve Bannon as CEO and pollster Kellyanne Conway as campaign manager. That move came at about the same time Trump made his second visit to Wisconsin since accepting the nomination, meeting privately with donors in La Crosse and Milwaukee, participating in a Fox News town hall with conservative broadcaster Sean Hannity and holding a rally in West Bend.
Clinton has yet to visit the Badger State since accepting the nomination. She has come under increasing scrutiny in recent weeks for questions about access when she was secretary of state among donors to the global Clinton Foundation.
Clinton’s net favorability rating dropped from the previous poll, when 49 percent of likely voters viewed her unfavorably compared with 48 percent who viewed her favorably. In the latest poll, 58 percent viewed her unfavorably, and 37 percent viewed her favorably.
Trump continues to be viewed more unfavorably than Clinton, though his net negative dropped from 37 points to 29 points in the latest poll. And while a majority (55 percent) say Clinton is qualified to be president, only 26 percent describe her as honest. The same percentage (36 percent) would describe Trump in those ways.
Among registered voters, Clinton leads 42-37 in the latest poll. Adding in Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson and Green Party nominee Jill Stein, Clinton leads 41-38-10-4 among likely voters.
The poll also found Feingold leading Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson 48-45 among likely voters. The last poll showed Feingold with an 11-point lead among likely voters.
Among registered voters, Feingold leads 46-42. Adding in Libertarian candidate Phil Anderson, Feingold leads 45-42-6 among likely voters.
The Marquette poll was conducted Aug. 25-28 with 803 registered voters and 650 likely voters. The margin of error for registered voters was 4.5 percentage points and 5 percentage points for likely voters.
Franklin noted the sample had a more Republican lean than the historic average. There was also a shift in voter enthusiasm favoring Republicans, with 82 percent of Republicans saying they were certain to vote, up from 79 percent in the previous poll, and 81 percent of Democrats saying the same, down from 84 percent in the last poll.
Monmouth University in New Jersey also released a Wisconsin poll Wednesday that found Clinton with a five-point lead over Trump (43-38) among likely voters and Feingold with a 13-point lead (54-41) over Johnson.
That poll was conducted by telephone from Aug. 27-30 with 404 likely voters. The sample has a margin of error of +/- 4.9 percentage points.
The latest Marquette poll sample includes 27 percent Republicans, 30 percent Democrats and 38 percent independents, which is almost identical to the long-term trend. But factoring in which way independents lean, the latest sample was 45 percent Republican and 46 percent Democratic. Historically the average has been 42 percent Republican and 48 percent Democratic.
In the Monmouth poll sample, 32 percent were Democrats, 26 percent were Republicans and 43 percent were independents. The poll didn’t identify which direction independents leaned.
Other findings from the Marquette poll include:
Gov. Scott Walker’s job approval rose to 43 percent among registered voters, with 49 percent saying they disapproved, the lowest disapproval level since October 2014. Seven percent said they didn’t know, the highest in any public poll since he took office.
On immigration, 62 percent of registered voters said a pathway to citizenship should be created for immigrants living in the country illegally, compared with 15 percent who say they should be deported. That’s a notable change from 2012, when 52 percent favored citizenship and 21 percent favored deportation.
A majority, 52 percent, of registered voters said the state is doing an excellent or good job protecting clean drinking water, while 44 percent said it is doing a fair or poor job. Asked the same question about the federal government, the split was 31 with a more favorable view and 64 percent with a less favorable view.
Asked to describe their feelings about local police, 86 percent of registered voters said they felt safe and 12 percent said they felt anxious. Among white respondents the breakdown was 90-9, whereas among black and Hispanic respondents it was 57-37.
Almost half (49 percent) of registered voters say life for the next generation will be worse than for the current generation, while one in five say it will be better and a quarter say it will be the same.
Editor's Note: This story has been corrected to reflect accurate poll numbers in the Feingold-Johnson race.