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Marquette poll shows Mandela Barnes with 7-point lead over U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson; Gov. Tony Evers in close race with GOP's Tim Michels

Bill Glauber
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, Gov. Tony Evers and businessman Tim Michels.

With a post-primary bump, Democratic U.S. Senate nominee Mandela Barnes surged to a 7-point lead in his race against Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, while Democratic Gov. Tony Evers was locked in a tight battle with GOP nominee Tim Michels, according to Wednesday's Marquette University Law School Poll.

In the Senate race, Barnes was at 51% while Johnson, who is running for a third term, was at 44%.

The race for governor was closer, with Evers leading Michels, 45% to 43%, well within the poll's margin of error. Independent Joan Beglinger was at 7%.

Wisconsin's two marquee midterm races are expected to be closely-fought to the wire in the what remains one of the nation's most politically charged battlegrounds.

The survey's snapshot, the first since the state's Aug. 9 primaries, showed the fluidity of the races, with well-known incumbents trying to fight off the challenges of their lesser-known opponents.

Michels defeated former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch to grab the GOP nomination for governor, while Barnes, the state's lieutenant governor, was confirmed as the Democratic U.S. Senate nominee after his main rivals dropped out.

"It's clear that the two non-incumbent candidates (Barnes and Michels) still have a lot of voters that don't have impressions about them, so the campaign has every opportunity to make a big difference there," poll director Charles Franklin said.

More:Tim Michels unleashed a one-two punch of massive money and Trump's backing to win Tuesday. Tony Evers thinks he can turn the tables.

More:Mandela Barnes proclaims Ron Johnson says 'wacky stuff' while the U.S. senator accuses his challenger of having a short résumé

Barnes formed a good first impression with voters, with 50% saying "he cares about people like you," compared to 41% who say the same thing about Johnson.

Barnes was viewed favorably by 37% and unfavorably by 22% with 41% unable to provide an opinion.

Thirty-eight percent had a favorable view of Johnson with 47% having an unfavorable view.

Of course, Johnson has faced similar circumstances. In 2016, for months he trailed Democrat Russ Feingold but ended up winning re-election with a closing rush.

"He definitely has the experience of coming from behind," Franklin said.

In the governor's race, Evers was viewed favorably by 46% and unfavorably by 41%, while Michels was viewed favorably by 33%, unfavorably by 33%, with 34% unable to answer the question. Evers also enjoyed a wide lead over Michels (54% to 38%) when voters were asked if the candidate "cares about people like you."

Evers had 47% job approval with 45% disapproval.

"Look, it's a very close race," Franklin said. "Evers has a steady net approval rating. And so he goes into the race in better shape than a lot of governors historically. On the other hand, that approval is not very positive and it has been tightening. So I think that's a recipe for a tight race."

On the issues, the biggest concern was with inflation, followed by gun violence and crime and then abortion policy, closely followed by public schools.

For the first time in a year, instead of continuing to go up, concern for inflation fell off a bit, from 75% in June to 67% in the current poll, Franklin said.

Differing views on issues of concern

Democrats and Republicans held starkly different opinions on issues that drew "very concerned" responses.

For Democrats, top issues of concern were climate change, 79%; gun violence, 77%; abortion policy, 73%; public schools, 53%; crime, 53%; inflation, 42%; coronavirus, 40%; taxes, 26%; illegal immigration, 19%.

For Republicans, top issues of concern were inflation, 91%; crime, 80%; taxes, 72%; illegal immigration, 67%; public schools, 60%; gun violence, 45%; abortion policy 39%; coronavirus, 9%; climate change, 6%.

On the U.S. Supreme Court decision to overturn the Roe. v Wade opinion on abortion, 33% favored the decision, while 60% were opposed. Sixty-two percent of Republicans favored the decision with 28% opposed, while 5% of Democrats favored the decision and 82% were opposed.

Former President Donald Trump was viewed favorably by 38% and unfavorably by 57%. Among Republicans, 77% held a favorable view of Trump but just 59% said they would like him to run again in 2024.

President Joe Biden received 40% job approval against 55% disapproval.

Just 35% said the state was headed on the right track with 56% who said the state was on the wrong track.

The survey of 811 registered Wisconsin voters was conducted from Aug. 10-15. The margin of error is plus or minus 4.2% points for the full sample.

The partisan makeup of the sample was 30% Republican, 29% Democratic and 41% independent; with leaners the balance was 45% Republican, 44% Democratic and 9% independent.

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