The first Marquette Law School Poll of the 2014 election year finds Gov. Scott Walker leading Democratic candidate Mary Burke, 47 to 41 percent.
The poll also finds that most voters think the state is headed in the right direction and believe the state budget to be in better shape than a few years ago.
But they do not believe the state will add the 250,000 jobs Gov. Walker promised in his 2010 campaign.
The poll interviewed 802 Wisconsin registered voters by both landline and cell phone Jan. 20-23.
Asked about the direction of the state, 54 percent say that the state is headed in the right direction, while 40 percent say it is off on the wrong track and 6 percent say they don’t know or did not respond.
Two years ago, in Jan. 2012, 50 percent said right direction and 46 percent wrong track.
The last time the question was asked, two weeks before the June 2012 recall election, 52 percent said right direction and 44 percent said wrong track.
In interviews conducted in the week following an announcement of unexpectedly high state revenue projections, 49 percent say that the state budget is in better shape now than it was a few years ago, 26 percent say that it is about the same and 20 percent say that the budget is in worse shape now.
Polling was completed for all but one-eighth of the sample before the State of the State speech Jan. 22, which announced a plan for tax cuts funded by the greater-than-previously-forecast revenue.
In the October Marquette Law School Poll, Walker held 47 percent support to 45 percent for Burke, a Madison school board member and former Trek Bicycle executive.
Burke still largely unknown
Voters remain largely unfamiliar with Democratic gubernatorial candidate Burke, who announced her candidacy Oct. 7.
Seventy percent of respondents say they haven’t heard enough about her to have an opinion or didn’t know if their view was favorable or not.
Twelve percent say they have a favorable view of Burke while 18 percent have an unfavorable view. In the Marquette Law poll conducted Oct. 21-24, 17 percent had a favorable view, 14 percent unfavorable and 70 percent were unable to say.
Burke is almost equally unknown among partisan groups, with 66 percent of Democrats and 67 percent of Republicans unable to say if they have favorable or unfavorable opinions.
Seventy-three percent of independents lack an opinion.
Partisans split sharply when they do have an opinion, with 26 percent favorable to 8 percent unfavorable among Democrats, but 3 percent favorable among Republicans to 30 percent unfavorable.
Nine percent of independents have a favorable view of Burke, and 18 percent an unfavorable view.
Far more respondents are familiar with Walker, and the partisan split there is also sharp.
Overall, Walker is seen favorably by 49 percent, unfavorably by 44 percent and 6 percent lack an opinion.
Among Democrats, 16 percent are favorable and 76 percent unfavorable, with 8 percent unable to say.
For Republicans 89 percent are favorable and 10 percent unfavorable, with just 1 percent unable to say.
For independents, 48 percent have a favorable view and 43 percent an unfavorable one, with 8 percent lacking an opinion.
Walker and jobs
Walker’s job approval rose in the January poll to 51 percent approval while 42 percent disapprove.
In October, his approval stood at 49 percent with 47 percent disapproving. Over the past two years, Walker’s approval has averaged 49.9 percent with disapproval averaging 45.6 percent.
Voters have mixed views of the jobs situation in Wisconsin.
Eleven percent of voters think Wisconsin is adding jobs faster than most other states, 41 percent say about the same rate and 40 percent think Wisconsin is lagging behind other states.
These perceptions have shifted a bit over the past eight months.
In May 2013, 49 percent said lagging while 9 percent said faster and 35 percent said about the same.
In October, 41 percent said lagging while 14 percent said faster and 37 percent said about the same.
Partisans have sharply differing views of the jobs picture.
Fifty-three percent of Democrats say the state is lagging in job creation while only 20 percent of Republicans agree.
Forty-five percent of independents think the state is lagging.
Twenty percent of Republicans say the state is adding jobs faster than other states and 54 percent say the same rate.
Among Democrats six percent say faster and 36 percent say at the same rate.
For independents, ten percent say faster and 37 percent say the same rate.
Only 14 percent think the state will have added 250,000 jobs over four years by the end of 2014, while 79 percent say the state will fall short of that figure.
In the 2010 campaign, Walker said the state would be able to add a quarter-million jobs in his first term.
Majorities of each partisan group doubt the state will reach the jobs total. Sixty-three percent of Republicans, 81 percent of independents and 91 percent of Democrats do not expect the state to reach the 250,000 jobs mark.
Partisans also disagree on how important it is to their vote whether the state reaches the 250,000 jobs benchmark.
Overall, 29 percent say very important, 39 percent somewhat important, 17 percent not very important and 14 percent not at all important.
For Republicans, 16 percent say very important and 35 percent somewhat important.
Among independents, 28 percent say very important and 38 percent say somewhat important.
For Democrats, 41 percent say very important and 43 percent somewhat important.
Personal finances and taxes
Voters see their personal financial situation as a bit better than two years ago. While one in four, or 23 percent, say their financial situation still has not recovered from the recession, 35 percent say they have recovered after a significant amount of damage during the recession.
Forty percent say the recession did not have a major impact on their financial situation.
Two years ago, in January 2012, 32 percent said they were still suffering from the recession’s effects, 27 percent said they had largely recovered while 38 percent said they had not been affected.
Voters would most like to see reductions in property taxes over other taxes.
Asked which tax they would most like cut if the state could reduce just one tax, 42 percent say property taxes, 34 percent say income taxes and 22 percent say sales tax. When it comes to property tax cuts, income plays a small role.
Among those in the bottom third of income, with family income under $40,000 per year, 40 percent would most like property taxes cut, while 41 percent of the middle third ($40,000-$75,000 in family income) and 43 percent of the top third, earning over $75,000, would cut property taxes first.
Income matters more for preferences on sales and income taxes.
Among those in the bottom third of income, 30 percent would cut sales taxes first while 17 percent of the middle third and 18 percent of the top third rank sales tax cuts as most important.
Conversely, 37 percent of the top third of earners would most like income taxes cut while 40 percent of the middle third and 29 percent of the bottom third agree.
Among homeowners, 48 percent would most like to cut property taxes while only 25 percent of renters agree.
Thirty-one percent of homeowners would cut income taxes first and 19 percent would cut sales taxes.
Among renters, income taxes are the top priority for 39 percent and sales taxes are the most important to cut for 33 percent.
Voters are reluctant to restructure taxes by raising the sales tax in exchange for either property or income tax reductions.
Thirty-nine percent would be willing to increase the sales tax in order to cut property taxes, while 56 percent are unwilling to do so.
Similarly, 39 percent would accept increased sales tax for lowered income taxes while 57 percent are unwilling.
However, 64 percent are willing to increase income taxes on those earning over $250,000 in order to lower property taxes while 32 percent are unwilling to do that.
Fifty-nine percent of voters also see tax cuts as primarily benefiting the wealthy, while 21 percent say the middle class benefits and 11 percent say tax cuts do more for the poor.
Voters do not see sales taxes as falling unduly harshly on the poor, however.
Asked if sales taxes are unfair because they take a larger percentage of the income of the poor, or are fair because everyone pays it when they buy things, a substantial majority, 69 percent, say sales taxes are fair because everyone pays.
Twenty-eight percent say sales taxes are unfair for taking a larger share of the income of the poor.
Many voters unclear on “Common Core” education issues
While the new statewide standards for what students should learn in reading and math have stirred recent controversy, including legislative hearings, almost half of voters say they know little or nothing about the Common Core State Standards, as the learning targets are called.
Thirty-six percent say they have heard nothing about the Common Core and an additional 10 percent say they have just heard the name.
Thirty-four percent say they have heard some and 20 percent said they know quite a bit about the standards.
Of those who have heard something, 5 percent are very favorable, 45 percent favorable, 26 percent unfavorable and 8 percent very unfavorable towards the standards, with 15 percent saying they don’t have an opinion.
About a third, 32 percent, say Wisconsin currently sets education standards at about the right place, while 15 percent say standards are too high. Almost half, 47 percent, say Wisconsin standards are too low.
As to who should set standards, 41 percent say local school districts should set standards, 23 percent say this should be done at the state level, 8 percent say groups of states should agree on standards, and 23 percent say standards should apply nationwide.
Kenosha casino and other issues
The public remains about evenly split on whether the governor should approve or reject a new casino in Kenosha, with 42 percent urging approval and 41 percent wanting the casino rejected.
In October 41 percent favored the casino while 38 percent opposed it.
In national issues, support for health care reform has dropped in the aftermath of the rollout of health care exchanges in the fall.
Thirty-five percent have a favorable view of health care reform while 56 percent have an unfavorable view.
In October, before the problems with the health care website became a focus of attention, 42 percent had a favorable view of health care reform while 48 percent were unfavorable.
President Barack Obama’s job approval ratings also have suffered since the health care rollout.
In January, his job approval fell to 44 percent, with disapproval at 50 percent, down from 49 percent approval and 46 percent disapproval in October.
Over the past two years Obama’s approval has averaged 49.3 percent with disapproval averaging 45.2 percent.
A majority of voters favor an increase in the minimum wage, even when reminded that some people “say raising the minimum wage will lead some businesses to cut jobs.”
Sixty-two percent say the minimum wage should be increased while 35 percent oppose an increase.
After a reminder of the respondent that the current minimum wage is $7.25 per hour, 25 percent say it should remain where it is, 33 percent say it should be increased to about $9 per hour, 25 percent say it should be around $10 per hour, 5 percent say about $11 per hour and 10 percent say it should be $12 or more per hour.
Wisconsin voters also support extending federal unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless, with 53 percent supporting and 42 percent opposing an extension.
Looking ahead to the 2016 presidential race, 60 percent of Republicans would like to see Walker run for president, with 34 percent opposed.
Twenty-eight percent of independents and 13 percent of Democrats support a Walker presidential bid while 66 percent of independents and 84 percent of Democrats would not like him to run.
Among Republicans, sixty-six percent would like Congressman Paul Ryan from Janesville to run, with 25 percent opposed.
Thirty-seven percent of independents support a Ryan run with 53 percent opposed.
For Democrats, 23 percent would like Ryan to run while 69 percent would not like to see him run.