I've been very interested in polling about Gov. Scott Walker's budget repair bill, because I think a clear majority one way or another will determine whether Walker and the legislative Republicans eventually decide to compromise on collective bargaining, or if the Senate Democrats who left the state to prevent a losing vote will come back to just get it over with.
A new poll sponsored by WisconsinReporter.com suggests we're in for a continued stalemate. Respondents were split 50-50 on the budget repair bill, it says, and they were also split 50-50 on their impressions -- favorable or unfavorable -- of protesters at the Capitol.
It's interesting to note, though, that while 71 percent of the respondents (there were 500 of them) said the increased pension and health insurance payments that Walker wants for public workers are fair compared to 22 percent who said they weren't, 56 percent of respondents said public workers should have collective bargaining rights, compared to 32 percent who said they shouldn't.
How reliable is this poll? Kathy Cramer Walsh of UW-Madison's political science department tells me she's leery of polls like this one that use automated technology because respondents sometimes get confused by questions or don't hear them properly, and a machine can't sort that out for them. A one-day poll, she adds, makes it hard to get a representative sample of respondents. (This is also true, by the way, of the We Ask America poll I wrote about a few days ago.)
Walsh is a polling expert who heads up the university's Badger Poll. She's also done a lot of hands-on research talking to state residents outside of Madison and Milwaukee about their impressions of the two cities.
From a technical standpoint, she was much more confident about the results of a poll earlier this week by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, which polled on behalf of the AFL-CIO. That poll showed significant support for the protesters over Walker.
Conservative media outlets were quick to dismiss it because a union paid for it and more mainstream commentators also say that polls "issued by partisan groups" should be discounted, but Walsh tells me that Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research is widely respected and wouldn't want to endanger their reputation by skewing results, and that the questions themselves were worded fairly.
Is WisconsinReporter.com biased? Based on a brief perusal, the stories on their website look to be generally down the middle, but some of the questions in the poll (it includes one about recalling the Democratic senators and another about firing teachers who falsely call in sick to protest), I think it's safe to say they're a bit to the right of the Cap Times.
I have to admit, I wasn't familiar with Wisconsin Reporter, so I did some checking. Isthmus reported in October that they had just set up shop in Madison to cover state politics. Washington Monthly reported last year that their parent organization, the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, based in Virginia, is in the vanguard of a new breed of conservative-leaning investigative organizations -- counterparts to say, Mother Jones -- focused on government waste.
Well, fair enough. Welcome to the party.
A reader has alerted me to this post, which is now leading the left-leaning Talking Points Memo site, headlined "Mysterious Conservative Poll of Walker's Budget Plan Hits Wisconsin." The author takes issue (as does commenter commoncents on this post) with the idea that the poll shows that Walker's bill has near-majority support, emphasizing the 56 percent support for collective bargaining rights instead.
I think we're splitting hairs here. The real message I would take home, courtesy of UW-Madison's Walsh, is that the methodology of this latest poll is just so-so. I don't doubt her assessment of the quality of GQR poll that showed broad union support, but I'd still like to see one done to the same standard paid for by an independent source.