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Marquette poll finds majority still approves of Tony Evers' 'safer at home' order, but support has dropped
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Marquette poll finds majority still approves of Tony Evers' 'safer at home' order, but support has dropped

From the Follow the Wisconsin State Journal's 2020 presidential election coverage series

The majority of Wisconsinites still support state efforts to limit business activity and close schools to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, although support has dropped sharply among Republicans since March, according to a new Marquette Law School Poll released Tuesday.

The poll found that 69% of respondents still say Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ stay-at-home order is the appropriate response to the respiratory disease, while 26% say it is an overreaction. In March, 86% of respondents said they supported measures taken, while only 10% said they were an overreaction.

“There’s still a strong majority that supports the ‘safer at home’ (order), distancing and measures that have been taken and the closing of schools and businesses,” poll director Charles Franklin said, but he added, “that’s a big change from a month ago.”

Franklin said much of that shift is apparent along party lines, with Republican respondents much less supportive of efforts to shut down the state than they were in March.

More than 40% of Republicans said in the latest poll that the state’s COVID-19 response has been an overreaction, compared with only 13% in March. Democratic support also has dropped, but only slightly, with 95% of Democrats supporting the response in March and 90% supporting this month.

The latest poll’s results come as Wisconsin faces growing unemployment numbers, which have risen sharply following state efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 by shutting down some businesses and limiting services at others.

The poll found a drop in respondents’ approval of Evers’ handling of the coronavirus, from 76% approval in March to 64% this month. In the same span, disapproval of the governor’s response to the virus increased from 17% in March to 32% this month.

Approval of President Donald Trump’s handling of the nation’s COVID-19 response also took a hit, dropping from 51% approval to 44% between March and May, while disapproval rose from 46% to 51%.

Approval of Trump’s overall performance remained virtually unchanged, shifting from 48% to 47%.

The Marquette poll was conducted May 3-7 and included 811 registered Wisconsin voters interviewed by cellphone or landline, with a margin of error of +/-4 percentage points.

Concern is falling

Concern about the COVID-19 pandemic also has dropped, with 50% of respondents saying they are very concerned and 31% saying they are somewhat concerned. In March, 68% of respondents said they were very concerned and 25% were somewhat concerned. The number of respondents saying they were not at all concerned rose from 2% in March to 7%.

However, respondents’ confidence that the state could return to normal by August also declined.

In March, 71% of respondents said they thought the state would be back to normal by August. That number has since dropped to 38%. In addition, 20% of March respondents said the state would not return to normal until the fall or later, compared with 51% this month.

“People are getting more anxious — and especially with parties pushing them in different directions we’re more divided on this — but the idea that we can be finished with this by May or even August is really evaporating as people are seeing this as a much longer problem,” Franklin said.

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General election

As the November election — which appears poised to pit President Donald Trump against former Vice President Joe Biden — nears, May’s poll indicates a close race in the battleground state.

Of poll respondents, 46% support Biden, while 43% support Trump. The margin is similar to that in March, when 48% supported Biden and 45% supported Trump. Both poll results are within the margin of error.

Trump 2020 campaign senior advisor Lara Trump, the president’s daughter-in-law, noted during a call with reporters on Tuesday that the polls ahead of the 2016 election found Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton ahead of Trump before her loss in that year’s vote.

“The polls I don’t think have ever accurately reflected how people feel about this president,” she said.

With the November election approaching and voters casting ballots Tuesday in Wisconsin’s 7th Congressional District, respondents were also asked how they feel about voting in person amid the pandemic.

Of respondents, 54% said they will vote early or by mail, while 39% said they plan to vote in person during the November election.

The economy

All told, 15% of respondents to the latest poll said they had lost their job, while 24% said they’ve had their work hours reduced. One in three said someone in their family has seen a reduction in work hours.

In March, 9% of respondents said they had lost their job. Another 22% said they had their work hours reduced, while 29% said someone else in their family had work hours reduced.

Polls in March and May also found that African Americans have been especially hit by the economic repercussions of the pandemic, with 29% of black respondents reporting they had lost a job and another 48% reporting a family member had lost a job.

Respondents’ views on the direction of the economy has dropped sharply, with 46% saying the economy has gotten worse over the last 12 months, compared with 31% in March.

Evers and Republican lawmakers, who control the Assembly and Senate, continue to spar over the best approach to reopening the state’s economy amid the pandemic. Evers and Department of Health Services officials have been slowly easing restrictions on various businesses, while GOP leaders point to economic hardships felt across the state as a need for a more aggressive reopening.

In addition, a GOP-led lawsuit in the Wisconsin Supreme Court could overturn Evers’ stay-at-home order. The court could rule as soon as this week.

Of respondents, 56% said they are concerned Wisconsin will reopen too soon, while 40% said they’re concerned the state could wait too long. The question was not asked in the March poll.

On Monday, the Department of Workforce Development reported it had distributed more than $550 million in unemployment benefits in the week of May 3 alone. More than $940 million had been dispersed over the last eight weeks, which includes more than $587 million in Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation back payments.

DWD received just over 518,000 unemployment applications between March 15 and May 9. All told, more than 1.2 million weekly claims were paid in that span.

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