Law School poll shows issues that divide, unite Wisconsin

Marquette’s law school yesterday revealed the first of monthly polls regarding Wisconsin voters’ opinions on the governor race, U.S. presidential race, state policy issues and U.S. Senate race.

The polls are in conjunction with Charles Franklin, co-founder of pollster.com and a visiting professor at Marquette from UW-Madison.

Franklin plans for the monthly survey to have different themes, while repeating some questions to track changes. He said topics on his mind are healthcare and education, but no decision has been made for next month’s poll.

The poll released yesterday surveyed 701 random registered and non-registered voters from Jan. 19 to Jan. 22 via landlines and cellphones. People all over Wisconsin of different races, social backgrounds and incomes were surveyed.

The results showed just how unified Wisconsinites are on some issues, like the new voter ID law, and how split they are on limiting state employee unions’ ability to bargain over non-wage issues and benefits.

Alan Borsuk, senior fellow in law and public policy at Marquette, assisted with the construction of the poll questions and said the poll is coming at a time when Wisconsin is at a historical political crossroads in terms of elections and public opinion.

“We have a (potential) recall, (a) presidential election in which Wisconsin is a battleground and a U.S. Senate seat that is open,” Borusk said. “This is a huge coming together of major political contests this year.”

Franklin is eager to see the benefits of the polls after seeing today’s results.

“One of the big benefits of doing so many polls is that we don’t have to cram everything into a single poll so we have the whole year,” Franklin said. “(Yesterday’s poll) focused more on the state of the state, how voters are reacting to the last year and looking ahead to a potential recall.”

At a state level, the results show Gov. Scott Walker is ahead by 6 to 10 percentage points over four potential Democratic opponents for the possible recall. Walker is ahead of Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett by a 50 percent to 44 percent margin and leads former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk with a 49 percent to 42 percent margin. Former Congressman David Obey is also behind Walker by 6 percent with a 49 percent to 43 percent margin, while Janesville Democratic State Senator Tim Cullen is 10 percentage points behind Walker at 40 percent to Walker’s 50 percent.

The presidential race shows similar results.

President Barack Obama leads former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney with 48 percent to Romney’s 40 percent. The majority of interviews for the poll were completed before South Carolina primary results were known Saturday. The South Carolina primary, won by former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, has propelled Gingrich to share frontrunner status in the GOP primary race with Romney.

Franklin said this is not a prediction of the general election.

“It’s really important to emphasize that we are looking at a snapshot of today at the beginning of the elections, not predicting the outcome,” Franklin said.

John McAdams, professor of political science, is not shocked with the state or presidential poll numbers.

“At this point in time it’s about name recognition,” McAdams said. “Over time (the importance of) name recognition will decrease. Walker’s advantage is partly name recognition and the ads he has been running … Obama had a sense of exuberance about him in 2008, and that is now wearing off, but that’s not to say he won’t win the election. ”

Wisconsin’s results vary when it comes to public policy issues that directly affect the state. Among voters, 74 percent are in favor of state workers paying more for pension and health benefits and 22 percent are opposed, while 66 percent are in favor of the state’s voter ID law and 32 percent are opposed. Wisconsin is closely divided when it comes to issues such as the new law legalizing the possession of concealed weapons, with 46 percent in favor and 51 percent opposed.

McAdams was not surprised by the policy issue results either.

“People often go with what is most attractive in regards to their party,” McAdams said. “It’s not a problem with this poll, it’s a problem with all polls … People often give the plausible answer rather than the opinionated one.”