As Gov. Scott Walker campaigns for a third term, the political landscape in 2018 has shifted in many ways from the last time he was up for re-election.
Voters are concerned about a $3 billion taxpayer subsidy for a Taiwanese company that Walker championed, more interested in spending on education than the tax cuts that have been a hallmark of his time in office, and unhappy with Republican President Donald Trump, according to a Marquette Law School Poll released Monday.
Walker’s job approval level is the same as it was in March 2014, the poll found. Both then and now 47 percent of registered voters approved of his job performance and 47 percent disapproved with 6 percent unsure.
But unlike four years ago there is a Republican president in the White House, and half (50 percent) of the registered voters in the state disapprove of the job he’s doing. Four years ago, 47 percent disapproved of Democratic President Barack Obama.
There is also “profound skepticism” about whether a $3 billion tax credit for Taiwanese manufacturer Foxconn will benefit local businesses, according to poll director Charles Franklin.
After the historic economic development project was announced last year it was described by one Republican as a “grand slam, walk-off home run” for Walker’s re-election prospects, but Democrats have continued to hammer it as a waste of taxpayer dollars that would be better spent on schools and roads.
The poll found 38 percent of registered voters say the Foxconn subsidy is worth it compared with 49 percent who say it’s not. Another 13 percent don’t know.
And while 57 percent say the Milwaukee region will get a boost from the $10 billion factory expected to employ up to 13,000 workers, 66 percent said it wouldn’t benefit local businesses in their area, with particular skepticism in rural parts of the state.
Additionally, 62 percent raised concerns about the environmental impact of the factory. The poll also asked in general whether economic development or environmental protection should be given a priority, and 68 percent said environmental protection.
“Folks outside of the major metro areas and especially in the southeast see their regions being ignored and disadvantaged,” Franklin said. “Whether we’re unified as a state that sees general benefits or divided that sees only those folks down there getting theirs is a big deal.”
Walker defended his record and the Foxconn deal on Monday after the poll was released.
“Bringing 13,000 good-paying, family-supporting jobs to WI is the right thing to do — regardless of politics,” he wrote on Twitter. “We are getting positive things done for the people of Wisconsin and we have an optimistic vision for the future.”
Shift in attitudes
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For much of his governorship Walker has focused on lowering income and property taxes across the board, while cutting spending on education, though in his latest budget he has pumped more money into K-12 and higher education.
The latest poll found a shift in attitudes on those issues. In March 2013, the Marquette poll found 49 percent said cutting taxes was more important than increasing school funding, which was favored by 45 percent of respondents. In the latest poll, 63 percent said increasing school funding was more important, compared with 33 percent who favored tax cuts.
“That has shifted a lot over the four years since the first time we asked about this,” Franklin said. “It’s reflected in other questions we ask as well that show a greater concern for public education and K-12 spending.”
Walker also faces greater skepticism about the health of the state budget than in 2014. About 31 percent said the budget is in better shape than it was a few years ago, while 28 percent said it was in worse shape. Four years ago around this time 48 percent said it was in better shape and 25 percent said it was in worse shape.
On other political issues large majorities favor the traditional Democratic position, although that support has been fairly consistent over time among Wisconsin voters.
The poll found 81 percent support universal background checks on gun sales and 56 percent support banning assault-style weapons.
Also, 71 percent say immigrants living in the country illegally should be allowed to stay and apply for citizenship and 86 percent believe immigrants brought to the country illegally as children should be granted citizenship.
Job approval climbing
None of that means voters are ready to buck Walker, however, with 53 percent saying the state is on the right track and 44 percent saying its headed in the wrong direction. That’s fairly similar to the poll results in March 2014, when 54 percent said the state was on the right track and 42 percent said it was headed in the wrong direction.
Walker had seen his job approval numbers slowly but steadily improve since he dropped out of the presidential race in September 2015. In June, 48 percent approved and 48 percent disapproved of how he was handling his job, which is almost identical to what they are now.
And unlike March 2014, when Madison School Board member Mary Burke was well on her way to becoming the Democratic nominee with 41 percent of voters having an opinion about her, the Democratic primary remains somewhat muddled. Only 33 percent offered an opinion about the top candidate, while the other eight top contenders are even more obscure.
The poll included 800 registered voters between Feb. 25 and March 1. The margin of error was 4.5 percentage points. For state and national issue questions the sample was split in half so the margin of error was 6.3 percentage points.