The two political half-states of Wisconsin

Gov. Scott Walker’s job performance is drawing strong disapproval—in the city of Milwaukee. Gov. Scott Walker’s job performance is drawing strong approval—in the rest of the Milwaukee media market.

A big thumbs up for Walker across most of the state of Wisconsin. A big thumbs down in Madison.

The two half-states of Wisconsin—one with clear Democratic majorities, one with clear Republican majorities—can be seen in the results of the Marquette Law School Poll released this week. Political contests in either of the half-states alone would be bring few surprises and little drama because they would be one-sided. But combine the two halves into the one Wisconsin we actually have, and you get a polarized, evenly split state that has become a center of passionate partisanship, attracting high levels of national attention.

You can see the two half-Wisconsins in the demographic breakdowns of many of the questions in the new Law School poll. (The results are all on the <a href=””></a> webpage. To go to them, click on “Results &amp; Data” and then on the line referring to “crosstabs.”)

There were some matters where the divide was more visible. On issues such as reducing state aid to education (results generally unfavorable to Walker’s position) or requiring people to show photo identification in order to vote (results generally favorable to Walker’s position), the variations by sections of the state were not as substantial.

Also, caution is in order: While the margin of error for the poll results as a whole was 3.8 percentage points, the margins of effort for results involving subgroups such as people in a specific media market are larger because the samples are smaller.

But there is no mistaking the overall picture. Some examples:

Asked if they approved or disapproved of the way President Barack Obama is handling his job, the poll sample as a whole was evenly split, 47% on each side. But in the highly Democratic Madison media market, 58% approved and 34% disapproved. For the city of Milwaukee, 63% approved and 34% disapproved. The reverse was true in the rest of the Milwaukee media market, which includes Waukesha, Ozaukee, and Washington Counties, areas that vote heavily Republican. The figures for that area were 37% approve and 57% disapprove. The Green Bay/Appleton media market was closely split, 46% approve, 48% disapprove. Results for the state outside those four areas were 42% approve and 50% disapprove.

For Walker, the job approval/disapproval figures were:

City of Milwaukee: 33% approve, 62% disapprove.

The rest of the Milwaukee media market: 61% approve, 36% disapprove.

Madison media market: 35% approve, 62% disapprove.

Green Bay–Appleton: 56% approve, 43% disapprove.

All other media markets: 59% approve, 38% disapprove.

Put that all together and you get 51% saying they approve of Walker’s job performance, 46% saying they disapprove.

You could see the political leanings of each part of the state clearly in the results when people were asked which of these two statements they agreed with more: “I’d rather pay higher taxes and have a state government that provides more services” or “I’d rather pay lower taxes and have a state government that provides fewer services.”

In the city of Milwaukee, 49% of those polled chose the higher taxes/more services side, while 38% took the lower/fewer side. In Madison, the figures were 53% higher/more and 42% lower/fewer.

On the other side of the geo-political divide, 36% of those polled in the rest of the Milwaukee media market said higher/more and 54% said lower/fewer. In the Green Bay-Appleton area, it was 38% higher/more and 52% lower/fewer. For the remainder of the state, the figures were 36% higher/more, 55% lower/fewer.

In his remarks at an “On the Issues” session at the Law School following release of the poll results, Charles Franklin, visiting professor of law and public policy at the Law School this year, suggested that the results of a possible governor’s race between Walker and Democratic State Sen. Tim Cullen were interesting. Franklin, who is directing the Marquette Law School Poll, said that only 18% of those polled knew enough about Cullen to express a favorable or unfavorable opinion about him. Therefore, Franklin suggested, Cullen’s results against Walker might be taken as an indicator of baseline support at this point of any Democratic challenger to Walker.

With that in mind, look at the Walker/Cullen results by region:

City of Milwaukee: Walker 35%, Cullen 52%.

Rest of the Milwaukee media market: Walker 61%, Cullen 31%.

Madison area: Walker 36%, Cullen 55%.

Green Bay–Appleton media market: Walker 52%, Cullen 35%.

The rest of the state: Walker 56%, Cullen 34%.

Getting a big turn out on the turf where you’re strong and doing better than expected on the turf where you’re weak are the standard underlying priorities for any statewide campaign by either party. You can count on that being true in all three of the major races expected this year: for governor, U.S. senator, and president. Regional strategizing will be a factor in the advertising campaigns of candidates—and the air waves are going to be awash with commercials all year—but it also is a consideration in the often under-publicized “ground game” of campaigns. Networking with supporters, targeted mailings, phone banking, and knocking on doors while distributing campaign literature will all be high priorities for candidates who want to maximize the voting among residents in their half of Wisconsin’s political map.

Alan J. Borsuk is senior fellow in law and public policy at Marquette University Law School.