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Wisconsin Poll: Support for Budget Cutting, Not for Weakening Collective Bargaining Rights
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Most Wisconsin voters oppose efforts to weaken collective bargaining rights for union workers but a plurality are supportive of significant pay cuts for state workers. Governor Scott Walker is struggling in the court of public opinion, but how badly he is struggling depends upon how the issue is presented.  There is also an interesting gap between the views of private and public sector union families.

A new Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of Wisconsin voters shows that just 39% favor weakening collective bargaining rights and 52% are opposed. At the same time, 44% support a 10% pay cut for all state workers. Thirty-eight percent (38%) are opposed. That’s partly because 27% of Wisconsin voters believe state workers are paid too much and 16% believe they are paid too little. Forty-nine percent (49%) believe the pay of state workers is about right. (To see survey question wording, click here.)

To gauge support for the Governor’s stand, Rasmussen Reports asked about the dispute in two separate ways. Half the survey respondents were asked about the Governor’s proposals to reduce the state budget deficit and whether they supported the Governor or state senate Democrats. The other half were asked about the plan to weaken the collective bargaining rights of state unions and asked whether they supported the Governor or the union.

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The survey of 800 Likely Voters in Wisconsin was conducted on March 2, 2011 by Rasmussen Reports. The margin of sampling error is +/- 4 percentage points with a 95% level of confidence. Field work for all Rasmussen Reports surveys is conducted by Pulse Opinion Research, LLC. See methodology.

Among those asked about the state budget deficit, 52% supported the Democrats and 44% supported the Governor. Most of those 50 and over support the Governor, 40-somethings are evenly divided, and those under 40 support the Democrats.

Among those asked about weakening collective bargaining rights, 56% supported the union and 41% supported the Governor. There is a similar age dynamic on this question, even though the overall level of support for the Governor is lower.

While most voters oppose the Governor’s effort to weaken collective bargaining rights, 43% believe that the public employee unions have too much influence on politics in Wisconsin while only 9% say they have too little influence. Forty-two percent (42%) say the public union influence is about right.

Additionally, 49% believe it’s good that most teachers belong to a union. Among those with children in the public school system, 58% believe that’s a good thing.

Among households with a private sector union member, 44% say that public employee unions have too much influence while only 9% say they have too little influence. Those who have a public sector union employee in the household strongly believe that the level of influence is about right. Additionally, most private sector union households (57%) favor a pay cut for all state workers. Not surprisingly, households with public sector union members hold the opposite view.

Collectively, the data suggests a fluid situation. If the debate is seen to focus primarily on efforts to weaken collective bargaining rights, Governor Walker is in a weak position. If the debate is seen to focus primarily on efforts to reduce the state budget deficit, the Governor may be on stronger ground.

Nationally, 47% of voters support the Governor and 42% support the unions.

The overall sample for the survey included 30% of union households. That includes 33% with a private sector union member and 60% with a public sector union member.

Additionally, the sample includes 46% who voted for Governor Walker last November and 45% who voted for his challenger Tom Barrett. Walker actually won the election by a 52% to 46% margin. This discrepancy may be the result of some people choosing to “forget? they voted for Walker or it could result from the fact that the Likely Voter turnout in a presidential election cycle tends to be more favorable to Democrats than the turnout during a mid-term election. In the case of a state like Wisconsin, that’s largely because younger voters are more likely to turn out in a presidential election year.

Additional data from the survey will be released soon.

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Rasmussen Reports is an electronic media company specializing in the collection, publication and distribution of public opinion polling information.  We poll on a variety of topics in the fields of politics, business and lifestyle, updating our site’s content on a news cycle throughout the day, everyday.

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Scott Rasmussen, president of Rasmussen Reports, has been an independent pollster for more than a decade. To learn more about our methodology, click here.