New Poll Delivers Scott Walker Good News

by Christian Schneider

Last Tuesday, Wisconsin was overrun with awkward high-fives as union organizers submitted over 1 million signatures in an attempt to recall Governor Scott Walker from office. Unions, upset with Walker’s plan to virtually eliminate public-sector collective bargaining and make government unionization optional, thought 1 million signatures was the show of strength they needed to gain momentum for the recall effort. After turning the signatures in, the always-understated state Democratic party chairman Mike Tate said Wisconsin was “bearing witness to a million-strong miracle of democracy,” and that petition signers had “lived up to the nation’s great promise, the quality that distinguishes us as a beacon to the world.”

Yet one week later, a poll conducted by the Marquette law school shows that unions may not have the wind at their backs. (Marquette, the Sorbonne of southeastern Wisconsin, is renowned for the quality of its alumni, including Chris Farley, Dwyane Wade, and yours truly.) In an extended City Journal piece this week, I argued that Walker’s reforms are working; it appears the Wisconsin public may already recognize that fact.

The poll, conducted between January 19 and January 22, surveyed 701 Wisconsinites. Of the respondents, 51 percent approved of the way Scott Walker was handling his job as governor, as opposed to 46 percent disapproval. This exceeds President Obama’s job-approval rating, which is split at 47 percent.

Wisconsinites are also beginning to move in favor of Walker’s union policies. Not surprisingly, 74 percent of respondents support requiring public employees to pay into their own pension accounts and pay a greater share of their health-insurance premiums. But 48 percent of respondents support Walker’s plan to limit collective bargaining on benefit and non-wage issues, while 47 percent oppose Walker’s plan. While the public is still evenly split, this marks a sizeable shift in Walker’s direction from polls taken late in 2011.

The news gets even better for Walker when he is pitted against several rumored recall-election challengers. As I mentioned back in November, while the state may be split on Walker’s union plan, they now have to run a flesh-and-blood candidate against him — a Democrat who is likely to be beset with problematic policy positions of their own.

Consequently, Walker leads all rumored potential opponents by between six and ten percentage points. The poll finds Walker ahead of Milwaukee mayor Tom Barrett 50 percent to 44 percent. Walker leads the only announced Democratic candidate, former Dane County executive Kathleen Falk, 49 percent to 42 percent. He leads former congressman David Obey 49 percent to 43 percent and Janesville Democratic state senator Tim Cullen 50 percent to 40 percent.

Other interesting notes:

— Newt Gingrich’s favorable/unfavorable rating currently stands at 25/53 in Wisconsin, meaning Gingrich’s favorability is slightly below that of “psoriasis.”

—  Mitt Romney’s favorables are slightly better, at 30 percent (42 percent unfavorable), although Obama still leads Romney 48 percent to 40 percent. Wisconsin has gone to a Democrat in every election since Ronald Reagan’s landslide in 1984, although George W. Bush lost the state by extremely small margins in 2000 and 2004.

—  Fifty-four percent of respondents believe Walker’s changes made Wisconsin better off in the long run, as opposed to 40 percent that believe Wisconsin will be worse off.

—  By a two-to-one margin (66 percent to 32 percent), Wisconsinites favor requiring photo identification to vote.

—  In the highly competitive U.S. Senate race to replace Democrat Herb Kohl, Tommy Thompson showed the highest favorability rating, 49 percent (31 percent unfavorable).  If Thompson were to win the GOP primary (against former congressman Mark Neumann, speaker of the assembly Jeff Fitzgerald, and state senator Frank Lasee), he would face Democratic congresswoman Tammy Baldwin, who sits at 23 percent favorable, 21 percent unfavorable.

— Christian Schneider is a senior fellow at the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute and a co-author of the Campaign Manager Survey.

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