Wisconsin union fight: Which side does US public support?

Latest poll shows the US public split over limiting collective bargaining for public employees, as Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is urging. Some previous polls give the edge to the unions.

Andy Manis/AP
In this Feb. 1 photo, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker speaks at the State Capitol in Madison, Wis.

American voters are split as to whether the collective bargaining rights of state public employees should be limited in the name of deficit reduction, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday.

Forty-five percent of respondents to the survey said they would support curbing such rights to save state governments money. Forty-two percent said they would oppose limiting collective bargaining.

Republicans were much more likely to favor reductions in public union bargaining rights, according to Quinnipiac results. Fifty-nine percent of respondents who identified themselves as pro-GOP supported union limits, while only 33 percent of self-described Democrats agreed.

IN PICTURES: Wisconsin protest signs

“There is a partisan tinge to American voter attitudes toward government workers: By wide margins, Republicans say these workers are overpaid, want them to pay more for their benefits, and want to limit collective bargaining,” said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.

Will the results of this and other recent national polls affect the bitter fight over collective bargaining that’s brought Wisconsin state government proceedings to a halt? We doubt it – at this point the thing seems to running on emotion. Neither GOP Gov. Scott Walker nor the Wisconsin Senate Democrats who have fled the state to avoid a vote on collective bargaining limits are sitting around reading survey results while plotting the day’s strategy.

But taken as a whole, polls show that Americans have interesting and somewhat contradictory attitudes toward events in the Badger State.

Generally speaking, US voters have ambivalent feelings toward unions. In a recent CBS News/New York Times poll, 33 percent of respondents said they had a favorable view of labor unions, while 25 percent said they had an unfavorable view. Thirty-nine percent said they were undecided or had not heard enough to have an opinion.

However, when asked about what is going on in Wisconsin specifically, US voters generally side with the public employee unions, according to several recent surveys.

For instance, a Pew Research poll released Monday found that 42 percent of respondents favored the unions in the Wisconsin showdown, and 31 percent favored Governor Walker. Pew also found that the Wisconsin labor dispute is the third-most closely watched news story at the moment, behind events in Libya and oil prices.

A Gallup poll released Feb. 22 found an even wider split on Wisconsin events, with 61 percent saying they oppose efforts by the legislature there to take away collective bargaining rights in the name of deficit reduction.

As to collective bargaining for public employee unions in general, results are more mixed. As noted, the new Quinnipiac survey found voters split on this question. The wording of the question in the Quinnipiac survey did not include any reference to the highly charged situation in Wisconsin, which may explain why its results were less pro-union than findings of other surveys.

IN PICTURES: Wisconsin protest signs

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