WPRI poll: State split on Walker recall; jobs/economy are primary concerns
Residents becoming less pessimistic about state’s direction; see little recent change in schools
State residents are less pessimistic about the future than they were last spring, even as a majority continue to disapprove of Gov. Scott Walker, according to a new statewide poll conducted for the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute. They are evenly split, according to the poll of 605 Wisconsinites, on whether he should be recalled.
Fifty-six percent of Wisconsinites somewhat or strongly disapprove of the way Walker is handling his job while 42 percent somewhat or strongly approve – numbers similar to six months ago, according to the poll.
Forty-nine percent of those polled between Oct. 23 and Oct. 26 are opposed to recalling Walker, however, while 47 percent are in favor – a virtual dead-heat. Directed by University of Chicago Professor Will Howell, the poll included cell phone users and has a margin of error of plus or minus four percentage points. Live interviews were conducted by Abt SRBI Inc., a polling firm based in New York City.
Noting that half as many Wisconsin residents think that the economy is going to get worse as did six months ago, Howell observed: “There is a rising sense of optimism, and tempers that were flaring in March are subsiding a bit. Interestingly, this is has not redounded to the benefit of the governor.”
“If the recall is a referendum on the state and whether things are turning around, or about the wisdom of recall elections in general, it bodes better for the governor than if it is all about him,” added Howell.
Ken Goldstein, who previously did polling for WPRI, is on leave from UW-Madison and has taken a new job heading up the Campaign Media Analysis Group. Howell is the Sydney Stein Professor in American Politics in the Harris School at the University of Chicago, co-director of the university’s Program on Political Institutions, and a professor in the Department of Political Science. An expert on the presidency and American political institutions, he previously taught in the Government Department at Harvard University and the Political Science Department at the University of Wisconsin.
Wisconsinites are more supportive of President Obama than much of the rest of the country, according to the poll. Fifty-four percent somewhat or strongly approve of his performance while 42 percent disapprove, and he is currently about 10 points ahead of his closest Republican challenger, Mitt Romney. However, Obama does not garner support from a majority of those polled against any of the Republican challengers.
Badger State residents are more pessimistic about the direction of the country as a whole than they are about Wisconsin. Seventy-three percent of state residents think the country has gotten off on the wrong track while 57 percent feel Wisconsin is on the wrong track – five points lower than last spring. Only 19 percent think Wisconsin’s economy will get worse in the next year (versus 36 percent last spring) while 49 percent now think it will stay the same and 28 percent think it will get better.
Respondents were also asked what they think has happened to the schools in their community in the last six months. Six out of ten (61 percent) said they stayed about the same, while 14 percent said they have gotten worse and 10 percent said they have gotten better. Exactly half (50 percent) favor giving letter grades to schools so parents can hold them accountable. Four out of ten (forty percent) are in opposition.
“While the media has been full of stories about collective bargaining and school aid cuts, the public does not seem to feel that schools have been adversely affected,” said George Lightbourn, president of WPRI. “Yet, they tell us that they don’t have confidence that the current state testing is helpful in assessing school performance. A simple letter grade system for schools is seen as a way to hold schools accountable.”
Over half (52 percent) of Wisconsinites say jobs and the economy are the most important issues facing Wisconsin, about three times the number who said they were concerned about making health care affordable (18 percent). Another 15 percent cited K-12 education and 6 percent said protecting collective bargaining rights.
A minority of Wisconsinites (38 percent) favor streamlining environmental regulations in order to create more mining jobs in Northern Wisconsin while slightly more than half (51 percent) say environmental regulations should not be weakened. Eleven percent don’t know or declined to answer.
“Proponents of the mine have work to do to make the public aware of the impact the mine will have on jobs in Northern Wisconsin,” said Lightbourn.
The survey also asked a wide variety of questions about attitudes toward the Tea Party (33 percent have a favorable opinion), Occupy Wall Street (34 percent have a favorable opinion), public employee unions and politicians. Slightly more than half of Wisconsinites (51 percent) have a favorable opinion of public employee unions, down from 59 percent in March but still generally higher than elsewhere in the country.
Trust in state government remains low. Only 19 percent trust the government to do what is right just about always or most of the time. Less than half (48 percent) have a favorable opinion of Democrats in the state legislature and only 37 percent have a favorable opinion of Republicans in the same body.
Looking to the future, 41 percent said they believe slowing the growth of spending in the state budget and making cuts will improve the quality of life. Fifty-three percent said they believe that will lead to a decline in the quality of life.
WPRI – a nonpartisan, not-for-profit think tank – has been conducting surveys on politics and issues for more than 20 years and is now commissioning Howell to independently conduct polls on a periodic basis.
October 30, 2011