Bad news for Scott Walker: the latest Marquette University Law School poll shows the divisive Wisconsin governor in a dead heat with Democratic challenger Mary Burke, 46 to 46.
That result marks a "significant tightening of the race," according to poll director Charles Franklin.
In the last Marquette poll, in March, Walker led 48 to 41.
This is the third poll to show the Wisconsin governor's race tied, after months in which Burke lagged Walker by about the same 7 percent margin by which Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, who ran against Walker in the 2012 recall election, ultimately lost that race.
The Marquette poll has particularly strong credibility because it correctly predicted the outcome of the recall.
Burke, a former Trek Bicycle executive who led Wisconsin's Commerce Department under Democratic Governor Jim Doyle and who serves on the Madison school board, is still introducing herself to voters around the state.
The poll reflected voters' unfamiliarity with her, as well as the importance of voter turnout in the outcome of the fall election.
While the race is now tied among all voters, Walker still leads among likely voters. Those who rated themselves most enthusiastic about voting favored Walker 50 to 45.
47 percent of respondents gave Walker a favorable rating, versus 48 percent unfavorable. As for Burke, 51 percent said they did not know enough about her to form an opinion.
Her favorability rating was 27 percent, with 22 percent unfavorable. In the March poll, her unfavorable numbers topped her favorable ones.
Possible reasons for the change in public opinion include Wisconsin's lackluster economic performance. Despite Walker's pledge to create 250,000 new jobs, the state continues to lag most Midwestern states when it comes to creating private-sector jobs, including Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Iowa.
In one bit of particularly bad news for Walker, most people said they don’t think he cares about people like them. When asked if the phrase “cares about people like you” describes Walker, 52 percent said it did not, and only 44 percent said it did. For Mary Burke, by contrast, more of those polled, 39 percent, thought she cared about people like them than those who didn’t (29 percent).
If voters in the recall election felt that Walker deserved a chance to serve out his term, the news now reflects that he has failed to make good on his central promise to create jobs.
The most recent quarterly report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics ranked the state thirty-fifth out of fifty states for job creation, creating jobs at about half the pace, on average, of the rest of the nation over the last twelve months.
Burke has also come out in favor of a popular minimum-wage increase, which Walker opposes.
And she appears to be the first gubernatorial candidate in the nation to back a plan to combat student debt, by allowing student borrowers to refinance their college loans the same way homeowners refinance their mortgages, at lower interest rates.
Burke put state Democrats' popular measure to refinance student debt in her jobs plan, pointing out the toll college loan debt takes on Wisconsin's economy and on its struggling middle class.
This issue resonates strongly with Wisconsin's 800,000 student debtors, who rank debt relief among their top political concerns. And they receive a monthly reminder of the issue, Scot Ross, director of the advocacy group One Wisconsin Now, points out. Student debtors could become "the most powerful voting bloc in the state," Ross predicts.
Whether or not they decide to vote may determine the outcome of this very close governor's race.