After watching his double-digit leads in Wisconsin vanish following the first debate earlier this month, President Barack Obama has re-asserted himself as the favorite in the Badger State, a poll released Wednesday shows.
The latest Marquette University Law School Poll shows Obama crossing the 50 percent threshold to open up an 8-point lead over Mitt Romney in Wisconsin, 51 percent to 43 percent. It caps what has been a roller coaster month-and-a-half for the president in Marquette's polling.
In mid-September — at perhaps the apex of Obama's post-convention momentum — Marquette showed him staking a 14-point lead in Wisconsin. As was the case nationally and in other swing states, the race in Wisconsin tightened following the first presidential debate on Oct. 3. Marquette's post-debate poll showed Obama clinging to a meager 1-point lead among likely voters in the state.
But Wednesday's poll signals that the race there has shifted firmly back in Obama's favor, which should come as a huge relief to supporters of the president. Wisconsin, along with Ohio and Nevada, may form a potential firewall for Obama. If he carries all three, he will almost certainly accumulate more than the 270 electoral votes necessary to secure re-election (assuming Pennsylvania and Minnesota both remain in his column).
The shift in Wisconsin, according to Marquette polling director Charles Franklin, can be chalked up to the malleable views of independents. Romney led Obama by 4 points among the voting bloc in mid-October. Now two weeks later, Marquette shows the president leading among independent voters 46 percent to 45 percent.
"In an election where the dynamics over the whole year have been fairly limited, we haven't seen one candidate run up a 10-15 point lead only to see the other candidate reverse that, but we keep seeing some swings among especially independent voters," Franklin said during a Wednesday webinar that corresponded with the poll's release. "That modest movement is enough to account for most of the shifts."
Democrats have carried Wisconsin in every presidential election since 1984, but the state earned a designation as a battleground from both camps in 2012. Emboldened by Gov. Scott Walker's (R) triumph in the state's gubernatorial recall in June, Republicans eyed the state as a legitimate pick-up opportunity. The GOP's focus on the state sharpened even more when Romney tapped Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) as his running mate in August.
Marquette's latest poll provides confirmation that Wisconsin represented an electoral prize for both Obama and Romney. Seventy-seven percent of likely voters surveyed said they have received some form of campaign contact, 69 percent of whom said they were contacted by both campaigns.
Franklin said those numbers provide a window into each side's field organization, something that is often difficult to gauge.
"The issue of the ground game, the ability to get out the vote, is something that's hard for us to assess," Franklin said. "Generally, the campaigns don't really welcome you in to see how many calls they're making."
Marquette conducted its poll Oct. 25-28 using live phone interviews with 1,243 likely Wisconsin voters. The poll has a margin of error of 2.8 percentage points.
Charles Franklin is a consultant to TPM's PollTracker