Governor Scott Walker leads Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett 50-42 among those likely to vote in Wisconsin's June 5 recall election, according to a new Reason-Rupe poll of 708 Wisconsin adults on cell phones and landlines. At the same time, Wisconsin residents favor Obama 46 percent to 36 percent in the potential swing state.
Favorability toward public sector unions plays a critical role in vote choice. Fifty-four percent of Walker voters have an unfavorable opinion of government employee unions. Yet 65 percent of Barrett voters have a favorable opinion of these unions.
Significant differences emerge between the two voter blocs over Governor Walker's controversial Wisconsin Budget Repair Bill. Walker voters favor the major provisions in the law, but only a narrow margin favor exempting public safety unions from law changes. Barrett voters oppose most major provisions in the law, except increasing pension contributions.
Favor Wisconsin Budget Repair Bill Major Provisions
Nearly three-fourths of Walker voters worry that public sector unions have too much power negotiating their contracts, only 16 percent of Barrett voters agree. Sixty-nine percent of Walker voters also support what essentially is a right to work law in Wisconsin, compared to 34 percent among Barrett voters.
Perceptions of unions also differ greatly between these two voter groups. A majority of Barrett voters believe public sector unions have helped the state and local economy, but 62 percent of Walker voters say these unions have hurt the economy. Over half of Barrett voters think teachers' unions have helped educational quality in the state, compared to 62 percent of Walker voters who think teachers' unions have hurt education quality. Walker voters also overwhelmingly (88 percent) believe public sector retirement benefits are better than benefits in the private sector for similar jobs. Instead, only 46 percent of Barrett voters agree.
Nearly half of Walker voters identify with the Tea Party movement, while over half of employed Barrett voters are public sector employees. About a quarter of those who plan to vote for Walker also have a favorable opinion of President Obama's job performance. This demonstrates Wisconsin's recall election extends beyond partisan lines.
Emily Ekins is the director of polling for Reason Foundation where she leads the Reason-Rupe public opinion research project, launched in 2011. Follow her on Twitter @emilyekins.