Independent voters in key legislative districts disapprove of the job Republicans are doing to fight the Covid-19 virus, but they’re not happy with Governor Tony Evers, either, according to polling by a Republican-leaning organization.

The polling organization, Public Opinion Strategies, conducted their poll of 500 likely voters September 1-3 in five key state Assembly districts: 13, 14, 21, 23 and 24. The margin of error was ±4.38%.

In the 13th district, incumbent state Rep. Rob Hutton (R) faces Democratic challenger Sara Rodriguez. The 14th district is represented by Rep. Robyn Vining (D) who faces Republican challenger Bonnie Lee. Rep. Jessie Rodriguez (R) faces Democrat Ed Brooks in the 21st Assembly District. Rep. Jim Ott (R) faces Democrat Deb Andraca in the 23rd district. Rep. Daniel Knodl (R) faces Democrat Emily Siegrist in the 24th district.

When asked if they approve or disapprove of the job the Republican-controlled legislature has done handling the Coronavirus, 54% of independent voters disapproved. 60% of independent women voters disapproved, while 49% of independent male voters disapproved. Only 34% and 41% approved, respectively.

Likely voters self-identifying as Republicans and Democrats were split along predictable lines, with 73% of Republicans approving and 94% of Democrats disapproving.

For Republicans to win in these districts, they will need to hold their margins even among independent women and expand their margins among independent men, according to Public Opinion Strategies.

Former Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen (R), who is with the Jobs 1st Coalition that sponsored the poll, believes the Republicans need to do more to remind independent women voters of the Coronavirus relief package that passed in April and was signed into law by the governor.

“If you take a look at the data for independent women they strongly support the legislation requiring health insurance companies to cover pre-existing conditions and they also support all of the items that were part of the coronavirus package passed by the legislature and signed by the Governor,” Jensen said in an email. “I think the lawsuit was more memorable to voters than the coronavirus response package. I am betting the GOP can win over these women by reminding them what they did to fight the pandemic.”

The lawsuit referred to by Jensen was a Republican victory at the Wisconsin Supreme Court that prevented the governor from extending his emergency health order in May. Evers had attempted to extend the original 60-day order, but the Wisconsin Supreme Court, in a 4-3 decision, said Evers would have to submit his public health emergency orders to the legislative rule-making process. The Court’s decision essentially re-opened the state’s bars and restaurants except in those communities that enacted local shutdown orders.

Independents also disapprove of Evers’ job performance, although his approval among independent women voters is higher. Overall, 54% of independent likely voters disapprove of Evers’ job performance compared to 41% approval. 62% of male independents disapprove of Evers but 52% of independent women voters approved of Evers’ performance.

Graphic from Public Opinion Strategies

Responding to the Covid-19 virus was the number one priority for likely voters in the five targeted districts, and the number one priority for Democrats and Independents in those districts. For Republican likely voters in the district, fighting crime and rebooting the economy were the top priorities.

Every category of likely voter, except for self-identified Democrats, believes schools and businesses can re-open safely. According to the survey, 55% of likely voters agree with the statement, “Other people believe that businesses and schools can take precautions, operate safely, and be open.” That includes 64% of independents, 70% of independent men and 56% of independent women.

A majority of likely voters, 50% to 45%, in those legislative districts also want to be able to send their children to school. The majority includes 54% of independent voters, 65% of independent men voters. However, 56% of independent women voters believe it is too much of a risk.

A focus group of independent women voters conducted prior to the polling may explain the division. According to Public Opinion Strategies, “The group was mixed on whether kids should return to school. They
agreed that Democrats want schools to be closed.” However, they also believed, “Virtual learning has an affect on single/working parents.”

The focus group participants believed that the country is currently on the wrong track, largely because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Republicans in those key legislative districts may face an uphill battle due to the current political environment because of the president.

Voter intensity in those districts is equal for Republicans and Democrats. Democrats hold a slight lead on the generic ballot but generic Republicans hold a slight lead among independent voters.

But Republicans should be worried because President Donald Trump is currently underperforming in the districts surveyed compared to four years ago. Trump received 43% support according to the survey while former Vice President Joe Biden received 51%.

A recent New York Times poll showed Biden leading Trump 48% to 43% statewide. In Waukesha, Ozaukee and Washington Counties, commonly referred to as “the WOW counties,” Trump’s support is only 54% compared to 62% in 2016. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney received 67% of the vote in 2012 in this key GOP voting stronghold.

Hurting GOP chances in these key districts is Trump’s lack of support among independent women voters, among whom Biden leads 45% to 35%.

According to the focus groups conducted before the polling, women trust Republicans and Trump on the economy but they dislike the president personally.

“One individual disliked the way President Trump speaks to women,” according to Public Opinion Strategies. “Other members echoed that sentiment with regards to how President Trump speaks to others.”

One participant, when asked to describe the president as an animal, compared him to a chihuahua, saying he “keeps barking when he needs to stop.”

Focus group participants also had other reasons to hesitate when voting for Republicans. “They felt that voting Republican was racially controversial,” according to Public Opinion Strategies. “They were also concerned with the party’s stance on abortion and women’s rights.”

Participants were also concerned that Democrats were too extreme on abortion and “don’t follow through on what they say.”

However, partisanship may not be the deciding factor for these independent women voters who participated in the focus groups. Ultimately, the style of the candidate may be the deciding factor.

The participants were looking for “a representative who can bring people together and get things done.” While they wanted someone who would fight for them, they also wanted, “a uniting presence, who will listen to the people and who is not quick to judge or react.”

“They did not want someone too extreme or someone who showboats,” according to Public Opinion Strategies.

Jensen said the Republicans in those districts are a good fit for those suburban voters.

“I also believe the Republican legislators in these seats sound like the kind of person the focus groups and polling show suburbanites want to have representing them,” Jensen said. “None of them are showboats or shouters.  None of them are divisive. Folks like Hutton, Rodriguez, Ott and Knodl work well with their colleagues to get things done.”