“Our old friend, polarization” – that was the phrase Charles Franklin, director of the Marquette Law School Poll, used at one point in describing the results of a fresh round of polling released Tuesday. It was the first poll since shortly before the November elections.
This was the first time in 15 rounds of the Law School Poll, starting in early 2012, that there were no “horse race” election questions involved. The questions this time were focused on issues such as regulating some aspects of gun control, education funding and school choice, how to pay for road construction, and residency rules for government employees.
There were some issues where opinion was strongly in favor of one position. For example, background checks for all gun purchasers were strongly supported by both Republicans and Democrats and people living in every part of the state.
But on many issues, Wisconsin remains sharply, and sometimes close to evenly, divided.
Despite strong agreement on background checks when guns are purchased, there was a much closer division when it came to banning assault-style weapons. Overall, 54% supported that and 43% were opposed. And there were differences by region – opposition to an assault weapons ban was greater in rural areas – and by gender. Sixty-six percent of women supported such a ban, compared to 41% of men.
In general, there was strong support for increased spending on schools. Those responding to the poll were given options to choose from. Overall, 16% said they favored increasing school spending by more than the rate of inflation, 41% favored increasing it by the rate of inflation, and 14% said they favored increasing it by 1 ½% (a figure proposed recently by two Republican state senators). Seventeen percent favored no increase in school spending (a position in line with Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal to have no increase in the “revenue cap” limit on how much public schools can receive in state aid and local property taxes). Another 8% favored reducing school spending.
But, even if that came to 71% in favor of increased school spending, the results were nearly evenly divided when the question was which is more important, increasing public school spending or reducing property taxes. In total, 49% said it is more important to reduce property taxes and 46% preferred more spending on schools.
Walker has proposed expanding private school voucher programs to as many as nine more cities in Wisconsin – they are in use now in Milwaukee and Racine. The poll found that 37% favored expanding vouchers statewide, while 14% favored making them available in larger school districts that had some low performing schools, which is what Walker supports. Another 14% said they favored no expansion of vouchers and 28% wanted vouchers ended.
It has long been an assumption in Wisconsin politics that there was no way that toll roads would ever get approved. But the poll found a majority — 53% — favored paying for highway projects with tolls, with 44% opposed. Only 28% favored higher gas taxes or vehicle registration fees to pay for road projects and only 24% supported having the state borrow money.
There was a sharp division between residents of the City of Milwaukee and residents of the rest of Milwaukee County when it came to the proposal to make positions on the Milwaukee County Board part time rather than full time. In the city, 54% favored full time and 37% part time supervisors. In the suburbs, it was 61% supporting part time and 30% supporting full time.
There was also a sharp split among city of Milwaukee residents when it came to Gov. Walker’s proposal to eliminate residency requirements for government employees. In total, 49% favored keeping the residency rule, 48% said it should be eliminated. Statewide – and there are some forms of residency requirements in more than 100 cities and towns across the state – 53% favored ending residency rules and 42% said they should remain.
There has been little movement in recent months when it comes to what Wisconsinites think of their leaders. Approval for President Barack Obama was 48% and disapproval was 45%. In October, the figures were 51% and 44%. For Walker, the totals in October were 49% favorable and 45% unfavorable. In the new poll, they were 50% and 44%.
Although they have widely differing views, Wisconsin’s two US Senators had somewhat similar ratings. For Republican Ron Johnson, 30% gave a favorable opinion, 25% were unfavorable, and 44% expressed no opinion. For Democrat Tammy Baldwin, the views were 39% favorable, 36% unfavorable, and 25% with no opinion.
The full results of the poll may be found by clicking here.
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