Are We Really That Scary? Why Pollsters are Running from Wisconsin Ahead of the 2022 Midterms

By Christina Lorey

September 23, 2022

While other “Battlegrounds” have seen 30+ polls, only 10 have come out of the Badger State.

Are pollsters afraid of Wisconsin? According to the polling analysis site FiveThirtyEight–YES.

Wisconsin’s US Senate race has the second-fewest polls of any competitive race in the country, a recent analysis found. 

Where are all the polls?

As of September 20, major battlegrounds like Florida and Georgia each had more than 30 polls, forecasting the outcome of their Senate races. Pennsylvania, another neck-and-neck race, had 22. And Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Arizona, New Hampshire, and Utah each had more than a dozen. Wisconsin had 10: significantly less than any other “toss-up” race.

In fact, until last week, FiveThirtyEight didn’t have enough Wisconsin polls to even generate an average for the state’s US Senate race. Now, with 10 polls, the site aggregates that Democratic Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes holds a slight lead over incumbent Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, 48.7% to 47.5%, giving Barnes a 60-in-100 chance of winning the election.

Why are pollsters afraid?

According to FiveThirtyEight, history’s to blame. 

“Many pollsters may be steering clear of Wisconsin this year because the Badger State has given them plenty of heartburn in recent elections,” analyst Nathaniel Rakich wrote. 

Take this example from the 2020 presidential election: The average poll gave Joe Biden an 8.4% lead in Wisconsin before Election Day. He ended up winning by only 0.6 points.

What does this mean for November?

Don’t get mad at us, but TBD. 

“Just because polls missed in a particular direction in one election doesn’t necessarily mean they will miss in the same direction the next,” Rakich explained.

The four most recent polls have averaged out to a 1-point Johnson lead, a signal the race could be shifting in the incumbent’s favor–especially since one of those polls came from Marquette, a pollster that had previously given Barnes a sizable lead. In this case, Marquette found that Johnson gained four points, while Barnes dropped four points, in the span of a month.

Is there a reason behind this shift?

Yes, but make that plural. According to FiveThirtyEight, the shift could be caused by an influx of attack ads focused on Barnes, since the Democrat won his primary on Aug. 9. It could also be caused by other reasons, like voters starting to tune into the campaign or simply another polling error.

“We’ll need to see more polls to say for sure,” Rakich concluded. “Hopefully, pollsters can muster up some courage and give us the Wisconsin polls we’re so thirsty for.”


  • Christina Lorey

    Christina is an Edward R. Murrow-winning journalist and former producer, reporter, and anchor for TV stations in Madison and Moline. When she’s not writing or asking questions, you can find her volunteering with Girls on the Run, the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, and various mental health organizations.



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