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As election euphoria fades, reality of tasks ahead sets in

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Todd A. Berry
November 16, 2010

Reveling in election-night euphoria, winning politicians often read too much into results. Partisans believe they have a blanket electoral mandate to enact their agenda. And, with post-election hubris, successful candidates are convinced of their invincibility.


The findings of an extensive Wisconsin opinion survey conducted early in the 2010 campaign should give this year’s victors pause. The poll suggests that Badger State citizens don’t view government through the same lens as partisan activists.


Consider, for example, that those who said they were independent (32.6 percent) or had another or no party preference (13.5 percent) dwarfed Democrats (28.6 percent) and Republicans (22.2 percent). Indeed, even among self-identified partisans, party loyalty had its limits. Of Democrats and Republicans, only 56 percent called their party support “strong.” Neither party should read too much into ephemeral approval from voters.


This year’s election winners should also realize that voters will cut them little slack. They are very dissatisfied with state government. Only 29.5 percent rated the “job state government in Wisconsin is doing” as excellent (1.8 percent) or good (27.7 percent), while 68.0 percent rated it “only fair” or “poor.”


Moreover, the patience of state citizens is limited. More than 60 percent said they were either “frustrated” (45.2 percent) or “angry” (15.5 percent) with state government. Only 34.0 percent said they were “content.” A majority of all regions and groups, except young people, were similarly unhappy.


Why? To borrow a much-used political phrase, “it’s the economy, stupid.” When asked what “should be the top priority of the governor and the state Legislature,” close to 60 percent named either jobs/economy (39.2 percent) or taxes/spending (18.7 percent). No other issue, e.g. education, environment, health, or crime, topped 11 percent.


An even starker indication of public angst over the economy emerges from residents’ thoughts about working in the state. Over three in five (61.8 percent) said “the best and the brightest people in Wisconsin … leave to work in other states.” Only 26.8 percent said they stayed.


It is little wonder, then, that Wisconsinites don’t care for the direction the state is headed. Only 33.7 percent of respondents thought it was headed “in the right direction;” 57.6 percent said it was “on the wrong track.”


State citizens may be unhappy, but the good news is that they appear ready to try new things. By more than two-to-one, they said state government was “tied to old practices” (60.5 percent), rather than innovative ones (28.0 percent).


There is an appetite for change. Only 9.8 percent of those surveyed said state government “didn’t need much change at all.” Much larger percentages were ready for reform: 52.3 percent endorsed “some” reform, while 35.8 percent chose “very major” reform.


Voters will soon know whether the new faces in Madison will heed their concerns.


Todd A. Berry is president of the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, 401 N. Lawn Ave., Madison, WI 53704-5033; phone (608) 241-9789; Web site www.wistax.org. The alliance, founded in 1932, is the state’s oldest and most respected private, nonpartisan government research organization. It aims to improve Wisconsin government through citizen education. The alliance receives no government funding and is not affiliated with any group.

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