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New poll: Wisconsinites' political views extend beyond party line values

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Bascom Hall

Bascom Hall on the UW-Madison campus.

Wisconsinites tend to be fiscally conservative and socially liberal, favor less government regulation yet more government action to combat climate change, and think state and national health care systems need restructuring, according to a new UW-Madison poll.

In other words: They’re not buying wholesale what either major political party is selling.

The Census Bureau released its data for 2020, and the findings show a diversifying nation with a migration pattern that will greatly affect its politics going forward. Poppy MacDonald, the president of non-profit data organization USAFacts, joined Cheddar to break down what the shifts mean in terms of congressional seats for states and the first time decline in the white population since 1790. "What we're seeing is we're becoming more diverse as a country, and we're also seeing a migration of population, more people going to the South and more people going to the West in terms of where they're moving," MacDonald said.

The UW–Madison La Follette School of Public Affairs’ inaugural La Follette Policy Poll was conducted between July and September 2021 among almost 1,600 Wisconsin residents from all but one county. The poll’s margin of error is +/-2.5 percentage points.

Heading into another consequential election cycle, the poll found the top issues among residents who identify as independents are health care, wealth distribution and the federal budget deficit. Capturing where independents stand will be critical in the 2022 statewide races for governor and U.S. Senate, La Follette School of Public Affairs director and professor Susan Webb Yackee said.

Susan Yackee

Yackee

“Turning out independents and talking to independents about the issues that they care about will be important ... for our political candidates and races,” Yackee said.

The poll also found Wisconsinites consider almost every issue more problematic at the national level than at the state level.

For example, 35% of respondents said race relations is an extremely big problem nationally, while 24% said that’s the case in Wisconsin. Similarly for health care, those percentages were 35% and 25%, respectively.

“This suggests that a national lens on public policy issues like health care, climate change, the budget deficit and government regulation might get folks more engaged and make them more likely to vote,” Yackee said.

About 46% of respondents said climate change was an “extremely big” or “quite” a problem at the state level, while 32% said it was not a problem or a small problem, with 20% somewhere in between. Similarly, a larger share of respondents supported strategies to address climate change but otherwise were largely against government regulation.

The other “extremely big” concerns for Wisconsinites at the national level are the budget deficit, wealth distribution and race relations. At the state level, too much government regulation was a top concern rather than the budget deficit as one of the five most important issues.

Notably, 10.3% of respondents said the state budget deficit is an extremely big problem, 22.5% said it is quite a problem, 36.7% said it is somewhat of a problem and 19.5% said it is a small problem. Only 8.6% said it is not a problem. By law, the state can’t run a budget deficit and currently it has the largest surplus in its history.

Men and women showed some of the biggest divides on issues such as climate change, health care, race issues and income and wealth distribution. For example, 43% of women call health care an extremely big national problem compared with 27% of men, while 26% of men consider too much government regulation an extremely big problem compared with 17% of women.

A majority of Wisconsinites think race affects someone’s ability to get ahead in life. But they don’t support certain policies meant to address racial disparities. About 69% of Wisconsinites are against paying cash reparations to the descendants of slaves, and 61% are against taking race into account in college admission decisions.

Overall, Wisconsinites trust local government officials the most and federal officials the least, with state government officials in between. About 90% of respondents had at least “a little confidence” in local government officials, while about 70% said the same about federal government officials.

Top 10 Wisconsin political stories of 2021 (based on what you, the readers, read)

2021 was another big year in Wisconsin politics. Sen. Ron Johnson said some things. Voters elected a new state superintendent. Gov. Tony Evers and Republicans clashed over mask mandates. Michael Gableman threatened to jail the mayors of Madison and Green Bay. Here are 10 political stories you, the readers, checked out in droves.

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Since the start of the outbreak, Gov. Tony Evers has issued multiple public health emergencies and a series of related orders. 

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Sen. Ron slammed the impeachment over the weekend as “vindictive and divisive,” and possibly a “diversionary operation” by Democrats to distract from security lapses at the U.S. Capitol.

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"I wouldn’t run if I don’t think I could win," said Johnson, who is undecided on a re-election bid. 

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The Fort Atkinson School Board approved a mask mandate for all students on a 4 to 1 vote Thursday night after the death of a 13-year-old middle school student whose mother said died after contracting COVID-19.

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With a new order announced, Republicans may be forced to start the process all over again to vote down the governor's emergency order and accompanying mask mandate, but the most likely outcome appears to be an eventual court decision.

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Fort McCoy officials acknowledge there were initial problems with food supply, but that and other issues are being addressed.

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The idea is in its infancy and all options, including declining to pursue anything, are on the table.

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Gableman has asked the court, which plans to take up the matter on Dec. 22, to compel the two mayors to meet with him.

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Deborah Kerr said she has also voted for Republicans and tells GOP audiences on the campaign trail for the officially nonpartisan race that she is a "pragmatic Democrat."

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Limbaugh died Wednesday at 70.

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