February 2020 Marquette University Law School Poll Summary Where does the Democrat race stand heading into Super Tuesday?

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By: Bill McCoshen, Republican Strategist

Marquette University Law School completed their most recent statewide survey last week. It found Sen. Bernie Sanders is the new frontrunner to win the Wisconsin Democrat primary. That should not come as a surprise as Sanders easily beat Hillary Clinton in Wisconsin in 2016. Sanders captured 71 of 72 counties and won by a convincing 13%. This is the first time Sanders has been leading on any Marquette poll this cycle. Prior to this new Sanders surge, Vice President Joe Biden had led on every previous Marquette Democrat primary poll.

Since the February Marquette poll was taken, Biden had a resounding victory in the South Carolina primary and two former leading Democrat contenders, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Amy Klobuchar dropped out of the race. Billionaire Tom Steyer also dropped out of the race on Saturday, but he was never a serious contender for the nomination. Buttigieg, Klobuchar and Beto O’Rourke all endorsed Biden on the eve of Super Tuesday and appear to have provided much needed momentum to the Biden campaign. The moderates are consolidating around Biden as the alternative to Sanders.

The significant landscape changes in the Democrat primary over the past several days make the February Marquette Democrat primary poll results unreliable. It may also impact the various head to head match ups in the poll. The March Marquette poll is more likely to provide a clear view of the Wisconsin primary.

Mayor Pete Buttigieg had thirteen (13%) support among Democrat primary votes while Sen. Amy Klobuchar had eleven (11%) support. Both candidates announced they will endorse VP Joe Biden. Those late endorsements may help Biden’s overall performance on Super Tuesday with voters that are paying close attention. But the endorsements will be meaningful in the Wisconsin primary on April 7th.

The poll was conducted February 19-23, 2020. The sample included 1000 registered voters in Wisconsin interviewed by cell phone or landline, with a margin of error of +/- 3.6%.

Democrat presidential primary preference items were asked of those who said they will vote in the Democrat primary in April. The sample size of 490, with a margin of error of +/- 5.1%

Democrats are slightly more energized to vote in April than Republicans. Seventy-three (73%) of Democrats say they are certain to vote in April while sixty-seven (67%) of Republicans say they are certain to vote. Only fifty-nine (59%) of Independent votes say they are certain to vote in April. The six percent difference between Democrat and Republican enthusiasm is outside the 3.6% margin of error for the poll. Not surprising since Democrats are trying to unseat a Republican incumbent. But also, something Republicans must address in the next month in Wisconsin.

The other big news in the poll is Mayor Mike Bloomberg moved up to second place in the Democrat primary with fifteen (15%) support. Bloomberg was in fifth place at six (6%) in the January Marquette poll. That’s a huge jump in one month. Likely the result of non-stop television, radio and digital ads in Wisconsin since the beginning of the year. The good news for Bloomberg is the poll was taken after his disastrous performance in the Nevada Democrat debate. Bloomberg was either woefully unprepared or brazenly arrogant. The Nevada debate may prove to be the single biggest tactical mistake of any campaign in the Democrat primary, and it cast Bloomberg’s candidacy in a very different light than what voters were getting from the slick ads. Bloomberg didn’t appear to have what it takes to do battle with Trump.

Bloomberg has the personal resources to stay in the race all the way to the Democrat National Convention in Milwaukee. The problem for Bloomberg is the Democrat establishment doesn’t want him to be the nominee, but they do want his money to help their candidates down ballot. If Bloomberg doesn’t do as well as expected on Super Tuesday, then his campaign could become the most expensive vanity project in history. Bloomberg’s consultants will tell him to stay in all the way to Milwaukee – because they are getting paid!

Sen Sanders challenge is consolidating the Progressive voters in the Democrat primary. One-time frontrunner Sen Elizabeth Warren refuses to suspend her campaign despite no legitimate path to the nomination short of a brokered convention. Even then, it’s hard to image the Democrat party coalescing behind Warren. Warren is the most nakedly ambitious person in the race and desperately wants to be a player. As such, she could leave the race after Super Tuesday and endorse Sanders as she is more ideologically aligned with him than Biden. If Warren sides with Biden, then she could face a primary from the left when her Massachusetts Senate seat is up. The only move Warren has left that will preserve some national relevance is to endorse Bernie.

The Democrat establishment is now doing everything possible to make the primary a race between Sanders and Biden. The assumption is most Democrat primary voters want a center-left nominee rather than a far-left nominee. The Democrat establishment support and key endorsements will help Biden raise more money and likely provide a nationwide organization – two things Biden has lacked to date. But Biden also lacks a compelling message for his candidacy and none of the landscape changes in the past few days have helped provide winning message for Biden. Biden is a weak candidate on the stump. Biden’s compelling message early in the race was “electability” until he failed to deliver in early states. Now Biden surrogates are back to using a version of the same message when they say Biden will “bring the party together.” Why would Biden be able to do what Hillary couldn’t do in 2016? Biden’s win in South Carolina was his first state win in three races for the Presidency over the past 32 years.

Bernie has a movement behind him just as Trump did in the GOP primaries in 2016. Money and organization were not enough to stop Trump and likely won’t stop Sanders. And if the Democrat establishment is successful in taking the nomination out of Bernie’s hands, can the party truly come together to defeat Trump in November, or will Progressives stay home like they did in 2016? If Bernie wins the nomination will moderate to conservative Democrats crossover and vote for Trump or stay home?

Republicans should be careful what they wish for with a Sanders nomination. Bernie’s supporters are passionate and energized. The campaign will give voters across America a clear choice between socialism and capitalism. Perhaps the starkest ideological choice in any presidential campaign in modern history. No one can predict how many “new” voters will come out to support Sanders just as they couldn’t predict how many new voters would come out for Trump in 2016. Moreover, Sanders is authentic in his policy views. Authenticity is appealing to voters. Voters want to know the candidate believes what they are saying and will defend their positions.

The new Marquette ballots between President Trump and Sanders, Biden and Bloomberg are all within the margin of error. No candidate has a clear lead. This latest poll may have a short shelf-life with all the major changes in the Democrat primary in the past several days as well as the Super Tuesday results. Here are the latest Wisconsin head to head ballots:

Trump 46 Sanders 48 Trump 45
Biden 46 Trump 46 Bloomberg 44

Sen Sanders and Mayor Bloomberg lead Trump among Independent voters, but Trump leads Biden:

Trump 33 Sanders 41 Bloomberg 39
Biden 31 Trump 32 Trump 30

Trump has commanding leads among male voters against all Democrats, but Trump continues to have a gender gap with female voters:

Trump vs. Biden Trump vs. Sanders Trump vs. Bloomberg
Male 55 36 54 41 53 35
Female 38 55 40 53 39 52

Republicans (28%) and Independents (29%) agree Mayor Bloomberg would be the strongest Democrat to take on President Trump. These same groups believe Sen. Sanders is the second strongest Democrat in the general election; GOP (24%) and Independents (23%). The plurality of Democrats (34%) believe Sen. Sanders would be the strongest Democrat in the general election.

Democrats only geographic advantage in the poll continues to be the City of Milwaukee and the Madison market. Trump has leads well outside the margin of error against all three Democrats in; Rest of Milwaukee, Green Bay Area and Rest of State.

It’s still very early in the 2020 presidential contest. There are still 35 days until the Wisconsin primary. Bloomberg and Warren will have serious decisions to make before Wisconsin. If Biden underperforms after everything the establishment has done to help him the past few days, he could be done, too. Stay tuned! Wisconsin will be one of the three states that decides the November election.