Steven Walters: Third poll advises Gov. Walker to not run for president

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Steven Walters
Monday, June 2, 2014

For the first time, Marquette University Law School’s pollster asked this: “Do you think any governor can run for president and still handle their duties as governor?”

Translation: If he’s re-elected in November, can Republican Gov. Scott Walker still be an effective governor if he then runs for president in 2016?

By a 2-1 margin, those who answered Marquette’s May poll doubted Walker could govern well and also run for the White House. Only 30.7 percent said yes; 64.7 percent said no.

For the third time, Marquette Law School pollster Charles Franklin also asked if respondents would “personally like to see Scott Walker run for president in 2016?”

Their answer didn’t change. By a margin of 64 percent or 66 percent—or two out of three—those who answered Franklin’s polls repeatedly said Walker shouldn’t run for president. Between 26 percent and 30 percent of respondents offered “run, Scott, run” cheers.

Does keeping alive the option of running for president hurt Walker’s re-election chances? After all, Franklin’s May poll included another first—a tie at 46 percent among registered voters between Walker and Democratic challenger Mary Burke, the former state Commerce Department secretary and former Trek Bicycle executive. The poll’s margin of error is 3.9 percent.

Mordecai Lee, UW-Milwaukee governmental affairs professor and a Democratic state senator in the 1980s, praised Franklin for polling on the question but cautioned against “over-interpreting the results.”

Lee explained:

“It’s one thing to say, ‘I don’t think he should run for president,’ and it’s a whole other thing to tack on to the end of that sentence, ‘and if he keeps running for president, I’m gonna vote against re-electing him as governor, even though I was planning to do so.’

“I doubt there are many people who would act that way,” Lee added.

If Walker asked him, Lee said he would tell the governor he does not need to promise to not run for president to help win re-election.

“Why should he?” Lee said. “As voters, we should want ambitious politicians. An ambitious politician wants to be popular and win re-election by as large a margin as possible to then serve a platform to run for higher office.”

But “the odd dynamics of tea party politics” may have changed how Republican politicians traditionally think, Lee noted.

“Perhaps he wants to be re-elected by 51 percent of the voters and then use that as a badge of honor for his race for president: ‘I didn’t compromise my conservative principles to get re-elected,’” Lee explained.

Franklin said, with the gubernatorial election still five months away, nobody can conclusively say that Walker’s name on all lists of GOP presidential candidates hurts his re-election chances.

“Are people who otherwise would support Walker, but don’t want him to run for president, actually going to vote for Burke instead?” Franklin said. “That is the question of whether this issue has a direct electoral impact.”

Reading the cross-tab tea leaves of Franklin’s poll on a potential Walker run for president doesn’t offer much help because they varied according to whether respondents self-declared as Republicans, Democrats or independents, “lean” toward one of the parties, and whether they approved or disapproved of Walker’s job performance.

Franklin’s conclusion?

“The effect of wanting him to run (for president) is correlated with whether or not people, even Republicans, are supportive of him more generally. Those who don’t want him to run are also on average less approving, so which is the chicken and which is the egg?”

May’s Marquette Law School survey was also the third time pollsters asked whether Republican Congressman Paul Ryan of Janesville, the party’s vice presidential candidate in 2012, should run for president in 2016.

Those results also didn’t change: By percentages that ranged between 50 percent and 53 percent, respondents said Ryan should not run; between 37 percent and 39 percent said he should.

Franklin said it’s a pollster’s delight to have two potential presidential candidates from the same state.

“We have the rare opportunity to see what home-state voters think about a pair of contenders who are ‘favorite sons,’” Franklin noted.

Two Walker campaign officials did not respond to questions about the poll results on a potential presidential bid. But Walker closely monitors public opinion polls, according to his 2013 political autobiography, “Unintimidated.”

Steven Walters is a senior producer for the nonprofit public affairs channel WisconsinEye. Email stevenscwalters@gmail.com.

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