Almost three months ahead of the Nov. 6 election, Republican Gov. Scott Walker and Democratic challenger Tony Evers are locked in a tight race in which education issues will play heavily, according to a new Marquette University Law School poll.
Among likely voters, Walker is tied with Evers, the state superintendent of public instruction, 46 percent to 46 percent — a "dead tie," according to poll director Charles Franklin. Among registered voters, Walker leads Evers 46-44, within the poll's margin of error.
The poll was conducted in the days after Evers won the Democratic primary on Aug. 14. It follows a survey released last week by the liberal Public Policy Polling that showed Evers leading Walker by five points.
While the PPP poll skewed Democratic — 36 percent of respondents aligned with the party, compared to 35 percent who identified as independents and 29 percent who identified as Republicans — the Marquette sample skewed Republican. Among those surveyed by Marquette, 29 percent identified as Democrats, 36 percent identified as independents and 31 percent identified as Republicans.
The Marquette poll showed that Evers is gaining familiarity throughout the state. Before he won the Democratic gubernatorial primary, 60 percent of voters were unaware of him. That's now down to 46 percent. Of those registered voters with an opinion, 31 percent view him favorably and 23 percent view him unfavorably.
Voters are much more opinionated about Walker. Forty-nine percent of registered voters have a favorable opinion of him, while 45 percent view him unfavorably.
Asked which issues are the most important ones facing the state, 41 percent named jobs and the economy as their first or second priority, followed closely by 40 percent who named K-12 education. Thirty-four percent of voters said health coverage is a top-two issue, while 25 percent pointed to the state's transportation infrastructure.
Voters are not pleased with the quality of the state's public schools, according to the poll. Just 15 percent said they think K-12 schools are in better shape now than they were a few years ago, compared to 44 percent who say they are worse and 34 percent who say they're about the same. Most voters — 61 percent — said they would prefer more spending on schools over a property tax cut.
Asked whether Walker has done enough to address ongoing issues of inmate abuse at the state's youth prisons, 49 percent of those surveyed said they hadn't heard enough about the issue to have an opinion. Twelve percent of voters said they think the governor has done all he can, while 35 percent said he hasn't paid enough attention.
Walker said earlier this month that he sees no value in visiting the state's prisons. He made the comment at a news conference during which he criticized Democratic candidates for wanting to reduce the state's prison population.
A majority of voters — 73 percent — said they support eliminating mandatory sentencing minimums for nonviolent offenders, but that share dropped to 50 percent when voters were asked the same question about violent offenders.
Overall, 53 percent of registered voters said they think the state is headed in the right direction, while 41 percent said they think it's on the wrong track.