Across two states with Republican-held Senate seats that could prove pivotal to control of the chamber in this fall’s elections, one incumbent faces an evenly divided electorate while the Democrat holds a narrow edge in the other, according to new CNN polls conducted by SSRS.
In Wisconsin, the survey shows no clear leader, with 50% of likely voters behind Republican Sen. Ron Johnson and 49% backing his Democratic challenger, state Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes.
In the race for retiring Republican Sen. Pat Toomey’s seat in Pennsylvania, Democratic state Lt. Gov. John Fetterman stands at 51% support to Republican candidate Mehmet Oz’s 45% support among likely voters, an advantage narrowly outside of the survey’s margin of error.
More on key Senate races
In both states, the political landscape underlying these races is similar. The economy is a central focus for voters as they decide whom to support for Congress: 47% in Wisconsin and 44% in Pennsylvania choose the economy and inflation as the most important issue in their vote. That is more than double the 19% in each state who name abortion, which ranks second in both states, as their top issue. Voting rights and election integrity lands in third in each state, with 14% citing it as their top issue in Wisconsin and 12% saying the same in Pennsylvania. The share calling the economy a top concern is especially large among Republican and independent likely voters. Broad majorities of likely voters in both states say the economy there is getting worse (63% say so in Pennsylvania, 61% in Wisconsin) and President Joe Biden’s approval rating is deeply underwater in both states (43% approve to 57% disapprove in Wisconsin; 45% approve to 55% disapprove in Pennsylvania).
The Republican candidates in both states have a broad advantage among voters focused on economic issues (Johnson tops Barnes 78% to 21% among likely voters who say their top issue is the economy, while Oz doubles Fetterman’s support in this group, 64% to 32%), while the Democratic candidates rack up wide margins among the smaller group naming abortion as their top issue (79% Fetterman to 21% Oz in Pennsylvania and 83% Barnes to 14% Johnson in Wisconsin).
Still, likely voters in these two critical states are generally divided over whether the country will be better off should Republicans take control of Congress in November. In Wisconsin, 46% say the country would be better off under GOP control and an equal 46% say it would be worse off, while Pennsylvania likely voters divide 46% better off to 45% worse off.
Voters in both states are far more likely to say that they are focused on the candidates’ issue positions as they decide whom to support for Senate (48% call that the most important factor in their vote in Pennsylvania, 45% in Wisconsin) than they are to be thinking about which party will ultimately control the Senate (27% in Pennsylvania say party control is most important to their vote, 20% in Wisconsin). Another 35% in Wisconsin say candidate character and integrity will be their top consideration, while25% say the same in Pennsylvania.
Issue voters and party control voters differ in their partisan choices across the two states. In Pennsylvania, voters who say party control is a top consideration break sharply for Oz, 57% to 42%. Wisconsin voters who are concerned about partisan advantage in the Senate, though, split in Barnes’s favor, 54% to 45%.
Voters focused on the issues in Pennsylvania split almost evenly between Fetterman and Oz, 49% to 47%, while Johnson holds a broad advantage among that group in Wisconsin, 58% to 41%.
But across both states, the Democratic candidate holds a broad edge among character and integrity voters: Barnes tops Johnson 56% to 41% among that group, while Fetterman outpaces Oz 65% to 29% in that group of Pennsylvania likely voters.
Although Fetterman is viewed far more favorably than Oz in Pennsylvania (48% of likely voters hold a favorable opinion of the Democratic nominee, 38% of the Republican candidate), his unfavorable rating is nearly as high (46%). A majority, 55%, view Oz unfavorably. There is very little overlap in views of the two candidates: 79% of Pennsylvania likely voters like one of them and dislike the other, while just 1% have a positive view of both and only 8% have an unfavorable view of both.
In Wisconsin, Barnes and Johnson have favorability ratings that are about equal. About half have an unfavorable view of each of them (51% see Johnson unfavorably, 49% Barnes), while slightly fewer say they have a positive impression (46% view Johnson favorably, 44% Barnes). Here too, there is little overlap in opinions, with 84% saying they like one of the two candidates but not the other, just 5% holding an unfavorable view of both and 2% saying they have a positive take on both Barnes and Johnson.
Latest election news
In Wisconsin, partisans are broadly consolidated, with 98% of Democrats behind Barnes and 96% of Republicans backing Johnson. Independents split between the two, 50% behind Barnes, 46% Johnson. Barnes has broad advantages among women (57% Barnes to 41% Johnson), younger voters (62% Barnes to 36% Johnson among those younger than 45), and White voters with college degrees (63% Barnes to 36% Johnson), while Johnson tops Barnes among voters 45 or older (55% Johnson to 44% Barnes), White voters without college degrees (60% Johnson to 38% Barnes), and men (58% Johnson to 41% Barnes).
In Pennsylvania, Democrats have largely consolidated around Fetterman: 97% back him. But Republicans are not as unified in their support of Oz: 86% back him. Independents do break in Oz’s favor, with 54% backing him, as do White voters without a college degree (56%). The two run about evenly among men (51% Fetterman, 48% Oz) and older voters (50% Fetterman, 46% Oz among those 45 or older) while Fetterman leads among younger voters (53% Fetterman, 43% Oz among those younger than 45), women (52% Fetterman, 43% Oz) and White voters who hold a college degree (59% Fetterman, 38% Oz).
Relatively few likely voters in either state say their minds could change at this point in the race, though there is a bit more room for change in Pennsylvania. Overall, 12% of likely voters there say that they either have not yet chosen a candidate or could change their minds about the one they back now. About half of likely voters, 48%, are locked-in Fetterman backers, while 40% are solid Oz supporters. In Wisconsin, the pool of movable voters is smaller: Just 7% say they haven’t yet decided or are open to changing their mind, while 47% are locked in Johnson voters and 46% are committed Barnes backers.
Motivation to vote in these two states is widespread, even among the broader pool of all registered voters (60% extremely motivated to vote in Wisconsin, with 58% saying the same in Pennsylvania), and runs fairly evenly across party lines in both states.
The CNN polls were conducted by SSRS from October 13-17 in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, using a combination of online and telephone interviews. The survey samples were originally drawn from two sources – a probability-based online panel and a registration-based sample – and combined. Results among the full sample of 901 registered voters in Pennsylvania has an error margin of plus or minus 4.1 points. In Wisconsin, it is 4.2 points for the full sample of 905 registered voters. Likely voters were identified in each state through a series of questions about their intention to, interest in and past history of voting. Results among 703 likely voters in Pennsylvania have an error margin of plus or minus 4.6 points; it is 4.5 points for the sample of 714 likely voters in Wisconsin.
CNN’s Ariel Edwards-Levy contributed to this report.