The October Wisconsin Policy Research Institute WPRI poll, released by the conservative “think-tank” recently, has shown a significant decline in the approval of Republican lawmakers in Wisconsin. The poll results not reported in the mainstream media show why – GOP lawmakers and Scott Walker are promoting policies and passing legislation that counter the progressive traditions of Wisconsin. Public Employee Unions, Environmental Regulation, Prisons and Prisoner management, and Public Education are all under attack by the GOP as they move to privatize everything. In doing so, they are furthering the rift between the GOP and the people of the state. A GOP which was founded in Wisconsin with Socialist and Progressive roots, now the antithesis of its original philosophy (Lincoln would be considered a radical Marxist by today’s Republicans). In doing so, the GOP is solidifying the resistance, and giving recall supporters a map to success.
Unions – The attack on Public Employee Unions began the massive pushback against Scott Walker and the GOP. Republicans to this day continue the verbal and propaganda assault, attempting to portray public opinion as being sympathetic to their pro-corporate ideology. The WPRI poll shows otherwise. Fully 50% of Wisconsinites polled (MoE +/- 4%) have a favorable opinion of Public Employee Unions (more that approve of Scott Walker or GOP lawmakers). Only 38% have an unfavorable opinion – this in spite of months of GOP propaganda. More Wisconsinites have a favorable opinion of Teachers Unions effect on Public Education by a margin of 46% to 36%, with 16% being neutral.
Prisons – One of the top agendas for Walker and the GOP has been to both fill and privatize prisons – a nationwide Republican movement. Some of the most significant cuts in the Walker budget are to community-based outreach aimed at intervention and monitoring of those convicted of lesser crimes; both meant to ease costs and strain on the system, and provide alternatives to prison for those who qualify. It would appear based on the poll, the people believe community-based services are good government. In a split question, opinion was asked of the following general statement: “Wisconsin needs to reduce the cost of prisons by incarcerating fewer prisoners and, instead, make use of locally managed, community based services to deal with some people who have been convicted of crimes.” 49% agreed with this statement, with 14% being neutral. Only 34% disagreed. When the costs preceded the question in part B – “…the state corrections budget has increased 70% between 1999 and 2009 and now costs the state $1.2 billion annually.” With the same question asked regarding community based services following the costs, the percentage agreeing jumped to 56%, with only 29% disagreeing. Wisconsinites recognize the value of responsible community and government involvement in managing prisons.
Environment – Wisconsin has had a long history of Environmental Stewardship. Walker and the GOP have been committed to deregulation and weakening of DNR authority to create a “business friendly regulatory climate.” Never mind the actual environmental climate. This is particularly true in fast tracking legislation to support mining in Northern Wisconsin. The poll shows Wisconsin doesn’t agree with their efforts. When asked, “Some people have suggested that Wisconsin should streamline its environmental regulations in order to create more mining jobs in Northern Wisconsin. Other people argue that existing environment regulations should not be weakened. Which comes closer to your point of view?”, in spite of tying deregulation to jobs – 51% of those polled believe regulations should not be weakened. 11% are neutral, while 37% believe they should be streamlined. Wisconsin continues to value its environmental heritage – even if the GOP does not.
Public Education – Wisconsin has long been committed to a top-tier Public Education system – until the Walker budget cut nearly $1 billion in funding to public schools statewide. The poll clearly shows the people of Wisconsin believe this is the wrong direction for public schools. First, when asked what grade respondents would give their own community public schools, 56% graded at an A or B, 22% a C. Only 4% gave a failing grade. Wisconsin has a higher opinion of its public schools (deservedly so) that the rest of the nation, where only 46% get an A or B – this according to a wpri power point (page 33) based on the October poll.
Republicans would have us believe Wisconsinites think the state is spending too much money per pupil in Public Schools, part of the argument in support of private charter schools - they can do it cheaper. In another split question, the first asks, “According to the most recent information available, roughly $12,800 is being spent each year per child attending PUBLIC SCHOOLS (emphasis mine) in Wisconsin. Do you think that government funding for public schools in Wisconsin should increase, decrease. or stay the same?” Even with knowledge of the amount spent per pupil, 86% believe funding should increase or at least stay the same. Only 9% said decrease. When the question was asked without the dollar amount, there was no measurable difference in responses (MoE +/- 4%), with 89% responding increase or stay the same, with only 7% saying decrease. These numbers have Republicans scrambling to find ways to spin them, and the responses on charter schools give a clue as to how that will happen.
When respondents were asked if they support or oppose the creation of charter schools, which would be “…exempt from many state regulations” - a hot topic recently in Wisconsin, 42% reported support, while 32% opposed, and 22% were neutral, indicating a definitive lack of accurate information about the consequences of private charter schools – and a large segment undecided for one side or the other yet to win over. This outcome coupled with the willingness of Wisconsin to spend more on education (omitting the critical “public education” qualifier in the question), makes it feasible that conservatives could twist the responses to support a position that “the people favor charter schools, and spending more on education, so we must fund charter school formation at a greater pace.” Progressives must fight this with facts about the true costs of charters – being lack of public accountability and low achievement. It is possible to sway the middle 22% with the facts. As more information is known about charters (as is the case in Wisconsin versus the nation as a whole), more people oppose them. Page 39 of the power point indicates Wisconsin opposes charters more than the rest of the nation, 32% to 18%.
The lack of media responsibility in reporting the results of this survey, taken by a conservative leaning WPRI, allows the GOP to spin the results to their agenda. It is up to the readers of alternate media, such as Badger Democracy, to spread the word. The GOP is framing this survey to benefit its political agenda, saying that “…fewer people believe the state is on the wrong track, dropping from 62% in March to 57% now.” While this may be true, and the change is just outside the 4% margin of error, the power point slides give a more long-term (and therefore more accurate) representation of that opinion. Page 8 of the power point shows that over a 16 month period of time (June 2010-October 2011), the numbers have not changed. In June, 2010, 58% felt the state was on the wrong track – today that number is 57%, within the margin of error of 4%. The same is true of “in the right direction” (34% to 38%) – within the 4% margin of error.
The GOP will spin this poll, as they always do – cherry picking data from a conservative-friendly WPRI. The facts, even in their own poll, say otherwise. On Education, unions, the environment, and the economy, Wisconsin shows its progressive heritage. And the resistance to Scott Walker and the current incarnation of the GOP is proof of where Wisconsin stands. It is up to us to spread the facts, as the media is asleep at the wheel of Democracy.