A new poll released this morning by the Greater Wisconsin Political Fund says Scott Walker and Tom Barrett are each preferred by 49% of the voters surveyed, and that independents are now breaking toward Barrett by a 5 point margin. It's a poll that was commissioned by a group that supports Barrett. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points. Plus or minus means it could be anywhere from 53/45 Barrett to 53/45 Walker (I'm ignoring the tiny undecided segment and the independent candidate.) In other words, it's a statistical tie.
This afternoon another Wisconsin poll, this was done by Charles Franklin for the Marquette University Law School, showed a preference for Walker over Barrett 52/45. The margin of error is 4.1%. That means the range is somewhere between 56.1/40.9 Walker to 49.1/47.9 Barrett. From the notes accompanying the Marquette poll:
(Walker's) lead falls slightly short of statistical significance. The poll was taken May 23-26, with most interviews completed before last Friday’s first gubernatorial debate...
In other words, it's a statistical tie as it has been since Barrett won the primary.
It's exciting to read the polls and gasp when it shows that Walker "increased his lead" or that Barrett "narrowed the gap", but statistically speaking, these polls have shown the same thing every time. All we've learned today is that nothing has changed and that Barrett has an excellent chance to win if we can get Democratic voters to the polls.
It's also a fact that this race is very difficult to poll. It's a dead heat in an unprecedented race that is scheduled at an odd time of the year following 16 months of a political war.
Want proof? Let's see how the Marquette poll did predicting the outcome of the May 8th Democratic primary. The survey was conducted 10 days before the primary, so there were a lot of undecideds, but when leaners were forced to choose here were the results:
Tom Barrett 45%
Kathleen Falk 23%
Doug La Follette 8%
Kathleen Vinehout 8%
Would not vote 7%
Don't know/Refused 3%
Margin of error 3.8%
According to the Government Accountability Board, the final vote tally was 58.1 % for Barrett, 34.13% for Kathleen Falk, 4.02% for Kathleen Vinehout, and 2.9% for Doug La Follette. The Marquette poll just squeaks by on the Barrett percentage if one assumes that most of the "undecideds" and "don't knows" and even some "would not votes" went for Barrett. Of course that would make them way off on Falk, Vinehout and La Follette, so one would have to say that in general they failed, even though they "predicted" Barrett would win and he did.
So what's my point? Simply this. The newest Marquette poll says Walker by 7, but Barrett can win and the Marquette poll could still be "right" because polls only give you a prediction that the final vote percentages will fall into a rather wide range.
It's a tie. GOTV.