MILWAUKEE — A majority of Wisconsin residents disapprove of Republican Gov. Scott Walker's performance and are dissatisfied with the way things are going in the state, according to a new poll released Wednesday.
The University of Wisconsin Survey Center's Badger Poll found that 59 percent of residents disapprove of the performance of Walker, who took office in January and wasted no time pushing divisive legislation through the Republican-controlled Legislature, including a law that stripped most public employees of their collective bargaining rights.
The poll found that legislative Democrats, among them 14 state senators who fled the state to try to block a vote on the union rights law, aren't doing much better, with 48 percent of respondents disapproving of their job performance.
Walker, who previously served eight years as the Milwaukee County Executive, said he was not concerned by the findings.
"If I governed based on polls, I would have never been the county executive," Walker said. "There's not a pollster alive in 2002 who would have told you I could even come close to being elected. I was elected three times because I think in times of crisis, what people want more than anything is leadership. ... We're going to continue to show leadership."
The pollster noted that the likely reason for Walker's disapproval rate is that 55 percent of respondents said they opposed his two-year budget plan, which made deep cuts to public education to deal with a $3 billion budget shortfall.
Democratic Party of Wisconsin chairman Mike Tate said the results show the state is very partisan and that people are unhappy with Republicans.
"There are a lot of voters who gave Republicans a chance last November and we are seeing a pretty serious case of buyer's remorse," he said.
The poll found that 55 percent of respondents were dissatisfied with the way things are going in Wisconsin, the highest percentage since the university started asking the question in 2006.
This, like many of the results, was split down party lines, said Katherine Cramer Walsh, a political science professor at UW-Madison who helped with the poll. Sixty-three percent of Republicans were satisfied, compared to 21 percent of Democrats.
Nine state senators – six Republicans and three Democrats, are facing recall elections in the next few weeks – the fallout from the bitter fight over Walker's collective bargaining law, which eventually survived a court challenge and took effect. The Democrats would need a net gain of three seats to give them control of the Senate and check on Republican power.
Walker said he believes a majority of people said they were unhappy with the direction of the state because of anger over the recall election campaigns and frustration with the national economy.
"I think a lot more people will be happy come Aug. 10 when most of these recalls are done because in general people are tired of these endless campaigns," Walker said.
However, the poll found that 78 percent of respondents believe having the recall option is a good thing, and half of the respondents said the current recall efforts made them feel better about Wisconsin politics.
The poll also found that:
_Nearly two-thirds of respondents felt that state government is run for the benefit of big interests, rather than the benefit of the people, and that state government can only be trusted to do the right thing some of the time.
_Fifty-six percent of respondents disapproved of the performance of the Republicans in state Legislature.
_Four out of five respondents said Wisconsin is in "bad times," economically. Fifty percent of respondents expected that the state's economic conditions would remain about the same over the next 12 months, and 20 percent expected they would worsen.
Walsh said she was a little surprised that so many people supported the recall option in the state constitution. But that was about the only surprise, she said.
"It's been pretty clear that Wisconsinites are a bit dismayed with the state of things, both the economy and politics, and that comes across pretty clear in these results," she said.
The random telephone poll of 556 people conducted between June 17 and July 10 has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.2 percentage points.
Associated Press writer Scott Bauer in Madison contributed to this report.