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Poll: Walker, Burke in a dead heat with election on the horizon

Dead heat.

That’s what Wisconsin is staring at in the race for governor, with Gov. Scott Walker and Democratic challenger Mary Burke neck-and-neck heading into the November election, according to the latest Marquette University Law School poll released this week.

Among registered voters, Walker led Burke, 46 percent to 45 percent. Among likely voters, Burke led Walker, 47 percent to 46 percent.

“The bottom line is that nothing has statistically changed from May to July,” said Charles Franklin, the poll director. “We’re seeing a dead heat in the race, well within the margin of error.”

“As the race really heats up with advertising and back and forth, I’d expect to see interesting developments over the next months,” he added.

In the May sample, the race took shape as the Republican incumbent first was deadlocked with Burke, a member of the Madison School Board. The two candidates recorded 46 percent each, with 6 percent of voters undecided. Back then, Walker led Burke among likely voters by 48 percent to 45 percent.

The new numbers suggest a long, hot summer on the campaign trail, with more television advertising and even more intensive get-out-the-vote efforts by the campaigns.

Walker, a potential GOP presidential candidate, now finds himself in a tossup against a challenger in her first statewide race.

At an appearance in Madison, Walker said he always expected the race to be close, but he believed his supporters’ willingness to make phone calls and knock on doors would secure his re-election.

“We believe in the end the grass roots will make the difference,” Walker said.

At an appearance in Milwaukee, Burke said that she was encouraged by the poll and that during the next 3½ months she will work to raise her profile so that people get to know her.

“I’m very glad to be out ahead in terms of likely voters for the first time,” Burke said.

The poll of 804 registered Wisconsin voters was conducted by interviews on cellphones and landlines July 17-20. The margin of error was plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

Among those polled were 549 people who said they were registered and likely to vote. The margin of error on that sample was 4.3 percentage points.

Here are five takeaways from the poll:

Voters don’t know Burke

Burke has been on the campaign trail for months, but 49 percent of those polled said they don’t know enough to form an opinion about her. Of those who could, 26 percent had a favorable view of her and 24 percent had an unfavorable view.

The race to define Burke is now in full swing. She has gone up on television with a biographical advertisement playing up her business credentials and her family’s firm, Trek Bicycle Corp. In contrast, Walker has launched ads attacking Burke for profiting from Trek’s outsourcing of jobs to low-wage China.

“When the race itself is a topic on the front page and at the lead of every newscast, we’re going to see the public come to much greater awareness of her,” Franklin said. “Certainly by the fall, the vast majority of voters will know who she is.”

They know Walker

Facing his third election in four years, Walker has a 47 percent job approval rating, against 48 percent disapproval. He is viewed favorably by 45 percent and unfavorably by 47 percent. And when asked if “able to get things done” described the governor, 66 percent said it did while 29 percent said it did not.

Walker doesn’t appear to be getting a boost from voters’ views on how the state is doing. Fifty-four percent said Wisconsin was heading in the right direction and 41 percent said it was on the wrong track.

Seventy-five percent said they have heard something about the John Doe investigation into political allies of Walker, while 24 percent had not. Among those who knew about the investigation, 54 percent said the John Doe probe was just more politics, while 42 percent said it was serious.

Coalitions are key

No surprise, 93 percent of Republicans back Walker. But only 88 percent of Democrats back Burke, with 9 percent saying they will vote for Walker. Burke, however, has cut into Walker’s lead among independents. In May, this coveted group went 49 percent to 40 percent for Walker. In July, Walker had 45 percent of independents to 44 percent for Burke.

Women backed Burke by 48 percent to 41 percent while men backed Walker by 51 percent to 41 percent.

Married voters supported Walker by 54 percent to 38 percent. In a demographic breakdown, Walker’s strongest support came from those ages 45-59, where he led 51 percent to 42 percent.

Among those who never married, Burke held a 53 percent to 34 percent advantage. She led 53 percent to 38 percent among those widowed, divorced or separated. Her strongest demographic was voters ages 18-29, where her lead was 48 percent to 35 percent.

Voter contacts on rise

Wisconsin residents should watch their doors, phones and mailboxes: The campaigns are coming. A third of those surveyed said they have been contacted by one of the political parties or campaigns in the past month. Fifty-three percent said both parties contacted them; 14 percent said just Democrats reached out to them while 25 percent said only the Republicans contacted them.

“All of the developments over the last 10 days certainly promise a much more active campaign period from now through the fall,” Franklin said.

Money and marriage

There’s still support for raising the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour, with 56 percent backing an increase and 39 percent opposed. In March, 63 percent supported an increase and 33 percent were opposed.

More than a month after a federal judge struck down the state’s constitutional ban against gay marriage, 56 percent of those polled said they would repeal the ban if they could while 37 percent would vote to keep it.

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