Polling Indicates Support for Merit Pay, Opposition to Tax Hikes Wisconsinites Still Split on Collective Bargaining Changes

Comment from Brett Healy, President of the MacIver Institute

“The poll results show that the general public remains skeptical of government and its continuing fiscal problems. They realize there was a state budget crisis and reject taxes as a way to fix the mess. They support the concept of labor reforms like merit pay and changes in benefits, but they don’t understand how the overhaul of the bargaining process was necessary to achieve these reforms and solve the fiscal crisis at every level of government in Wisconsin. However, we believe these poll results show that over time as we witness more examples of how the new labor laws benefit taxpayers, the recently passed reforms will gain popularity.”

About the Poll

The poll was conducted by Douglas E. Schoen LLC for the Manhattan Institute. The John K. MacIver Institute for Public Policy released the Wisconsin results, which show there is widespread bipartisan support from voters for reforms that will pare back spending and opposition to increase taxes.


Voters oppose tax hikes and equally support spending cuts and benefit reforms as the path to fix state and local budget crises. However, they generally do not recognize the linkage between collective bargaining and past increases in state spending. They agree with concepts enabled by the new law (ending tenure, rewarding merit, putting taxpayers’ needs first) but they don’t like how these reforms came about.


A majority (55%) of voters say that the new law has helped either a great deal or somewhat in erasing Wisconsin’s $3 billion budget deficit.

By 61% to 35%, Wisconsin voters reject the idea of paying more taxes to keep public employee benefits at their present levels if their state faces budget problems.

An even larger majority of Wisconsin voters (66%) reject the idea of accepting service cuts to keep public employee benefits at their current levels if their state faces budget problems.

Wisconsin voters are split between cutting government spending (38%) and requiring current public employees to contribute more to their pensions (38%) – as the best way to address the problem of not being able to pay for public employee benefits.

60% favor reducing benefits if the state cannot afford them. But a plurality feel that the budget crisis was caused by mismanagement and that benefits earned through collective bargaining were fairly gained.

Wisconsin voters want to phase out teacher tenure. An overwhelming majority (72%) of Wisconsin voters say that a teacher should be laid off based on a performance evaluation. •8% say that a teacher should be laid off based on seniority, and 4% say based on student test scores.

When given the choice between reforming collective bargaining and reforming employee benefits, voters opt for reforming benefits 49% to 37%.

A plurality (49%) of Wisconsin voters say they sided with the Democrats in the Legislature over Governor Walker (40%) in the fight over collective bargaining.

Voters were read arguments made in support of and against the law and asked – given this information – whether they favor or oppose the law.

–Supporters of the law point to Kaukauna School District, which says that as a result of the law that was passed, they went from a $400,000 deficit to a $1.5 million surplus, preventing massive layoffs and allowing more teachers to be hired. –Opponents of the law say that the surplus is a result of unfair cuts in teachers’ salaries and benefits – their pay was cut by over 7% and their sick days were reduced from 10 to 5 – and that the collective bargaining bill didn’t actually help save the district.

By 49% to 40%, Wisconsin voters favor the law after hearing this information.

Voters were read an argument that has been made by opponents of the law and asked given this information, whether they favor or oppose this law.

“Opponents of this law say that it is unfair to stripe public employees of their rights. They say that the unions are not to blame for the deficit, and stripping unionized workers of their collective bargaining rights won’t in and of itself save any money. Further, Wisconsin has closed a much larger budget gap in the past without scrapping worker organizing rights.”

After hearing this argument against the law, voters were evenly split (46%-46%) over whether they favor or oppose the law.

Voters are divided on whether or not the new restrictions on collective bargaining have helped school districts deal with budget deficits. 50% of voters say that the new restrictions on collective bargaining have helped local school districts deal with budget deficits resulting from state education aid cuts a great deal or somewhat. 44% say that they have not helped

But work needs to be done to get the message out.

Wisconsin voters are divided over whether they approve (49%) or disapprove (50%) of the way Scott Walker is performing his job as Governor; with 50% opposing a recall of the Governor and only 44% favoring a recall.

Wisconsin voters divide evenly when asked if from what they know, government can fire ineffective teachers with the current collective bargaining protections in place. 34% yes, 33% say no, and 34% are not sure.

52% side with unions and say that it is a fundamental right for an individual to belong to a union, while 39% side with Governor Walker, and say that what they pay in taxes is connected to the excesses of collective bargaining.

Nearly three-quarters of Wisconsin voters say that government work should be carried out in the most-taxpayer friendly way, while 20% say that priority should be given to union workers.