Loras College Poll finds Cruz tops Trump, Clinton leads Sanders, tight race for state supreme court in Wisconsin

DUBUQUE, Iowa — With the race for the presidential nominations more than halfway through, all eyes turn to Wisconsin and its presidential primary on Tuesday. Republican delegates will be chosen winner-take-all at both the statewide and the congressional district level, while Democratic delegates will be chosen proportionally statewide and by district. Campaigns have been pressing hard in Wisconsin as it’s the biggest contest until the April 19 New York primary.

“While Iowa always gets its turn in the spotlight of presidential politics, Wisconsin is getting all the national attention these days as it is the only contest on Tuesday and the most delegate-rich prize in this stretch of the calendar. For the Cruz and Sanders campaigns, a strong showing in Wisconsin is critical as the nomination fight enters spring,” said Christopher Budzisz, Ph.D., director of the Loras College Poll and associate professor of politics at Loras.

This is the first time Loras has conducted a poll of Wisconsin.

“Because of the critical importance of Wisconsin to this year’s nomination battle, we thought it a great opportunity to field a Loras Poll in the Badger State,” Budzisz said. “Plus, Wisconsin has a heated race for state supreme court to be decided on Tuesday and a U.S. Senate rematch between Ron Johnson and Russ Feingold come November. It’s an important year for politics in Wisconsin.”

This first Loras Poll of Wisconsin surveyed 1,000 registered voters across the state, and included 832 likely primary voters (416 Republican and 416 Democratic).

Turning to the Republican race for the presidential nomination, Wisconsin voters have seen all three candidates cover the state in recent days. Radio and television ads have been running, and early voting has been underway for some time. The Loras Poll results in the Republican race are as follows:

Candidate preference          Likely Republican Primary voters

Ted Cruz 38 percent
Donald Trump 31 percent
John Kasich 18 percent
Undecided 13 percent

With the Republican field down to three candidates, a plurality of Wisconsin Republican voters prefers Senator Ted Cruz of Texas. Cruz has a seven-point lead over the New York real estate mogul and reality television star. Ohio Gov. John Kasich is a distant third with 18 percent support.

“It has been a good week for Senator Cruz, and a rough one for Donald Trump,” Budzisz said. “Governor Walker’s endorsement of Cruz, plus multiple controversies in the Trump camp including the simple battery charge against Trump’s campaign manager have made for a difficult few days.”

Given the delegate rules on the Republican side, delegates come from both statewide and Congressional district results and are winner-take-all at both levels. According to the Loras Poll, Cruz is in good shape across most of the state.

Turning to the Democratic race, the poll finds Hillary Clinton with a lead over Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.

Candidate preference           Likely Democratic Primary voters

Hillary Clinton 47 percent
Bernie Sanders 41 percent
Undecided 11 percent

Clinton holds a six-point lead in the current Loras Poll. Under the delegate rules of the Democratic Party, a close result in the state will only have a limited impact on the balance of delegates—a balance that is currently clearly in Clinton’s favor. Clinton’s path to the nomination has been a bit bumpy lately, however, having suffered a string of defeats in places such as Washington and Alaska. A win in Wisconsin would reverse this pattern in the last five Democratic contests. However, it won’t come easy in the Badger State.

“While Clinton leads Sanders overall according to our polling, Sanders holds his usual edge with younger voters as well as with males,” Budzisz said. “And with the number of likely voters still undecided, there is real room for success for Sanders in Wisconsin. Given what you can see on the ground in the state in terms of rallies, ad buys, and the potential for big margins in pro-Sanders places like Dane County, Wisconsin could still deliver for the Vermont senator.”

Net Favorability

The Loras Poll also asked likely Republican voters whether they had a favorable or unfavorable opinion of the three remaining candidates. The results below indicate the net favorability of the candidates (percentage favorable opinion minus percentage unfavorable opinion). Positive numbers indicate a net favorable view, whereas negative numbers indicate a net unfavorable opinion.

Candidate Net Favorability
John Kasich +36
Ted Cruz +24
Donald Trump EVEN

 Ohio Gov. Kasich and Senator Cruz both find themselves with net positive favorability, while Trump remains divisive within the GOP.

The so-called “never Trump” voters can be seen in this new Loras Poll in other ways as well, with 21 percent of likely Republican voters in Wisconsin indicating that they would not vote for Trump in November if he were the party’s nominee. Specifically, 31 percent of those indicating they support Cruz, Kasich, or are undecided, said they would not support Trump in November if he were the nominee. This contrasts with 10 percent of likely Democratic voters who indicated they would not vote for Clinton if she were the nominee (looking more specifically on the Democratic side, 20 percent of those who indicated they supported Sanders or were undecided stated they would not vote for Clinton in November). In addition, 41 percent of likely Republican voters believe that if Trump were to win the most delegates but fall short of the majority of delegates needed to automatically secure the nomination, the convention should choose a different candidate. Forty-eight percent of those polled indicated they believe that Trump receiving the most delegates should mean he receives the nomination at the convention.

A closer look at the electorate

Texas Senator Ted Cruz leads among likely Republican voters across all age categories, and nearly all levels of income and education. Cruz also has a substantial advantage over Trump among female voters.

“With very few exceptions, such as those with only a high school education, Senator Cruz is beating Donald Trump across demographic groups in Wisconsin. This bodes well for Cruz in the battle for both statewide and district level delegates,” Budzisz said. “While we were polling, Governor Walker announced his endorsement of Senator Cruz, so only time will tell if that support will make a major impact. While Walker is a divisive figure in Wisconsin as a whole, he remains popular amongst Republicans in the state. I know the Cruz campaign is hoping it can run the delegate table, and are hoping that Walker’s endorsement will get them there.”

On the Democratic side, Sanders maintains his typical advantage in terms of younger voters (a 26 percent advantage among likely primary voters ages 17-29 in this poll), as well as leading among males. Clinton’s strength continues to be her support with female voters and from those who are 65 years of age or older. In addition, Sanders does best with likely voters with income levels at $30 to $49,999, while Clinton fares better among the more affluent.

Wisconsin State Supreme Court

In addition to the presidential preference vote, on Tuesday Wisconsin voters will select a Wisconsin Supreme Court justice for a 10-year term. While the contest is nonpartisan, it has been a closely contested and contentious race. These past several years for the Wisconsin Supreme Court have been contentious ones, in fact. From controversial decisions to personal confrontations among its members, the high court has received significant attention.

Candidate preference                       Wisconsin Supreme Court

Rebecca Bradley 39 percent
JoAnne Kloppenburg 35 percent
Undecided 26 percent

Looking through the crosstabs it is clear that despite the judicial election being officially nonpartisan, there are strong partisan preferences by voters in the race, with Republicans strongly supporting Bradley (an appointee of Walker) and Democrats supporting Kloppenburg.

“The large number of undecideds make this judicial election a real captivating race to watch in these final days,” Budzisz said.

Other noteworthy results from the poll

  • Wisconsin’s open primary rules don’t appear to be enticing many crossover voters, as self-identified Democrats and Republicans intend to vote in their respective primaries.
  • A gender gap exists in the Republican race in Wisconsin as Cruz captures 44 percent of female likely Republican primary voters, with Trump garnering support from only 28 percent.

Toplines and crosstabs related to today’s release.

Additional results covering Governor Walker’s approval, Johnson v. Feingold Senate matchup, and other non-primary specific topics will be published on April 7.

Note on Methodology: The Loras College Poll surveyed 1,000 likely 2016 Wisconsin primary voters (including 416 likely Republican voters and 416 likely Democratic voters). The survey was conducted March 28-29, 2016. Margin of error for full sample results is +/- 3.1 percent, while for the party subsamples the margin of error is +/- 4.8 %. All results calculated at a 95 percent confidence interval.

  • Sample drawn from random selection of phone numbers of registered voters purchased through third-party vendor. For ballot questions related specifically to the April 5 election, only likely voters included. Screen for likely primary participation is report of “definitely,” “very,” or “somewhat likely” to vote on April 5 (and includes those who report to have already voted).
  • The total sample was balanced for gender and age, and divided across Wisconsin’s Congressional districts with reference to current registration. Sample includes both landlines and cell phones, with weighting applied to achieve 56 percent landline v. 44 percent cell in order to better approximate cell phone prevalence in population (unweighted cell phone split in sample was 72 percent landline to 28 percent cell).
  • The survey was conducted using live operator interviews through a contracted professional call center.
  • Script development and methodology used for the survey received input from Republican campaign consultant Brian Dumas and Democratic campaign consultant Dave Heller.

Note: Percentages are of weighted sample—see methodological note above.

(May not add to 100% due to rounding)

The Loras College Poll is conducted several times each year. Loras College faculty and student researchers work as part of the survey research team to develop poll questions, analyze and interpret data, and assist with sharing the final results with local, regional and national media.

The Loras College Poll website is: http://loras.edu/poll

Follow on Twitter: @LorasPoll or @ChrisBudzis

Loras Poll