New MU Law Poll looks at Wisc views on guns, education, economy

Transportation funding, residency, the Milwaukee County board and approval of elected officials also included in first poll of 2013

Milwaukee, Wis. – A new Marquette Law School Poll, the first of 2013, finds a large majority of Wisconsin registered voters in favor of background checks for buyers at private gun sales and at gun shows, with 81 percent supporting background checks and 18 percent opposed.

The public was more divided on a possible ban on assault-style weapons with 54 percent supporting a ban and 43 percent opposed. Among gun owners, 46 percent support a ban while 52 percent oppose a ban. Among households without a gun, 64 percent support a ban while 32 percent oppose banning assault-style weapons.

The statewide poll of both landline and cell phone users, covering a number of topics, was conducted March 11-14, 2013. Results are based on a sample of 1060 registered voters and have a margin of error of +/-3.1 percent. An oversample from the city of Milwaukee was included to allow more detailed analysis of respondents in the city. All results have been weighted to properly reflect the statewide population.

Demographics of gun issues

In terms of regions within Wisconsin on these two issues: The support for expanding background checks included the more rural areas of the state, with 74 percent in favor and 21 percent opposed in the southwestern and northern areas of the state, outside the Milwaukee, Madison and Green Bay media markets. Opposition to an assault-style weapons ban was strongest in the more rural region of the state, with 58 percent opposed to a ban and 41 percent supportive. The Green Bay media market split with 50 percent opposed and 49 percent in favor of a ban, while the Madison and Milwaukee areas gave 63 percent and 60 percent support respectively, with 32 percent and 36 percent opposed.

In terms of breakdown among men and women on these issues: Majorities of both men and women supported expanded background checks, with 77 percent of men and 84 percent of women in favor, while 21 percent and 14 percent respectively were opposed. The contrast was greater on banning assault-style weapons, with 66 percent of women favoring a ban while only 41 percent of men were in favor; the numbers opposed to banning assault-style weapons were 29 percent of women and 58 percent of men.

Both gun owners and non-gun owners supported expanding background checks, with 82 percent of owners and 81 percent of non-owners favoring background checks. Forty-three percent of respondents said they had a firearm in their home while 51 percent said they did not. Six percent didn’t say if they had a firearm or not.

Views about public education split

Opinions about public schools and the state education budget show a wide range of views. Respondents have a very favorable view of public schools, with 72 percent favorable and 18 percent unfavorable, and of public school teachers, 76 percent favorable and 14 percent unfavorable. Parents with children under 18 in the household tend to hold slightly more favorable views of public schools than people without children in the home. Seventy-seven percent of such parents rate public schools favorably versus 19 percent unfavorably, while those without children under 18 give a 69 percent favorable and 18 percent unfavorable rating. Public school teachers get similar favorable ratings among parents (77 percent) and non-parents (75 percent) alike.

Voucher schools divide public opinion; many undecided

Views on voucher schools are more evenly divided with 27 percent favorable to 24 percent unfavorable, but with the largest group, 49 percent, saying they either haven’t heard enough to have an opinion or don’t know what they think of voucher schools. In the city of Milwaukee, where voucher schools have been in use since 1990, voucher schools are seen favorably by 34 percent of respondents and negatively by 21 percent, with 45 percent saying they don’t know enough to have an opinion. In other regions of the state, favorable-unfavorable splits are 21-35 percent in the Madison media market, 23-23 percent in Green Bay, and 19-25 percent in the southwestern and northern regions of the state. Favorable views of voucher schools are strongest in the Milwaukee media market outside the city, where 36 percent have a favorable view and 19 percent an unfavorable view. In all regions, over 40 percent say they don’t know enough about voucher schools to express an opinion.

Voucher schools are also given similar ratings among parents and non-parents, with 29 percent of parents and 26 percent of non-parents giving a favorable rating, while 24 percent of both parents and non-parents view voucher schools unfavorably. Both groups have large percentages who are unfamiliar with voucher schools, 47 percent among parents and 49 percent among non-parents.

Expansion of voucher schools splits voters

Expansion of voucher schools beyond the Milwaukee and Racine areas gets a divided reception. Thirty-seven percent support expanding the voucher school program to the entire state, while 14 percent support expanding vouchers only to larger school districts with some low-performing schools. Fourteen percent prefer no expansion while 28 percent would like to see the voucher program ended. Seven percent offered no opinion. Support for expansion either statewide or in larger districts was strongest, at 56 percent, in the city of Milwaukee, 54 percent in the rest of the Milwaukee area, 51 percent in the Madison media market, 49 percent in the Green Bay market and 45 percent in the southwestern and northern regions of the state.

Public school satisfaction generally high

A large majority of voters, 81 percent, are either very satisfied or satisfied with the public schools in their community, with 14 percent either dissatisfied or very dissatisfied. Among parents with children in the household 84 percent say they are satisfied or very satisfied, while 13 percent are dissatisfied or very dissatisfied. Among those without children at home, 79 percent are satisfied or very satisfied, with 14 percent dissatisfied or very dissatisfied. Opinion in the city of Milwaukee is less positive than statewide, with 50 percent satisfied or very satisfied and 39 percent dissatisfied or very dissatisfied. No other region of the state has more than 15 percent expressing some degree of dissatisfaction with public schools in the community.

School funding questions divide voters

There is general support for increases in spending on public schools, though reluctance to see property taxes increase for this purpose. Eight percent would like to see spending on public schools reduced, while 17 percent would keep spending at the current level. Fourteen percent favor an increase of one and a half percent, while 41 percent think public school spending should increase with the rate of inflation. Sixteen percent would like school spending to increase by more than the inflation rate.

When it comes to using property taxes to pay for schools, however, the public is split, with 49 percent saying it is more important to reduce property taxes than to increase public school funding, while 46 percent say they would prefer more spending on schools than lower property taxes. Parents with children at home prefer more school spending to reducing property taxes by a 53 to 45 percent margin, while those without children at home prefer reducing property taxes to increased school spending by a 52 to 42 percent margin.

Older people are more reluctant to increase spending, though majorities at all ages would prefer some spending increases to either no increase or further cuts. Eighty-one percent of those under 45 would like to see some level of increased school funding, while 67 percent of those 45 and older would support spending increases. Nineteen percent of those under 45 would prefer a freeze or a cut in public school spending, while 28 percent of those 45 and older would prefer a freeze or cut. Age differences are somewhat sharper when it comes to property taxes. Forty percent of those under 45 prefer reducing property taxes to increasing school spending, while 57 percent of those 45 and older prefer reductions in property taxes to increased school spending.

Funding transportation

Wisconsin voters are, on balance, willing to pay for highway projects through tolls by a 53 percent to 44 percent margin. In every region of the state except the Madison media market, more than half of respondents said they would be willing to accept tolls. Support was highest, at 59 percent, in the city of Milwaukee. The more rural southwestern and northern parts of the state also showed 58 percent supporting tolls. Support was at 55 percent in the Green Bay area and at 51 percent in the Milwaukee area outside the city. In the Madison area 46 percent said they were willing to use tolls for highway funding, while 48 percent opposed using tolls.

Other ways of funding transportation were more strongly opposed. Just 28 percent were willing to accept higher gas taxes or vehicle registration fees to fund highway projects, and only 24 percent were willing to see the state borrow money to pay for the projects. Taking money from other programs to pay for highways was supported by 57 percent. Fifty-one percent were willing to cut spending on highways even if it delays planned projects.

Views on residency requirements, the Milwaukee County Board also split

Over 100 cities and towns in Wisconsin have residency requirements for at least some municipal employees. Fifty-three percent of respondents favor eliminating a residency requirement, while 42 percent believe employees should be required to live where they work. Residents of the city of Milwaukee favored retaining the residency requirement, 49 percent to 48 percent for eliminating it, while in the other counties of the metropolitan Milwaukee area 68 percent favored eliminating the residency requirement while 28 percent supported it. Support for residency requirements was strongest in the southwestern and northern regions of the state, where 52 percent supported residency rules and 45 percent opposed them.

A proposal to change the Milwaukee County Board from full-time to part-time was opposed by city residents, with 54 percent preferring full-time and 37 percent favoring a part-time board. In the rest of Milwaukee County, opinion was reversed, with 61 percent favoring a part-time board and 30 percent supporting a full-time one.

Views of Political Figures

President Barack Obama’s job approval stands at 48 percent, with 45 percent disapproval. In late October, just before the presidential election, his approval was 51 percent with 44 percent disapproval. Fifty percent approve of the job Governor Scott Walker is doing while 44 percent disapprove. In October his approval was 49 percent with disapproval at 45 percent.

Wisconsin’s U.S. senators are viewed more favorably than unfavorably, but a substantial number of voters say they don’t know the senators well enough to have an opinion. Senator Ron Johnson receives a favorable rating from 30 percent and an unfavorable rating from 25 percent, but 44 percent say they can’t give an opinion of him. Newly-elected Senator Tammy Baldwin is viewed favorably by 39 percent and unfavorably by 36 percent, with 25 percent unable to rate her.

Congressman and former vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan is viewed favorably by 45 percent, while 37 percent have an unfavorable view of him and 18 percent are unable to give a rating. Congressman Ron Kind is far less well-known statewide, with 74 percent unable to give a rating, while 16 percent give a favorable and 9 percent give an unfavorable opinion of him.

About the Marquette Law School Poll
The Marquette Law School Poll is the most extensive independent statewide polling project in Wisconsin history. In 2012 the poll provided highly accurate estimates of election outcomes, in addition to gauging public opinion on a variety of major policy questions.

“Marquette Law School will continue the poll during 2013,” said Dean Joseph D. Kearney. “Our effort to provide a balanced and detailed understanding of public opinion in 2012 was a resounding success. The Marquette Law School Poll is part of our broader public policy initiative, led by Mike Gousha, distinguished fellow in law and public policy, and we are grateful that our collaboration continues with Charles Franklin, professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and director of the Marquette Law School Poll.”

The results of today’s poll were discussed at a session of “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” at Marquette Law School. A video of today’s session can be viewed at

The poll interviewed 1060 registered Wisconsin voters by both landline and cell phone March 11-14, 2013. The margin of error is +/- 3.1 percentage points for the full sample. An oversample of 360 respondents from the city of Milwaukee was included to allow more detailed analysis of respondents in the city. All results have been weighted to properly reflect the statewide population. The entire questionnaire, full results and breakdowns by demographic groups are available at