MYTHS & FACTS: GOP Union-Busting In Wisconsin
With Republican Gov. Scott Walker's attempt to cripple public employee unions in Wisconsin provoking a major backlash, it's important to have the facts straight. Several dishonest claims from Walker supporters get repeated so frequently and sound so straightforward that they become ingrained. But the fact remains that Walker's plan goes far beyond what's necessary to fix the budget, and would eventually destroy public workers unions. Furthermore, while anti-union forces blame Wisconsin public workers for the state's budget problems, that both ignores the recession that created the budget trouble and hides the reality that banning collective bargaining for public workers hasn't saved other states from the recession. Indeed, 80 percent of such states have worse budget problems than Wisconsin.
REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI): But we've got a huge budget shortfall here in Madison. What our governor is trying to do is address this in a structural way to ask for modest shared sacrifice among pub— public employees and to give local governments the tools to do the same. [Face the Nation, 2/20/11]
GOV. SCOTT WALKER (R-WI): It's time for us to balance the budget, and one of the best ways we can do it is tackling these public employee wage and benefit issues. And for us, we're asking for something that is bold politically, no doubt about it. ... But really, compared to where everybody else outside of government has, it is a very modest, reasonable request. We're asking for pension and health care contributions that are still significantly less than the national average and much less than what most Wisconsin's hardworking taxpayers are paying today. [Hannity, 2/21/11]
SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH): Republicans in Congress — and reform-minded GOP governors like Scott Walker, John Kasich and Chris Christie — are daring to speak the truth about the dire fiscal challenges Americans face at all levels of government, and daring to commit themselves to solutions that will liberate our economy and help put our citizens on a path to prosperity. [Speaker Boehner Press Release, 2/17/11]
FACT: Gov. Walker's Proposal Includes Measures Not Related To The Budget That Would Weaken Unions
In "Budget Repair Bill," Gov. Walker Proposes "To Limit Collective Bargaining For Must Public Employees To Wages." From Gov. Walker's summary of the "Budget Repair Bill": "The bill would make various changes to limit collective bargaining for most public employees to wages. Total wage increases could not exceed a cap based on the consumer price index (CPI) unless approved by referendum. Contracts would be limited to one year and wages would be frozen until the new contract is settled." [Walker Press Release, 2/11/11, emphasis added]
In "Budget Repair Bill," Gov. Walker Proposes "Annual Votes To Maintain Certification As A Union" And Other Measures To Weaken Labor Organizations. From Gov. Walker's summary of the "Budget Repair Bill": "Collective bargaining units are required to take annual votes to maintain certification as a union. Employers would be prohibited from collecting union dues and members of collective bargaining units would not be required to pay dues. These changes take effect upon the expiration of existing contracts." [Walker Press Release, 2/11/11, emphasis added]
- Proposal Exempts "Local Law Enforcement And Fire Employees, And State Troopers And Inspectors" From Collective Bargaining "Changes." From the "Collective bargaining" section of Gov. Walker's summary of the "Budget Repair Bill": "Local law enforcement and fire employees, and state troopers and inspectors would be exempt from these changes." [Walker Press Release, 2/11/11, emphasis added]
Gov. Walker's Proposal Would Leave Public Employees Unable To Bargain For Anything Beyond Keeping Their Wages Level With Inflation. As reported by the Associated Press: "The president of the Wisconsin state Senate said Tuesday there are enough votes among Republicans to pass Gov. Scott Walker's explosive plan to end collective bargaining rights for nearly all public employees. ... Walker also wants to end collective bargaining rights for all public employees except local police and fire departments and the state patrol. Wages could be bargained for only if they don't exceed the consumer price index." [Associated Press, 2/15/11, emphasis added]
Gov. Walker "Is Also Pushing To Make Wisconsin A 'Right To Work' State" To Weaken Unions. As reported by the Chippewa Herald: "As of now, unions have the ability to collectively bargain on their wages, pension contributions and health care plans. Under Walker's budget repair package, unions would only be able to collectively bargain their wages. Any wage increases above the rate of inflation would require voter approval. The governor is also pushing to make Wisconsin a 'Right to Work' state where public employees have the option of not financially supporting unions. As of now, unionized state workers take a cut in their wages to pay union dues. Collective bargaining groups that cover local police, firefighters and state troopers would be exempt from the changes in Walker's budget repair package." [Chippewa Herald, 2/12/11]
Ezra Klein: New Rules "Have Nothing To Do" With The Budget, "They're Just About Weakening Unions." According to the Washington Post's Ezra Klein: "These rules have nothing to do with pension costs or even bargaining. They're just about weakening unions: They make it harder for unions to collect dues from members, to negotiate stable contracts or to survive a bad year. The best way to understand Walker's proposal is as a multi-part attack on the state's labor unions. In part one, their ability to bargain benefits for their members is reduced. In part two, their ability to collect dues, and thus spend money organizing members or lobbying the legislature, is undercut. And in part three, workers have to vote the union back into existence every single year. Put it all together and it looks like this: Wisconsin's unions can't deliver value to their members, they're deprived of the resources to change the rules so they can start delivering value to their members again, and because of that, their members eventually give in to employer pressure and shut the union down in one of the annual certification elections." [Washington Post, 1/18/11, emphasis added]
Milwaukee Columnist: Proposal Would Lead To Gradual Elimination Of Public-Sector Unions. According to Bruce Murphy of Milwaukee Magazine:
It is breathtaking to read the nonpartisan Legislative Council's rundown of Walker's proposal to see how he is decimating the current collective bargaining law. Unions will have to get re-elected on a yearly basis - by May for unions representing local government workers and by December for those representing teachers. Yet they must negotiate annual contracts only, and there would be little reason for governments to begin negotiations until the new union has been elected that year. Unions, moreover, can't negotiate benefits, only salaries, and the salaries can never raise faster than the rate of inflation. In essence, local and state government could offer a raise in wages that equals inflation and pass all increases in benefits costs to employees, and unions would have no power to object.
Given how little unions will be able to do for workers, there wouldn't be much reason to pay union dues. But Walker makes that a certainty because his proposal also ends the rule that union dues are automatically collected on any union member's paycheck. Once enough union members decide to become "free riders" and forgo paying dues, the revenue and staffing and power of unions will decline accordingly. [Milwaukee Magazine, 2/21/11, emphasis added]
FMR. RNC CHAIRMAN ED GILLESPIE: Well, let me end with this, which is we're not talking about eliminating collective bargaining, what we're talking about is limiting collective bargaining to wages, not the benefits package and having the union members vote themselves every year whether or not they want to continue that. [Meet the Press, 2/20/11]
FACT: Yes It Does — Bargaining Would Be Restricted To Keeping Wages From Shrinking Due To Inflation
PolitiFact Rated Claim That Gov. Walker's Proposal Leaves Collective Bargaining Intact "Pants On Fire." From PolitiFact:
Let's return to Walker's statement that under his changes collective bargaining remains intact.
To be sure, those rights would remain intact for the State Patrol and local police and fire department employees. They are exempt from any of the changes.
As for the rest of state, local government and public school employees, Walker's own Feb. 11, 2011 letter to employees about his plan cited "various changes to limit collective bargaining" to the rate of base pay.
The letter also noted other changes, including limiting contracts to one year and requiring annual employee votes to retain unions.
Moreover, the bill would repeal all bargaining rights for home health care workers, University of Wisconsin System faculty and academic staff, and employees of University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics. [...]
Walker himself has outlined how his budget-repair bill would limit the collective bargaining rights of public employees.
Indeed, it's that provision that provoked daily demonstrations at the state Capitol and national media attention. To now say now say collective bargaining would remain "fully intact" is not just false, it's ridiculously false. [PolitiFact.com, 2/18/11, emphasis added]
Gov. Walker's Proposal Ends Collective Bargaining For Public Sector Unions Beyond Bargaining To Keep Base Pay Level With Inflation. According to the Washington Post's Ezra Klein:
You can find Gov. Scott Walker's proposal here. It's called "the Budget Repair bill." The section that's attracted all the anger is "State and Local Government and School District Labor Relations."
In it, Walker proposes that the right to collectively bargain be taken away from most -- but not all -- state and local workers. Who's left out? "Local law enforcement and fire employees, and state troopers and inspectors would be exempt from these changes." As Harold Meyerson notes, these are also the unions that happened to be more supportive of Walker in the last election. Funny, that.
Walker tries to sell the change in collective bargaining as modest. "State and local employees could continue to bargain for base pay, they would not be able to bargain over other compensation measures." But that's not really true. Read down a bit further and you'll find that "total wage increases could not exceed a cap based on the consumer price index (CPI) unless approved by referendum." In other words, they couldn't bargain for wages to rise faster than inflation. So, in reality, they can't bargain for wages and they can't bargain over other forms of compensation. They just can't bargain. [Washington Post, 2/18/11, emphasis added]
FACT: Gov. Walker Himself Says He Is Determined To End Collective Bargaining — Not Just Reach The Pension And Benefits Contribution Levels Set Out In His "Budget Repair Bill"
Unions Have Offered To Meet Gov. Walker's Budget-Related Demands, But He Insists That Collective Bargaining Must End. As reported by NPR: "Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker again rejected a proposed compromise Monday to end a political stalemate over collective bargaining rights that led to 14 Senate Democrats skipping town and motivated tens of thousands of people to march on the Capitol in protest for more than a week. Walker said Monday afternoon he wasn't interested in compromises that have been floated by public employee unions and even a Republican state senator. ... Under one deal, the unions said they would accept paying more for benefits as Walker wants but still retain their collective bargaining rights. Another compromise offered by Republican Sen. Dale Schultz would remove collective bargaining rights just for two years. Walker has repeatedly rejected both offers, saying local governments and school districts can't be hamstrung by the often lengthy collective bargaining process and need to have more flexibility to deal with up to $1 billion in cuts he will propose in his budget next week and into the future." [NPR, 2/21/11, emphasis added]
On Fox News Sunday, Gov. Walker Rejected The Idea Of Allowing Public Employees To Retain Collective Bargaining Rights. In an interview on the February 20, 2011 edition of Fox News Sunday, Gov. Walker (R-WI) had the following exchange with host Chris Wallace:
WALLACE: Those 14 Democrats who fled Wisconsin to avoid — to block a vote in the state senate say they'll come back if you'll sit down with them and work out a compromise and the deal would be that the unions agree on the money issues but they keep their collective bargaining rights. Governor, are you willing to do that?
WALKER: Well, no. [...] I was a county executive, an elected official in Milwaukee County, a county that's never elected Republicans before — I was there for three different elections because we tried to tackle these very same issues. And what stood in the way time and time again was collective bargaining. We've got over 1,000 municipalities, 424 school districts, about 72 counties in the state, all of which need to have the power to be able to offset what's going to happen in Wisconsin next week, just like New York, in California, wherever else, has been doing, and that's cutting billions of dollars from local governments. The difference is, unlike those other states, I want to give those local governments the tools they need to balance the budget now and in the future. They can't do that with the current collective bargaining laws in the state. [Fox News Sunday, 2/20/11, emphasis added]
GOV. SCOTT WALKER (R-WI): I want to give those local governments the tools they need to balance the budget now and in the future. They can't do that with the current collective bargaining laws in the state. [Fox News Sunday, 2/20/11, emphasis added]
FACT: 80 Percent Of The States That Have Banned Collective Bargaining For Public Employees Have Worse 2012 Budget Deficits Than Wisconsin
Only Texas, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina And Virginia Have Outlawed Collective Bargaining For Public Workers. Talking Points Memo prepared a map of public-sector bargaining laws around the country:
[Talking Points Memo, 2/18/11]
- Four Of The Five Non-Bargaining States Have Worse Projected 2012 Deficits Than Wisconsin. According to figures compiled by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Wisconsin faces a projected 2012 deficit of $1.8 billion, or 12.8 percent of the state's 2011 budget. Of the five states that do not permit public employees to bargain, only Georgia (10.3 percent) has a smaller projected shortfall in its 2012 budget. Political Correction compiled the following chart based on CBPP data:
FY12 Projected Shortfall
Shortfall as Percent of FY11 Budget
[CBPP.org, accessed 2/10/11]
Non-Bargaining State North Carolina Has A Dramatically Larger Deficit Than Wisconsin's. In an article in The New Republic, Georgetown professor Joseph McCartin wrote: "But now, in the midst of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, conservative, anti-labor politicians like Governor Walker are trying out a new and potentially more potent anti-union argument: We can no longer afford collective bargaining. The wages, health benefits, and pensions of government workers, these opponents say, are driving states into deep and dangerous deficits. ... Contrary to Walker's assertion, there is no direct correlation between public-sector collective bargaining and yawning state budget deficits. According to data gathered by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, while Wisconsin projects a state budget deficit of 12.8 percent for FY 2012, North Carolina, which does not allow government workers to bargain, faces a significantly higher deficit: 20 percent. Ohio, whose Republican governor John Kasich has also made clear his desire to roll back collective bargaining, has a deficit that is only about half the size of non-union North Carolina's. Clearly, then, state budget deficits we are now witnessing are not the product of collective bargaining, but rather reflect the differential impact of the current recession on individual states, as well as the integrity of state fiscal practices (such as whether they raise enough in taxes to pay for the essential services they provide)." [The New Republic, 2/19/11, emphasis added]
GOV. MITCH DANIELS (R-IN): Well, you know, I'm not an expert on what the exact situation is in Wisconsin. All I know is that many, many years of excess up there — feather-bedded payrolls, very expensive salaries and benefits — have got that state, like so many other states, in a terrible fiscal hole. It's been very unfair to the taxpayers who have to pay for all of it. [The Diane Rehm Show, 2/22/11]
FACT: Wisconsin Public Workers Are Paid Less Than Private-Sector Counterparts With Similar Qualifications
EPI: Public Employees In Wisconsin Are Paid Less Than Private-Sector Counterparts With Similar Skills And Qualifications. From a study of employee compensation in Wisconsin by the Economic Policy Institute:
In Wisconsin, which has become a focal point in this debate, public servants already take a pretty hefty pay cut just for the opportunity to serve their communities (Keefe 2010). The figure below shows that when comparing the total compensation (which includes non-wage benefits such as health care and pensions) of workers with similar education, public-sector workers consistently make less than their private-sector peers. Workers with a bachelor's degree or more-which constitute nearly 60% of the state and local workforce in Wisconsin-are compensated between $20,000 less (if they just have a bachelor's degree) to over $82,000 a year less (if they have a professional degree, such as in law or medicine).
[EPI.org, 2/18/11, emphasis added]
EPI: In Wisconsin, Workers "Face A Compensation Penalty Of Five Percent For Choosing To Work In Public Sector." From a study of employee compensation in Wisconsin by the Economic Policy Institute: "It is necessary for making true apples-to-apples comparisons to control for worker characteristics such as education in order to best measure a worker's potential earnings in a different sector or industry. Controlling for a larger range of earnings predictors-including not just education but also age, experience, gender, race, etc., Wisconsin public-sector workers face an annual compensation penalty of 11%. Adjusting for the slightly fewer hours worked per week on average, these public workers still face a compensation penalty of 5% for choosing to work in the public sector." [EPI.org, 2/18/11]
Milwaukee Columnist: Proposal Could Make Teachers' "Compensation Decline Year By Year By Year." According to Bruce Murphy of Milwaukee Magazine:
Its impact could be far reaching, making teaching an undesirable profession. In the last two decades, the cost of medical care has tripled, raising several times faster than inflation. Under the Walker rules, teachers could well find they get a cost of living increase in salary each year and yet due to increases in health insurance payments, see the value of their total compensation decline year by year by year.
The free market answer to this, of course, is that school districts will have to offer enough in benefits to get good teachers. Perhaps. But the market didn't seem to work very well prior to the rise of teacher unions. [Milwaukee Magazine, 2/21/11, emphasis added]
FACT: The Recession Caused State Budget Problems — Not Public Employee Unions
No "Sharp Rise" In Union Activity Ahead Of Budget Problems — But There Was A Global Recession. According to the Washington Post's Ezra Klein: "Let's be clear: Whatever fiscal problems Wisconsin is -- or is not -- facing at the moment, they're not caused by labor unions. That's also true for New Jersey, for Ohio and for the other states. There was no sharp rise in collective bargaining in 2006 and 2007, no major reforms of the country's labor laws, no dramatic change in how unions organize. And yet, state budgets collapsed. Revenues plummeted. Taxes had to go up, and spending had to go down, all across the country. Blame the banks. Blame global capital flows. Blame lax regulation of Wall Street. Blame home buyers, or home sellers. But don't blame the unions. Not for this recession." [Washington Post, 2/18/11]
CBPP: "Worst Recession Since The 1930s" Caused Drop In Tax Receipts "While The Need For State-Funded Services Has Not Declined." From the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities: "As governors across the country prepare their budget proposals for the coming year, they continue to face a daunting fiscal challenge. The worst recession since the 1930s has caused the steepest decline in state tax receipts on record. State tax collections, adjusted for inflation, are now 12 percent below pre-recession levels, while the need for state-funded services has not declined. As a result, even after making very deep spending cuts over the last several years, states continue to face large budget gaps." [CBPP.org, 2/10/11, internal citation removed for clarity]
CBPP: State Budget Problems Now Particularly Acute Because States Used Federal Funds To Plug Holes In Recent Years. From the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities: "Over the past three years, states and localities have used a combination of reserve funds and federal stimulus funds, along with budget cuts and tax increases, to close these recession-induced deficits. While these deficits have caused severe problems and states and localities are struggling to maintain needed services, this is a cyclical problem that ultimately will ease as the economy recovers." [CBPP.org, 2/10/11]
FACT: Until Recent Economic Downturns, State Pension Plans Were Fully Funded — And Even Now, Talk Of A 'Pension Crisis' Is Overblown
Pension Expert: "Even After The Worst Market Crash In Decades ... Most Plans Will Be Able To Cover Benefit Payments For The Next 15-20 Years." From the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities: "States and localities have the next 30 years in which to remedy any pension shortfalls. As Alicia Munnell, an expert on these matters who directs the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, has explained, 'even after the worst market crash in decades, state and local plans do not face an immediate liquidity crisis; most plans will be able to cover benefit payments for the next 15-20 years.' States and localities do not need to increase contributions immediately, and generally should not do so while the economy is still weak and they are struggling to provide basic services." [CBPP.org, 1/20/11, emphasis added]
CBPP: Prior To Past Two Recessions, State Pensions Were Fully Funded. From the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities: "State and local shortfalls in funding pensions for future retirees have gradually emerged over the last decade principally because of the two most recent recessions, which reduced the value of assets in those funds and made it difficult for some jurisdictions to find sufficient revenues to make required deposits into the trust funds. Before these two recessions, state and local pensions were, in the aggregate, funded at 100 percent of future liabilities. [...]As of 2000, state and local pension obligations were fully funded on average, if obligations are discounted at 8 percent per year, which was the return on pension fund investments over the previous two decades. Since then, however, the nation has experienced two recessions, during which some states and localities have reduced or skipped pension trust fund deposits to help balance their budgets. In addition, the recessions have caused significant investment losses. By 2008, state and local pensions in aggregate were funded at 85 percent of their future liabilities; the other 15 percent is considered to be the 'unfunded liability.' The Center for Retirement Research at Boston College projects that, in the aggregate, state and local pensions were funded in 2010 at 77 percent of their future liabilities, a ratio projected to decline to 73 percent by 2013." [CBPP.org, 1/20/11]
Most States And Localities Spend Less Than Four Percent Of Their Budgets On Pensions. From the report "The Impact Of Public Pensions On State And Local Budgets" by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College:
Legislatures and pension-plan administrators often focus on pension contributions as a percent of payroll. Pension contributions as a percent of budgets, however, provides a broader framework for projecting how public plans will affect other state and local activities. The starting point for our analysis is the share of state and local budgets devoted to pensions to date. Figure 4 shows that in 2008 pensions accounted for 3.8 percent of state and local direct - that is, non-capital - expenditures for the country as whole.
This share varied somewhat among individual states. However, for more than half of the states, state and local pension contributions represented between 3 and 4 percent of state and local government budgets in 2008 (see Figure 5).
["The Impact Of Public Pensions On State And Local Budgets," CRR.BC.edu, October 2010]
Most States Can Cover Their Current Pension Liabilities With Modest Increases In Funding Levels To Compensate For Falling Asset Values Due To The Recession. From the report "The Impact Of Public Pensions On State And Local Budgets" by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College:
The funding shortfall of public pension plans has made national news since the financial collapse reduced asset values at the same time that state and local revenues began to dry up. The size of the funding hole differs depending on the rate used to discount liabilities but, regardless of assumptions, governments will eventually have to ante up. ... Assuming 30-year amortization beginning in 2014, this share would rise to only 5.0 percent and even assuming a 5-percent discount rate to only 9.1 percent. Aggregate data, however, hide substantial variation. States with seriously underfunded plans and/or generous benefits, such as California, Illinois, and New Jersey, would see contributions rise to about 8 percent of budgets with an 8-percent discount rate and 12.5 percent with a 5-percent discount rate. And, in states such as California, local governments make more than half of the contributions, which means that the burden of increased future pension contributions will fall on the shoulders of localities as well.
How reliable are our estimates? On the one hand, our assumption that plans fund responsibly in the near-term may be optimistic in light of the current economic conditions. To the extent they do not, our estimates understate the long-term pension costs. On the other hand, we assume no changes in benefits or employee contributions. In fact, states are already raising employee contributions and reducing benefits for new employees, which means that we overstate long-run employer pension costs. These offsetting effects may well cancel out, so that this brief provides a reasonable picture of future pension costs as a share of state and local spending. ["The Impact Of Public Pensions On State And Local Budgets," CRR.BC.edu, October 2010, emphasis added]
GOV. SCOTT WALKER (R-WI): We introduced a measure, last week — a measure that I ran on during the campaign, a measure I talked about in November in the transition, a measure I talked about in December when we fought off the employee contracts, an idea I talked about in the inauguration, an idea I talked about in the State of the State.... If anyone doesn't know what's coming, they've been asleep for the past two years. [ABC News, 2/17/11]
RNC CHAIRMAN REINCE PRIEBUS: "Greta, not only did he not [sic] say these things during the campaign, but he specifically talked about the exact percentages in the cuts and what he was going to be asking the state employees to provide if he became governor. He ran on that platform. Now he's delivering on it and he's doing it responsibly." [On the Record, 2/21/11]
FACT: Nonpartisan Fact Checkers Say Walker Never Campaigned On Taking Away Collective Bargaining Rights
PolitiFact: "False" That Gov. Walker Campaigned On Proposal To End Collective Bargaining For Public Workers. According to PolitiFact.com:
There is no dispute that Walker campaigned on getting concessions on health and pension benefits from state employees. And, to be sure, that is an important part of the measure.
But for Walker to be right, he has to be correct on the entirety of the plan. [...]
For this item, we reviewed dozens of news accounts and various proposals on Walker's campaign website to determine what he said about collective bargaining during the campaign. We talked to both campaigns in the governor's race, and union officials. [...]
Walker contends he clearly "campaigned on" his union bargaining plan.
But Walker, who offered many specific proposals during the campaign, did not go public with even the bare-bones of his multi-faceted plans to sharply curb collective bargaining rights. He could not point to any statements where he did. We could find none either.
While Walker often talked about employees paying more for pensions and health care, in his budget-repair bill he connected it to collective bargaining changes that were far different from his campaign rhetoric in terms of how far his plan goes and the way it would be accomplished.
We rate his statement False. [PolitiFact.com, 2/21/11, emphasis added]
PolitiFact: Gov. Walker Campaigned On Limited, Specific Changes To Bargaining Process — Not The Sweeping Change He's Proposing Now. According to PolitiFact.com:
He told the Appleton Post-Crescent in a lengthy question and answer session in 2009 that "you've got to free up local government officials to not be strangled by things like mediation and arbitration." As his website made clear, he was talking about a specific, significant change in teacher's union arbitration -- not the dramatic changes on the table now.
As the campaign rolled near a close, in late October 2010, Walker told the Oshkosh Northwestern that he would "ask all state workers" for wage and benefit concessions in the collective bargaining process.
After the election, he proposed imposing concessions without negotiating and eliminating benefits as a topic of collective bargaining. [PolitiFact.com, 2/21/11, emphasis added]
SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH) & RNC CHAIRMAN REINCE PRIEBUS:
FACT: Polling Expert Says Rasmussen Poll Used "Talking Point Posed As A Question" To "Bias The Response"
Nate Silver: Rasmussen Placed "A Talking Point Posed As A Question" Ahead Of Wisconsin Question To Cast "One Side Of The Argument In A Less Favorable Light." In his analysis of the Rasmussen poll's methodology, polling expert Nate Silver of the New York Times wrote:
The issue is clearest with the third question, which asked respondents whether "teachers, firemen and policemen" should be allowed to go on strike. By invoking the prospect of such strikes, which are illegal in many places (especially for the uniformed services) and which many people quite naturally object to, the poll could potentially engender a less sympathetic reaction toward the protesters in Wisconsin. It is widely recognized in the scholarship on the subject, and I have noted before, that earlier questions in a survey can bias the response to later ones by framing an issue in a particular way and by casting one side of the argument in a less favorable light.
The Rasmussen example is more blatant than most. While many teachers have been among the protesters at the State Capitol in Madison, obliging the city to close its schools for days, there have been no reports of reductions in police or fire services, and in fact, uniformed services are specifically exempted from the proposals that the teachers and other public-sector employees are protesting. So bringing in the uniformed services essentially makes No. 3 a talking point posed as a question.
As an analogy, imagine a survey that asked respondents whether they believed the Democrats' health care overhaul included "death panels" before asking them whether they approved or disapproved of the bill over all. [New York Times, 2/21/11]
FACT: Two Non-Rasmussen Polls Show Voters In Wisconsin And Around The Country Oppose Walker On Collective Bargaining Rights
USA Today/Gallup: 61 Percent Of Americans Oppose Taking Collective Bargaining Rights Away From Public Employees. As reported by the Associated Press: "Americans strongly oppose laws taking away the collective bargaining power of public employee unions, according to a new USA TODAY/Gallup Poll. The poll found 61% would oppose a law in their state similar to such a proposal in Wisconsin, compared with 33% who would favor such a law." [Associated Press via USA Today, 2/23/11]
Wisconsin: 52 Percent Of Voters Oppose Gov. Walker's Plan. As reported by Talking Points Memo:
Other questions from the poll show that when given a detailed description on the current dispute between labor and the Republicans in Madison, Wisconsin voters tend to side with the unions. Here's what the detailed question in the AFL-CIO-sponsored survey sounded like:
As you may know, Governor Scott Walker recently announced a plan to limit most public employees' ability to negotiate their wages and benefits. The plan cuts pension and health care benefits for current public workers, and restricts new wage increases unless approved by a voter referendum. Contracts would be limited to one year, with wages frozen until a new contract is settled. In addition, Walker's plan also changes rules to require collective bargaining units to take annual votes to maintain certification as a union, stops employers from collecting union dues, and allows members of collective bargaining units to avoid paying dues. Law enforcement, fire employees and state troopers and inspectors would be exempt from the changes.
When given that read on the situation, 52% of respondents said they don't favor Walker's scheme. Just 42% said they favor it. [Talking Points Memo, 2/21/11, emphasis added]
Poll Of 1000+ Wisconsin Likely Voters Found 67 Percent Agree With Public Employees, 59 Percent Agree With Unions, And 43 Percent Agree With Gov. Walker. Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research (GQR) conducted "two surveys of Wisconsin likely voters. The first survey was conducted among 604 likely voters in Wisconsin from February 16-20, 2011, and is subject to a margin of error of +/- 4.0 percentage points. The second survey was conducted among 402 likely voters in Wisconsin between February 19-20, 2011, and is subject to a margin of error of +/- 4.9 percentage points."
Below is a graph from GQR showing survey respondents' attitudes toward various participants in the Wisconsin labor conflict.
[Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, 2/22/11]