Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism

Do Voters Support Republican Policies?

On some bills, yes. On others, no.

Governor Scott Walker Signing Right to Work Legislation (Photo from Governor's Office)

Governor Scott Walker Signing Right to Work Legislation (Photo from Governor’s Office)

Legislative hearings are usually low-interest events. Not so with the two recent hearings held in the Wisconsin state Capitol on the fast-tracked right-to-work bill prohibiting private workplaces from requiring union membership or dues.

A total of 1,756 people registered a position for the first hearing, on Feb. 24, a tally of the official record shows. The record for the second hearing, on March 2, lists 1,065 people with a view to share.

Here’s the breakdown in terms of how they stood on the bill: 62 in favor, 2,759 against.

Gov. Scott Walker proclaimed the bill a victory for workers’ rights. Yet precious few workers turned out to show their support for the freedom he and other Republicans delivered, using language taken almost verbatim from a corporate-funded national conservative group.

Lawmakers who passed the bill nonetheless insist they acted in accord with public opinion. One poll taken in January by the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, a conservative think tank, showed 77 percent of respondents agreed with the statement that “no Americans should be required to join any private organization, like a labor union, against their will.”

This same poll showed support for right-to-work fell to just 50 percent when the question was whether all workers who “share the gains won by the labor union” should have to join and pay dues. Still, this and a poll by Public Policy Polling, affiliated with liberals and Democrats, found a much more evenly divided populace than suggested by the hearing turnout.

Charles Franklin, director of the Marquette Law School Poll, notes that there are two components of public and political opinion. One is size; the other is intensity.

On right-to-work, Franklin says, public opponents may have led in intensity but not numbers. And politically, the pro-bill fervor among GOP lawmakers overwhelmed the opposition — even from some businesspeople, who typically lean Republican.

Franklin cites another example. A clear majority of Wisconsin residents support Common Core educational standards — 62 to 29 percent, in the WPRI poll. But intense opposition from some quarters has led lawmakers to attack the standards and Walker to propose banning the test associated with their use in Wisconsin.

Politicians, Franklin adds, are naturally more mindful of the views of those who support them. The most recent Marquette poll, in October, found that 57 percent of respondents backed a higher state minimum wage. But only 28 percent of Walker backers favored an increase, compared to 87 percent of those backing his Democratic rival, Mary Burke. Walker and other Republicans are cool to raising the minimum wage above the current $7.25 an hour.

The poll also showed majority support for accepting federal funds to expand health-care coverage, and majority opposition to making women seeking abortions have an ultrasound. But again, Walker supporters were aligned with his positions: no to federal funds, yes to ultrasounds.

Majorities of respondents also supported a Voter ID requirement and drug-testing of those who get food stamps and unemployment benefits, ideas the GOP backs. These majorities were stronger among Walker supporters.

Policymakers, Franklin says, are moved not just by poll numbers but by the “ideology within the party and the interest groups they’re aligned with.”

Consider whether Wisconsin should require background checks for private gun sales and gun shows. A March 2013 Marquette poll found this idea had 81 percent support, including 75 percent of self-identified Republicans, making it as popular in Wisconsin as Aaron Rodgers. Yet a bill to this effect was dead on arrival in the GOP-controlled Legislature last session. No hearing. No vote. No debate.

Franklin attributes this to the strength of pro-gun interest groups and intensity of lawmaker opposition. “Public opinion is not unimportant,” he says, “but it is far from powerful enough to determine every policy outcome.”

Bill Lueders is the Money and Politics Project director at the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism (www.WisconsinWatch.org). The Center produces the project in partnership with MapLight. The Center collaborates with Wisconsin Public Radio, Wisconsin Public Television, other news media and the UW-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication. All works created, published, posted or disseminated by the Center do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of UW-Madison or any of its affiliates.

10 thoughts on “Do Voters Support Republican Policies?”

  1. Andrey says:

    “This same poll showed support for right-to-work fell to just 50 percent when the question was whether all workers who “share the gains won by the labor union” should have to join and pay dues.”

    This is a loaded question, as unions are not required to represent or bargain for non-union members. This is why the free-rider claim falls apart.

  2. Big Al says:

    @Andrey – actually unions are required to represent non-union members. They are not allowed to charge any union dues to non-members that are beyond the cost of collective-bargaining fees. See #4 and #5 here: http://www.nrtw.org/your-rights-3-minutes

    So the free-rider claim is a problem – the union must incur the costs to bargain for everyone, but cannot make anyone pay for those costs. If no one pays, then the union will disband, which is the entire purpose of the law.

  3. AG says:

    Big Al, that’s only true as a condition to exclusive bargaining agreements. Unions trade the requirement to cover non union workers in order to gain exclusive bargaining rights without competition from other bargaining units. They would never choose to give that up. So it’s something they bring upon themselves.

  4. Tim says:

    AG, can the unions currently opt-out of bargaining for free-riders? It’s a yes or no question.

  5. AG says:

    If they open up their exclusive bargaining rights, yes.

  6. Tim says:

    Who else is banging down the door to represent these people?

  7. AG says:

    This is a bargain that Unions made, if you have issues with it please ask them why, not me. If they feel they’d be better off not covering the “free riders” vs having an exclusive agreement, then they are free to do so.

  8. Tim says:

    What you’re saying doesn’t make sense. Also, it’s not ‘the bargain that unions made’, unions exist as a construct of the laws… how much bargaining did unions have with ACT 10?

  9. Tom D says:

    Unions are not only required to bargain on behalf of non-paying workers (aka “freeriders”); they are also required to represent non-paying workers in “grievance” procedures which are used to enforce the contract.

  10. Matt Reed says:

    The quick answer to your question would be, yes people do support Republican policies. Since this state keeps voting in Republican candidates, the people want their policies.

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