It's no secret Wisconsin is one of a handful of battleground states likely to decide the 2020 presidential election, and a new Marquette Law School poll underscores just how close the race in the state is expected to be, just as it was in 2016 when President Donald Trump notched a razor-thin 22,748-vote win.
The poll, conducted between Oct. 13 and Oct. 17, includes potential head-to-head matchups with various Democratic rivals. In those contests, former vice president Joe Biden leads Trump 50-44%, closer than his August margin of 51-42.
In what are really statistical toss-ups, Sen. Bernie Sanders bests Trump by 48-46, while Sen. Elizabeth Warren leads 47-46.
However, the head-to-head matchups might not be the best indicator of a presidential election that is still more than a year away. Those numbers are generally considered unreliable until the national tickets are set in stone and candidates are more well defined, that is to say, before the eventual Democratic nominee is subjected to the same scrutiny - not to mention partisan attacks - Trump and other sitting presidents receive on a daily basis.
But voters already do know Donald Trump and so a look at voters' feelings about specific and significant issues are more telling. And perhaps none are more telling than the poll's look at voter sentiments about impeachment, given they open a window into how voters feel about whether Trump should continue to be president, which might be considered a clear if temporal view of how those voters might vote next November.
The bottom line is, while the race looks to be close, it also shows Trump in good position to win, at least at this point. Other evidence could change the numbers.
The two questions
The poll asked two significant questions about impeachment.
The first was, "Do you think there is or is not enough cause right now for Congress to hold hearings into whether President Trump should be impeached?"
The second was whether Trump should be impeached and removed from office, a measure of voters who have their minds made up before any hearings or trial are held.
On the first question, according to the poll, 46% said there was enough cause now for Congress to hold impeachment hearings, while 49% said there was not enough cause and 5% said they did not know.
Those numbers are close, but by themselves tell us nothing about how those voters feel about Trump other than whether the accusations against him are material enough to be explored for possible action.
The second question is more telling, for it offers a view about whether Trump should be in office even before he is afforded any due process. In that question, the poll stated, 44% said Trump should be removed, 51% said he should not be impeached and removed, and 4% say they didn't know.
Again, by itself, that number tells us little about Trump's position with voters because those who say he should not be impeached and removed from office now might simply believe the president deserves due process, rather than representing any expression of political support.
But a look at the partisan breakdown of those numbers is telling.
Of those who favor removal already, 92% of Republicans and 88% of those who lean Republican don't believe he should be removed, as would be expected. The Democratic numbers are equally unsurprising, with 88% of Democrats and 78% of Democratic leaners saying he should be removed.
It's independent numbers - those who will decide a close election - that are somewhat surprising. Among independents, only 33% favor removal, while 53% do not favor removal now. Even more surprising, only 35% even favor hearings now, while 53% said there's not yet enough cause.
That suggests, at least right now, those voters view impeachment as more of a political tactic than a pursuit of an issue with merit. It should trouble Democrats who are all in for impeachment as an election strategy, especially as it pulls the air out of other issues Democrats on the campaign trail are talking about.
That only a third of independents even believe impeachment hearings should be held show an electorate that at the very least is willing to give the president the benefit of the doubt, given what we know right now, and that is bolstered by Trump's overall approval rating among independents, which stands at 48% approval and 38% disapproval.
In Wisconsin, independents matter, given their make-up in the total electorate. In his 2012 recall race and in his 2014 re-election campaign, for instance, Gov. Scott Walker won with independents behind him. In 2018, he was underwater with them, and he lost.
So the new Marquette poll should be quite comforting for Trump. It shows him well positioned at the moment, and it suggests that the Democratic Party's continued obsession with impeachment is backfiring. The prospect of nominating a far-left candidate would likely only strengthen him even more.
There are caveats.
Obviously, if any real evidence emerges Trump might have committed high crimes and misdemeanors, the view of impeachment and removal would shift dramatically and so would the president's prospects.
More germane at the moment, the Marquette poll is out of step with several national polls on independents' views of impeachment. In a recent Quinnipiac poll, independents favored removal by 49-41%. A recent CNN poll put independents' support for impeachment and removal at 50%.
So either Wisconsin independents are marching to the beat of a different drummer, or somebody's polls are wrong. Which one would be hard to say because all of them missed the mark on Trump in 2016.
Finally, even if impeachment turns out to be a blank, that doesn't mean that the economy won't turn down, giving Democrats another weapon.
Perhaps more important in Wisconsin, regardless of whether the president's trade policies will work in the long term, short-term pain in the state could take away critical farm and blue-collar votes that favored Trump last time.
All that remains to be seen. But, for now, while Trump's numbers in the new Marquette poll aren't all that good, it may be that they are just good enough.
Richard Moore is the author of the forthcoming "Storyfinding: From the Journey to the Story" and can be reached at richardmoorebooks.com.
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