Wisconsin polling roundup

It’s clear now that there are massive protests in Wisconsin over the governor’s plan to remove collective bargaining rights from some public employees. But how do the majority of people in Wisconsin feel about the governor’s plan? Lets look at some polling on the issue.

We Ask America had a poll on the situation Thursday. They ask:

As you may know, Gov. Scott Walker has proposed a plan to limit the pay of government workers and teachers, increase their share of the cost of benefits, and strip some public-employ unions of much of their power. We’d like to know if APPROVE or DISAPPROVE of Gov. Walker’s plan.

43.05% Approve

51.90% Disapprove

(2400 Wisconsin residents)

First of all, remember that WAA is a Republican group. Note that there is no mention in that wording of collective bargaining rights. Yet they still find a majority opposed.

WAA also asked this question:

It was reported today that Democratic state senators have left the capitol in order to prevent a vote of Gov. Walker’s measures. Do you think that the Democratic state senators should return to the state capitol to vote on the issue?

Yes (should return): 55.99%

No (shouldn’t return): 36.38%

This is not surprising to me, personally. I believe that the calculation made by the state senators is that by leaving the state they make this a bigger news item, which could give them more benefit than leaving the state hurts them. I highly doubt the decision by Democratic lawmakers to leave the state significantly impacted anyone’s opinion of the bill itself.

A poll by The Shop Consulting group for Building a Stronger Wisconsin was also conducted on Thursday. The poll asked the following:

Rather than negotiate with public employee Unions to address budget

issues in Wisconsin, Governor Walker (WALK-ER) has proposed a number of changes that would directly affect many public employees in Wisconsin. With the exception of police and firefighters, all  state, county and municipal employees including teachers will be asked to contribute greater amounts to help pay for health care and retirement benefits which would be in effect a pay reduction of around 9%.

How would you characterize your feelings about this portion of the proposal?

Would you say:

I fully support Walker’s proposal: 33.7%

I think that public employees should pay more of the costs of their health care and  retirement, but I think this proposal goes too far: 26.6%

I oppose Walker’s proposal and believe it is an  attack on Unions and Wisconsin workers: 35.2%

The Walker proposal includes not only significant increases in public employee contributions for health care and retirement, but strips them of the ability to collectively bargain on any issue other than wages. Collective bargaining between workers and management is used to address many issues from workplace discipline to working hours and conditions.

What do you feel about Walker’s proposal after learning this?  

Would you say:

I fully support Walker’s proposal: 31.9%

I support some additional contributions by employees for health care and retirement, but removing the ability to collectively bargain is going too far: 32.1%

I oppose Walker’s proposal and believe it is an attack on Unions and Wisconsin workers: 32.9%

(602 Wisconsin “voters”-I assume they mean registered voters, not likely voters or residents, but I could be wrong)

I would definitely take this poll with a grain of salt-Building a Stronger Wisconsin is a progressive group and some of the question wording seems biased to me. However, I think it makes an important distinction: namely, whether people support lowering benefits for public employees and whether they support stripping them of benefits. It seems to me a large portion of people could support reducing public employee pay/benefits to balance the budget, but still think they should have the ability to collectively bargain.

Now let’s look at Gov Walker’s own ratings. The most recent poll was taken by PPP on Dec 10-12. It showed Walker slightly underwater, with 41% having a favorable opinion of him compared to 49% unfavorable. This is significantly less than the polls taken right before the election, which showed Walker with a consistently favorable image among likely voters:

The reason PPP gives for this is a simple one: their December poll was of registered voters, the earlier polls were of likely voters. Democrats traditionally do better in polls of registered voters compared to polls of likely voters, and this was especially true in 2010. This is a possible explanation, but it seems a little strange to me that the shift from likely to registered voters alone would cause such a large shift in opinions, from a +14 spread in favorable ratings to a -8 one. In the 2010 elections, Democrats did about six points better in registered voter polls versus likely voter polls, although some firms showed larger gaps. This is significantly less than the gap between the pre election likely voter polls of Walker’s favorable ratings and the post election PPP poll. This suggests that either PPP’s Dec poll was an outlier, which is definitely possible, or that Walker’s favorable ratings fell in the space between the election and when PPP took the poll. There was significant news coverage in this time period of then gov elect Walker’s promise to cancel a high speed rail connection between Madison and Milwaukee. This could have slightly hurt Walker, however given that he declared his attentions to do this many times on the campaign trail that seems somewhat unlikely to me, and regardless I doubt that issue alone would have caused such a profound drop in Walker’s ratings. And all of this polling was before the controversy over this new legislation, which undoubtedly has had a large impact on Walker’s ratings, either positive or negative. This old poll is of little use to us now, and it seems a new poll on Walker’s approval rating is badly needed.

With the only polls directly dealing with this situation being one from a Republican firm, one sponsored by a progressive organization, and one that is terribly outdated, it seems there is little relevant polling on this situation. So it might be worth it to look at polling on the question of public sector unions in general.

A very comprehensive poll covering many union-related topics was taken by Pew on Thursday.