MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin Democrats often point to mounting evidence that they are more enthusiastic about the upcoming November election than Republicans, but a new poll showing tight races for governor and Senate and growing excitement among Republicans is sure to fuel optimism on the right.
For the first time in the Marquette University Law School poll this year, Republican enthusiasm topped Democrats — 69 percent to 67 percent. That was within the margin of error, but it's a dramatic change from March when Democrats held a 10-point enthusiasm advantage.
The findings come a week after about 94,000 more Democrats than Republicans voted in the primary — with 20 percent more Democrats casting ballots to select Republican Gov. Scott Walker's opponent than Republicans choosing who's taking on Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin.
Walker had been warning his supporters he expected to be down in the poll released Wednesday. But the survey showed him dead even with Democrat Tony Evers, breaking with other recent polls that have shown Evers slightly ahead.
The Marquette poll also showed Baldwin about even with Republican state Sen. Leah Vukmir. The poll of 601 likely voters was conducted from Aug. 15, the day after the primary, through Sunday.
Vukmir pounced on the news, with her campaign manager Jess Ward saying Baldwin was "in the fight of her life."
Baldwin's spokesman Bill Neidhart said the close results are due to the $11 million that has already been spent against Baldwin during the Republican primary by candidates and outside groups.
Democrats have already picked up two special legislative seats in GOP districts this year and the liberal-backed candidate prevailed in an officially nonpartisan race for Wisconsin Supreme Court in April. Knocking off Walker and re-electing Baldwin are top priorities for Democrats.
The poll did survey more Republicans than Democrats, a fact that critics on the left highlighted. The sample was 45 percent Republican and 43 percent Democratic, which compares with 43 percent Republican and 47 percent Democrat for the past 46 statewide Marquette polls.
"If you poll Scott Walker supporters, Scott Walker will do OK," liberal activist Scot Ross, head of the group One Wisconsin Now, said in a statement.
Walker, speaking at a news conference, refused to take any questions not related to recent flooding in the Madison area.
Walker's approval rating was at 49 percent, up from 47 percent in July. In another good sign for Walker, the poll showed that a majority of respondents feel like the state is on the right track — 53 percent to 41 percent. That is unchanged from July.
But there were some troubling results for the governor.
The poll showed that 44 percent of respondents felt Wisconsin schools are in worse shape now than a few years ago, while only 15 percent thought they were better. Forty-four percent thought the quality was about the same.
Education has been a central focus of the race, with Walker arguing he is an "education governor." Evers, Wisconsin's school chief since 2009, asserts that Walker has failed schools.
In another bad indicator for Walker, the poll found that 35 percent of respondents felt he had not done enough to address problems at the state's Lincoln Hills juvenile prison. Twelve percent said he had done enough, but 49 percent hadn't heard enough to form an opinion.
The Marquette poll showed that both Walker and Evers were tied at 46 percent among likely voters, while Baldwin had 49 percent compared with 47 percent for Vukmir. That is well within the poll's 4.5 percentage-point margin of error.