Two weeks ago, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker crafted a radical proposal to help trim his state's $3.6 billion budget deficit: curtail the pensions and benefits of nearly all public sector employees and strip unions of collective bargaining power. The backlash to Walker's plan arrived immediately. Protesters--many of them teachers--descended on the Capitol building, forcing school closures, forging friendships with a few Egyptian citizens and effectively nationalizing the union debate.
But even though every single pundit has weighed in on the topic, the nation's pulse was slightly more unclear. How would public opinion digest such a starkly framed debate? As the Atlantic's Clive Crook notes, either you side with Walker, who "will crush the unions (a catastrophe for the rights of working people worldwide), or the unions will triumph (at who knows what cost to individual liberty)."
Here's what the first nationally representative poll numbers say:
According to a USA Today/Gallup Poll, 61 percent of respondents "would oppose a law in their state similar to one being considered in Wisconsin," with 33 percent in favor of such a law. Reading into this single poll's results, it would seem as if House Speaker John Boehner's sentiment (he likened the Wisconsin protests to the Greece debt uprising) would be out of touch with most Americans.
Pundits seem to agree tentatively, with caveats. "An active push to take away long-assumed bedrock union rights might be pushing the envelope too far in the public mind," wrote The Washington Post's Greg Sargent. Conservative Hot Air's Ed Morrissey has taken issue with previous polls on this topic, but has not, as of yet, commented on this one. His colleague, though, going by the name of Allahpundit, points out that there are two ways of taking the numbers:
One: Take it as a dire warning that the GOP may face a nasty backlash at the polls in the next cycle as Republican governors try to end PEUs’ both-sides-of-the-bargaining-table racket. Maybe that’s a price worth paying, but we should be prepared to pay it. Two: Insist that the public is on our side--or rather, that it will be once we explain the issues to them properly. This isn’t a policy problem, in others. It’s … a messaging problem.
As far as this single poll, it is interesting that the USA Today/Gallup highlighted teachers' unions in the question. Here's how it was posed:
"Would you favor or oppose a law in your state taking away some collective bargaining rights of most public unions, including the state teachers union?"