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Like Wisconsin, California May Be Ready to Reform Government Unions

The Reason-Rupe poll interviewed 696 Californians between October 11th-15th about public sector unions, asking many of the same questions asked in a May Reason-Rupe Wisconsin poll of 708 respondents.

Like Wisconsin, Californians are largely Democratic and are favorable toward President Obama. At the same time, both Californians and Wisconsinites have strikingly similar attitudes regarding reforming public sector unions. These results suggest that Californians may also be open to Wisconsin-like government reforms.

Two-thirds of Californians and Wisconsinites think government employees receive better retirement benefits than workers with similar jobs in the private sector. Even as a plurality of Wisconsin voters thought public employee unions have too much power when negotiating their pay and benefits with elected officials, a majority of Californians agree.

Pluralities in both states think public sector unions have done more to hurt the state and local economy than help (42 percent in California, 36 percent in Wisconsin).

These shared perceptions of public sector unions may explain why three-fourths of voters in both states favor requiring public employees to contribute more toward their own pensions and health care benefits. Moreover, equal percentages of both states’ voters approve of transitioning new government employees from guaranteed pension payments during retirement to 401(k)-style accounts based on the amount the worker saves for retirement plus investment returns. Half of Wisconsinites and 51 percent of Californians also think the government should not begin disbursing lifetime retirement benefits until government workers turn 65.

One potential difference between the two states is over voter approval of government worker pay increases. Seventy-four percent of Californians think “taxpayers should get to vote on increases to government employee pensions and benefits”. Rasmussen asked a similar question, but worded differently, in March 2011, finding 48 percent thought government union contracts increasing pension benefits should require voter approval, 39 percent were opposed.

When we released the Wisconsin poll results in June, some were surprised by the strong support for government union reform despite the +10 Obama vote margin over Republican candidate Mitt Romney, and a +3 favorability advantage for Obama. Yet in California, Democrats enjoy an even stronger advantage; Obama leads Romney 53 percent to 38 percent and has a +15 favorability advantage.

Reason-Rupe California and Wisconsin polls demonstrate that reforming how we compensate government workers has moved beyond partisanship and voters are eager for elected officials to rein in public sector worker costs. 

The California Reason-Rupe poll was conducted October 11-15th 2012 on landline and cell phones of 696 respondents, including 508 likely voters with a +/-5% margin of error. The Wisconsin Reason-Rupe poll was conducted May 14-18th 2012 on landline and cell phones of 708 respondents, including 609 likely voters with a +/- 4% margin of error. Full results and methodology can be found here.

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