By David Lauter, Tribune Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON — Three weeks away from the state’s hotly contested recall election, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has taken a lead over his Democratic challenger among likely voters, a new poll shows.
Looking ahead to November, President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney have moved into a dead heat, 46 percent-46 percent among likely voters in a state that is crucial to Democratic hopes, the poll by Marquette University Law School showed. Obama led Romney 49 percent-45 percent in the university’s previous poll, taken at the end of April. Among all registered voters, Obama had a 46 percent-44 percent edge, essentially a tie given the poll’s margin of error.
In the recall election, Walker had a 50-44 lead over his Democratic challenger, Tom Barrett among likely voters. In the late April poll, Walker had only a 1-point lead.
The biggest reason behind the shift is that Republicans appear to be more mobilized for the June 5 recall election. Walker’s supporters “appear to hold an advantage in likely turnout,” said Charles Franklin, who directs the Marquette poll. Since almost no undecided voters remain in the state — only 3 percent in the most recent poll — the Republican advantage in turnout could be decisive.
The recall has been carefully watched both for its own sake — a huge battle sparked by Walker’s decision to push a law through the state legislature that ended most collective bargaining rights for public employees — and for what it might indicate about the November election. Wisconsin has often been among the most closely contested states in presidential elections, although Obama won by a large margin in 2008. Democrats would have difficulty getting a majority in the Electoral College without the state’s votes.
Romney has gained in part by consolidating support among Republicans — picking up conservatives who in previous polls had still said they were undecided, Franklin noted. As the hangover from the Republican primaries has faded, voters have a more favorable image of Romney. In the most recent poll, 40 percent had a favorable image of him, compared with 44 percent unfavorable; those figures were 33 percent-46 percent in April and 27 percent-50 percent in February.
In addition, Franklin said, the poll also indicates a small, but potentially important, shift in overall partisan identification in the state. In January, the Marquette poll showed Democrats with a 2-point edge over Republicans in the state. That Democratic margin rose to 8 points in February and has declined steadily ever since. It stood at just 1 point in the latest poll.
Wisconsin does not have voter registration by political party, so self-identification is the only measure of the state’s partisan balance.
The poll interviewed 704 registered Wisconsin voters May 9-12, 2012. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.8 percentage points for the full sample and plus or minus 4.1 percentage points for the 600 likely voters — those who said they were certain to vote.