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What's News: Who's winning the war of public opinion on Walker's budget bill?

What's News: Who's winning the war of public opinion on Walker's budget bill?

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Speaking from self-imposed exile in Chicago, state Sen. Jon Erpenbach told the Wisconsin State Journal that he and fellow Democrats are "winning the public debate" in opposing Gov. Scott Walker's budget repair bill.

It figures that he would say that, but is he right?

A highly unscientific perusal of stories and online polls suggests he might be. A group called We Ask America polled 2,400 Wisconsin residents mid-week to ask them their opinion of Walker's bill and also about the decision by Erpenbach and other Democratic senators to flee the state in order to prevent almost-certain defeat.

Walker's bill came out behind by a 52-43 percent margin, but 56 percent also said that the senators should return to vote, with only 36 percent approving of that tactic.

I don't think the polling group is particularly biased in favor of Democrats or public employees. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported Friday that We Ask America is largely owned by the Illinois Manufacturing Association and that the owner says he conducted the survey out of curiosity. I do know that 2,400 responses and a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percent is quite solid for a poll.

Newspaper and TV station online polls are far, far less reliable because they can be manipulated by interest groups and are skewed geographically depending on their readership, but they're still interesting. The only one I saw that showed a majority in favor of Walker's proposal was also the largest one: the Journal Sentinel's. It showed 59 percent in favor of it with close to 16,600 responses. Milwaukee County is blue, but the surrounding ones are red and the paper itself has editorialized generally in favor of Walker's bill. I'm not sure what all that means about a likely response from jsonline.com readers.

Local TV station NBC15's poll showed that 56 percent of people disapproved of the budget repair bill, but that's not that surprising in Madison, which is heavily Democratic and has a very large share of public employees, who are the target of the changes in the budget bill.

Janesville is a bit less Democratic, but does have a long history with unions at its now-shuttered General Motors plant. The Janesville Gazette's poll showed 53 percent opposed to Walker's bill, with about a sixth of those saying they had voted for Walker and thought he made a mistake. Of the 42 percent who supported the bill, more than a quarter of those didn't vote for Walker.

Elsewhere, a La Crosse Tribune poll showed strong opposition to Walker's plan, though another one also showed strong opposition to teachers leaving their classrooms to protest it. That part of the state leans Democratic, but the paper endorsed Walker over Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett in November's election.

In the Wausau area, which voted solidly for Walker in November, two TV stations had online polls, with one showing a majority opposed to the budget repair bill and the other showing a 45 percent - 45 percent tie, with 10 percent choosing an option that the bill "needs some adjustments."

Those are the ones I saw after scrolling through about three pages of Google search results. Feel free to share any others you know of.