With all the tumult in the political picture for the nation in recent months, it seemed to make sense to anticipate interesting changes in public opinion in Wisconsin when the first round of Marquette Law School Polls results in more than four months was released on Monday.
But perhaps the most interesting result of the poll was how much had not changed over time, not in the last few months and in some cases not in recent years.
President Donald Trump’s job ratings? Among 800 registered voters in Wisconsin who were polled from Feb. 25 through March 1, 43 percent approved of Trump’s performance and 50 percent disapproved. In June 2017, the numbers were 41 percent who approved and 51 percent who disapproved.
Gov. Scott Walker? In the new results, 47 percent approved of how he is doing his job, 47 percent disapproved. In June 2017, the numbers were 48 and 48. And the results are in line with the long-term close-to-even split on Walker.
With the large amount of interest in gun-related issues in the aftermath of the Feb. 14 killings at a high school in Florida, has there been change in opinion on gun control proposals? Not very much. The new poll found 81 percent of Wisconsin voters in favor of background checks for gun sales at gun shows and in private settings. The last time the poll asked the question, in June 2016, the figure was 85 percent. A ban on assault-style weapons was supported by 56 percent in the new poll; in March 2013, the support level was 53 percent.
Immigration issues drew similar results in the new poll as in earlier polls. The new results showed 71 percent in favor of a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants currently working in the United States, and 86 percent in favor of a path to citizenship for those who are undocumented but who were brought to the United States as children.
But if the consistency of opinion was one of the main take-aways from the new poll, there were some results that showed change or that shed light on fresh issues. Three examples:
For one, the poll examined sentiment on the state offering more than $3 billion in support for building the Foxconn flat-panel display factory in Racine County. Overall, 38 percent of voters statewide think the plant will provide at least as much benefit as the state’s investment, while 49 percent think the state will pay more in incentives than the plant will be worth. Sentiment on Foxconn was more favorable in the Milwaukee area (outside the city of Milwaukee) than elsewhere in the state. Charles Franklin, director of the Law School Poll and the Law School’s professor of law and public policy, said that result and related results on other Foxconn questions shed light on how people outside the Milwaukee and Madison areas are unhappy with policies they don’t see as benefitting their parts of the state.
A second point: The poll showed a noteworthy shift in sentiment toward funding public schools. In March 2014, voters were asked which was a higher priority for them, holding down property taxes or increasing spending on public schools. Forty-nine percent said reducing property taxes, while 46 percent said increased school spending. But in the new poll, 63 percent favored school spending increases while 33 percent chose reducing property taxes. That shift sheds light on the positions Walker and Republican legislators have taken in the last year that increased school spending.
A third point: There were signs of shifts in the partisan alignment of voters, including fewer voters identifying as Democrats and more identifying as independents who lean Democratic. But the percentage of votes who said they are “very enthusiastic” about voting in this year’s elections was higher among those planning to vote for Democrats than among those planning to vote for Republicans. Franklin said that could prove significant, just as at some past points greater enthusiasm among Republican voters preceded favorable election results for Republicans.
It was clear from the results that large percentages of registered voters have not tuned in yet to the races for governor and a United States Senate seat that will be on the ballot in November. Large majorities of voters had no opinions on the field of Democratic candidates for governor or the two main Republican candidates for the Senate.
Franklin said there is still a long way to go to the fall election and public awareness of the candidates will rise. He pointed out the Tammy Baldwin, who will be running as a Democratic incumbent in this year’s Senate election, had low name recognition at this point in 2012, when she went on to win.
However, the race for a seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court will be decided in a month and fewer than a quarter of voters had an opinion, favorable or unfavorable, on either of the candidates who will be on the ballot, Rebecca Dallet or Michael Screnock.