A Marquette University Law School poll released May 2 indicates that in just a few days, the teachers union will see its preferred Democrat lose in the Wisconsin primary, although the general election based on that result appears too close to call. The poll also deals with public sentiment concerning collective bargaining rights.
Kathleen Falk, endorsed by the Wisconsin Education Association Council and other unions, trails Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett by a 38 percent to 21 percent margin, with fellow Democrats Doug La Follette and Kathleen Vinehout getting 8 percent and 6 percent, respectively. A large share of Democratic primary voters, 19 percent, are still undecided. But if you count which candidates those fence-sitting folks say they lean towards, Barrett's edge over Falk grows to nearly a two-to-one margin (45 percent to 23 percent).
In a Marquette poll from March 22-25, Barrett led Falk by only seven percentage points, 36 percent to 29 percent. Falk herself appeared to acknowledge that Barrett's name recognition edge could be playing a role, even as she aimed to prove "naysayers" wrong with the help of grass-roots support from several public employees unions upset about Walker's Act 10, which stripped most public employees of collective bargaining rights. (To be fair, Barrett has picked up some union support.)
But if Falk can close a 17-point gap by the May 8 primary, especially with the numbers moving the other way in the last month, it would be an impressive achievement.
A general election match-up of Tom Barrett and incumbent GOP Gov. Scott Walker is shaping up to be a thriller. Among registered voters, Barrett leads 47-46, but among likely voters, Walker is up 48-47. By contrast, Walker against Falk would be close, but not a pure jump ball. He leads Falk 49 percent to 42 percent among registered voters, and 49 percent to 43 percent among likely voters.
In the Marquette poll released May 2, 25 percent of Democratic primary voters said "defeating Scott Walker" was their most important consideration. Another 12 percent said "restoring collective bargaining rights for public employees" was their top priority. Wisconsin's jobs numbers may be the best issue for Democrats to stress as the primary election closes in. Many of those jobs lost were public-sector jobs.
Interestingly, a plurality of Democratic primary voters (48 percent) said they would not support a pledge to veto any state budget that did not restore those collective bargaining rights, compared to 37 percent who said they would. At the same time, 52 percent said they favored a special session of the legislature to restore bargaining rights, compared to 39 percent opposed.
One interpretation of these numbers is that those polled favored a cooperative process leading to restored bargaining rights, instead of a gubernatorial veto that could merely prolong the "kill the carrier" feel of Wisconsin politics today.