Wis. governor’s job ratings split along familiar lines

Published: Tuesday, May 29, 2012 10:32 a.m. CDT

MILWAUKEE (MCT) — After 16 months of unimaginable discord, Wisconsin feels more divided than ever.

But the underlying fault lines are not new.

Gov. Scott Walker’s job performance is splitting the state along familiar political and demographic lines.

Walker’s job rating is positive among men, married people, frequent churchgoers, higher-income-earners, whites, nonunion households and people without a college degree.

Walker’s job rating is negative among women, people who aren’t married, people who don’t go to religious services, nonwhites, lower-income-earners, union households, and people with a bachelor’s degree or higher.

These patterns transcend the Wisconsin recall wars; they are basic features of today’s red-blue divide in America.

They don’t fit every Wisconsin voter, of course.

But they do describe a majority of the state’s electorate, according to five months of survey data from Marquette Law School, pooled together for this analysis in one massive 2012 sample of 3,534 registered voters.

Of all the voters polled by Marquette this year, 49 percent approved of Walker’s performance and 47 percent disapproved. The state as a whole has been almost perfectly divided over the governor.

But what goes into that divide?

Combining Marquette’s five 2012 surveys gives us a more detailed picture, because it provides much larger samples (with lower margins of error) when looking at smaller components of the electorate, such as union members or voters under 30.

Over the course of 2012, the most pro-Walker groups are: Republicans (88 percent approve of Walker); voters who have a positive view of the tea party (85 percent approve); “very conservative” voters (84 percent approve); and conservative voters (73 percent approve).

Also pro-Walker, but by smaller margins, are: weekly worshippers (58 percent approve of Walker); married voters (56 percent approve); men (54 percent approve); and voters in nonunion households (53 percent approve).

The most anti-Walker groups are: “very liberal” voters (93 percent disapprove); Democrats (83 percent disapprove); and liberals (82 percent disapprove).

Also anti-Walker, but by smaller margins, are: voters with a public employee in their household (66 percent disapprove); union members (66 percent disapprove); nonwhites (60 percent disapprove); people who seldom or never attend religious services (64 percent); moderates (56 percent); non-married voters (56 percent); and people under 30 (55 percent).

The sharpest dividing lines over Walker are political and ideological (Republican-Democrat, liberal-conservative), because these are groups that are defined purely by their political views.

Other strong predictors of attitudes toward Walker are union membership and having a public employee in the household. That’s no surprise, because union members skew Democratic and the recalls were sparked by Walker curbing collective bargaining for public employees. Only 32 percent of voters in public employee households approve of Walker, while 54 percent of all other voters approve of Walker, according to Marquette’s polling.

The divisions along demographic lines such as age, gender, education and income are less dramatic but still significant. And they are very familiar to pollsters and political strategists.

In fact, you can find almost identical fault lines in the Bush-Kerry presidential race of 2004, which also featured a closely divided Wisconsin electorate:

Gender: Walker’s approval rating in the Marquette polling is 54 percent among men and 45 percent among women. In 2004 in Wisconsin, Republican George W. Bush won 52 percent of men and 46 percent of women.

Marriage: Walker’s approval rating is 56 percent among married voters and 40 percent among unmarried voters. In 2004 in Wisconsin, Bush won 55 percent of married voters and 40 percent of unmarried voters.

Religious attendance: Walker’s approval rating is 58 percent among people who go to religious services weekly or more, 47 percent among people who go occasionally, and 38 percent among people who don’t attend church. In 2004 in Wisconsin, Bush won 60 percent of the first group, 47 percent of the second and 31 percent of the third.

Age: Walker’s approval rating is 43 percent among those under age 30 and 49 percent among those 60-years-old or more. In 2004 in Wisconsin, Bush won 41 percent of voters under 30 and 49 percent of voters 60 or older.

Union households: Walker’s approval rating is 39 percent among union households and 53 percent among nonunion households. In 2004 in Wisconsin, Bush won 39 percent of union households and 53 percent of nonunion households.

Education. Walker’s approval rating is 51 percent among people without a college degree and 47 percent among people who have one. In 2004 in Wisconsin, Bush won 50 percent of voters without a college degree and 47 percent of college graduates.

These dividing lines are hardly absolute. Even though Walker does better among men than women, there are still lots of men that disapprove of him (43 percent) and lots of women that approve of him (45 percent).

“If you can win more than half the male vote, you’re doing well. And if you win more than half the white vote, you’re doing well. But that doesn’t mean every male or every white is pro-Walker,” says Marquette pollster Charles Franklin. “Even in groups that he’s winning by 55 percent or even pushing 60 percent, in that exact same group, there’s still 40 percent going, ‘I don’t like the guy.’ Or vice versa. That just speaks to the 50/50 nature of the division.”

One group that by definition transcends partisan patterns is independents — one key to the June 5 election. In Marquette’s 2012 polling, Walker wins narrow approval from independents, with 50 percent approving and 45 percent disapproving (based on a total sample of 1,328 independent voters).

The Marquette polling also sheds some light on how attitudes toward Walker vary geographically.

Using the state’s media markets as a measure, the governor is running above his statewide approval rating (49 percent) in three regions: the Green Bay market, where his approval is 56 percent; the state’s northern TV markets (combining Wausau with two Minnesota markets that reach into Wisconsin, Duluth and the Twin Cities), where his approval is 58 percent; and the portion of the 10-county Milwaukee TV market outside the city of Milwaukee, where his approval rating is 57 percent.

Walker is far below his statewide approval rating in two places: the state’s largest city, Milwaukee, where his approval rating is 30 percent; and the Madison TV market, an 11-county area where his approval rating is 37 percent.

Walker is right around his statewide number in the La Crosse/Eau Claire market.

In most of these places, Walker’s 2012 approval rating is a few points below the percentage of the vote he got in the same areas in 2010. The one exception to that is northern Wisconsin. In the three northern TV markets combined (Wausau, Twin Cities and Duluth), Walker’s 2012 approval rating of 58 percent is several points higher than his 2010 vote in the same region of the state, 54 percent. That suggests northern Wisconsin could be a stronghold for Walker on June 5.

Otherwise, Walker’s standing in the 2012 polling reflects the present-day geography of Wisconsin politics, with Democrats strong in Milwaukee, Madison and the southwest, and Republicans strong on the periphery of Milwaukee County, much of the Fox Valley, and along the Lake Michigan shoreline.

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