Providing straight information on public opinion in an historic political time

Amid the amazing tumult on the Wisconsin political scene, with partisanship and passion running so high, how can you get straight information about what voters are thinking?

One good answer: You can run a large-scale polling project, adhering to the highest standards of professionalism and non-partisanship. You can poll repeatedly throughout the year, so that you can follow trends. You can make all the results available promptly to anybody. You can go to lengths to give others a chance to see what you’ve found out.

That is what the Marquette Law School Poll is going to do. It will be the most extensive polling project in Wisconsin history, and we are fully committed to making it an independent effort that will have no agenda except to find out as much as we can about public opinion in Wisconsin and share it with all.

In fact, consider this your invitation to tune into the poll’s results. We are launching the first round of polling on Thursday, Jan. 19, and will release the results next Wednesday, Jan. 25.

In addition, an “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” session will be held at noon on Wednesday at Eckstein Hall. Gousha, the Law School’s distinguished fellow in law and public policy, will interview Charles Franklin, the Law School’s visiting professor of law and public policy who is leading the poll project. The session is free and open to the public – you can sign up by clicking here. A video of the discussion will be posted on the Law School’s Web site and on the poll Web site afterward.

Franklin, a University of Wisconsin-Madison political science professor, will be at the Law School for all of 2012. He is a nationally respected expert on polling and a political analyst who is called on frequently by the news media.

This year is certain to be an epic one for Wisconsin politics, with the likelihood of close elections for U.S. Senate and president and, with the filing this week of petitions with more than a million signatures, an all-but-certain recall election to determine whether Scott Walker should be ousted as governor less than half way through his four-year term. It will be only the third recall election of a governor in American history.

Why is a law school getting into the polling business? Dean Joseph D. Kearney sees it as an important part of a growing effort by Marquette Law School to help inform the public on major issues and to make the Law School a crossroads for serious discussion of such issues. He described the polling project and its context in this paper sent to the Law School community in November. The poll will be paid for not out of tuition money from law students but rather from the dean’s discretionary dollars (donations by alumni and friends in support of the Law School’s priorities).

Franklin has said often in planning the launch of the poll that there will be people who will assume there is partisanship or an agenda behind the effort. His advice has been that that should not change our pursuit of doing things in the best—and most non-partisan—fashion we can. We invite people to judge us by what we actually do as part of the polling project. And, at least as important as that, we invite people to join in, delving into the results along with us and benefitting from having the solid grasp of public opinion that provides an important and level-headed piece of the picture of Wisconsin in a highly-charged and historic time.

Alan J. Borsuk is senior fellow in law and public policy at Marquette University Law School. He has been part of the planning process for the Marquette Law School Poll.