Regarding the battle over the budget and public employee unions in Wisconsin, the state's voters support the Democrats over Republican governor Scott Walker by eight points, according to a new Rasmussen poll:
Among those asked about the state budget deficit, 52% supported the Democrats and 44% supported the Governor. Most of those 50 and over support the Governor, 40-somethings are evenly divided, and those under 40 support the Democrats.
Public Policy Polling, a Democratic firm, recently found Walker faring slightly better than Rasmussen did, with 52 percent of voters siding with Democrats and 47 percent siding with Walker.
The results here reinforce the challenge Walker and Wisconsin Republicans have in selling their tough reforms to the voters. Only 41 percent of voters support Walker in "weakening collective bargaining rights," while 56 percent support unions on that question.
The problem for Walker is that "weakening" or limiting "collective bargaining" sounds a lot like simply getting rid of the right to negotiate as a group.* And why does he have to do that to balance the budget?
Well, as Walker sees it, limiting collective bargaining is a necessary means to achieve a balanced budget for the state while simultaneously doing the least damage to local governments, school districts, and the economy. Walker acknowledges that collective bargaining "sounds, on the surface, fairly reasonable." But what collective bargaining has meant in reality is that unions have had the final say in choosing layoffs over benefits reductions. As county executive in Milwaukee, Walker saw this happen in practice. So he wants to give school districts and municipalities flexibility in implementing better alternatives to layoffs, such as requiring employees to pay more for health insurance premiums.
But there are an awful lot of people who are unaware of how collective bargaining actually works (see Joe Scarborough, for example). And that's a problem for Walker and the state GOP.
Wisconsin Republicans, including those most vulnerable to recall elections, seem to recognize the political risk and say they will push ahead anyway because it's the "right thing to do," as state senator Randy Hopper told THE WEEKLY STANDARD yesterday. Recall elections can't be held until after a new biennial budget is passed, so the most likely outcome is that Walker will get his budget repair bill signed into law. But the recall elections will go forward later this summer, with Republicans going up against energized opponents whose power and pocketbooks have been directly diminished by Walker's legislation. What's left for Walker and Republicans, then, is to bring more of the Wisconsin public around to their way of thinking. As this latest polling shows, it won't be easy.
*(It wouldn't. Unions would informally continue to bargain or negotiate, as Daniel DiSalvo notes.)