The Corner

The Badger State, One Year Later

It was one year ago today that Milwaukee County executive Scott Walker was elected governor of Wisconsin. Oh, what a year it has been.

As soon as Walker was elected on November 2, 2010 (his 43rd birthday), public-worker unions in Wisconsin began to Walker-proof their paychecks. Before the governor and the newly minted GOP legislature even took office in January, public-sector unions tried to rush through new contracts. In order to do so, they actually went and pulled one of their friendly legislators out of jail (where he had been serving time for multiple OWI arrests) and dragged him down to Madison, where he cast the deciding vote in favor of the new contracts. (They eventually failed in the state senate the next day.)

Then it really got crazy.

Everyone now knows what happened then. The state erupted after Walker took office and proposed new rules requiring state employees to pay 5.8 percent towards their own pensions and 12.6 percent of their health-insurance premiums. Walker’s plan, which virtually eliminated public-sector collective bargaining, sent an army of 100,000 public employees and college students to the capitol to beat drums, honk horns, and march through the February snow.

Now that Walker’s plan is in effect, we’re starting to get a clearer picture of how the public has taken to it. My outfit, the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, conducted a poll late last week that actually has some good news for Walker’s supporters. For Walker himself, however, the picture is a little murkier.

For instance, even after public-sector collective bargaining’s demise, 71 percent of Wisconsinites believe public schools are either better or exactly the same as they were before Walker’s law. Seventy-seven percent of Wisconsinites expect the state’s economy to either get better or stay the same in the next year, up from 60 percent during the heart of the union tumult in March. While 23 percent of Wisconsinites think the federal government is on the right track, 38 percent of those same respondents believe state government is on the right track — up from just 27 percent in November of 2010.

Yet those numbers don’t necessarily mean the public is giving Walker credit for his initiatives. Walker’s approval level is hovering at 42 percent — about the same place it was in March. Among the 56 percent who disapprove of Walker, an astounding 45 percent do so “strongly.” Yet despite the public not warming up to Walker personally, Wisconsin citizens still narrowly disapprove of recalling him from office, by a 49 percent to 47 percent margin. Among independents, the percentage of those who disapprove of recalling Walker increases to 51.

Curiously, despite flabbergasted Wisconsinites giving extremely low marks to the federal government, President Obama’s approval rating stands at around 54 percent (buttressed by the city of Milwaukee, in which 41 percent of residents “strongly approve” of his job performance.) So Wisconsinites give low marks to the politician whose initiatives they like, and high marks to the one who they think is running his government into the ground.

As long as we’re on presidential politics, we also polled head-to-head matchups between Obama and potential GOP challengers. Of the three we tested (Romney, Perry, Cain), Romney fared best against Obama, garnering 35 percent against the president’s 46 percent. (Perry received 30 percent, Cain 31 percent — although this was before the relative height of Cain’s wife became a national story on Sunday.) Romney is the only Republican currently beating Obama in the important Green Bay swing area, which usually votes GOP, but has a strong manufacturing union streak.

One year past Walker’s election, the Badger State is still trying to sort out what happened to it. The final chapter may not be written until we find out if Walker will be recalled from office early in 2012. Unions have said they will begin circulating recall petitions on November 15 — then the party starts all over again. Have your popcorn ready.

— Christian Schneider is a senior fellow at the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute.

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