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48% Back GOP Governor in Wisconsin Spat, 38% Side With Unions

A sizable number of voters are following new Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's showdown with unionized public employees in his state, and nearly half side with the governor.

A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 48% of Likely U.S. Voters agree more with the Republican governor in his dispute with union workers. Thirty-eight percent (38%) agree more with the unionized public employees, while 14% are undecided. (To see survey question wording, click here.)

In an effort to close the state's sizable budget deficit, Walker is proposing to eliminate collective bargaining for public employees including teachers on everything but wage issues. He is excluding public safety workers such as policemen and firemen from his plan.

Thirty-eight percent (38%) of voters think teachers, firemen and policemen should be allowed to go on strike, but 49% disagree and believe they should not have that right. Thirteen percent (13%) are not sure.

There's strong partisan disagreement on both questions and a wide gap between the Political Class and Mainstream voters.

Thirty-six percent (36%) of all voters say that in their state the average public employee earns more than the average private sector worker. Twenty-one percent (21%) say the government employee earns less, while 20% think their pay is about the same. Twenty-three percent (23%) are not sure.

With states across the country finding that benefits for public workers are becoming difficult to fund in the current economic climate, support for public employee unions has fallen.  Forty-five percent (45%) of Americans favor them, and 45% don't. These findings include 21% who Strongly Favor such unions and 30% who are Strongly Opposed to them.

Fifty percent (50%) of voters favor reducing their home state's government payroll by one percent a year for 10 years either by reducing the number of state employees or by cutting the pay of state workers. Twenty-eight percent (28%) oppose a cut of this nature, while another 23% aren't sure about it.

In a survey last month, voters were evenly divided over the idea of a 10% across-the-board pay cut for all state employees to help reduce overall spending. 

Public employee unions have long been strong supporters, financially and otherwise, of Democratic Party candidates, so it's no surprise that 68% of Democrats support the union workers in the Wisconsin dispute. Sixty-eight percent (68%) of Republicans and 56% of voters not affiliated with either of the major political parties side with the governor.

Most Democrats (54%) say teachers, firemen and policemen should be allowed to go on strike. The majority of GOP voters (62%) and unaffiliateds (58%) disagree.

While 61% of Republicans and 56% of unaffiliated voters like the idea of a one percent reduction in their state's government payroll for the next 10 years, a plurality (41%) of Democrats are opposed.

The Political Class' opposition is more emphatic. Sixty-four percent (64%) of Political Class voters oppose a payroll cut of this kind, while 56% of those in the Mainstream think it's a good idea.

But then 56% of Mainstream voters agree more with the governor in the Wisconsin dispute, while 56% of the Political Class side with the union workers.

Sixty-seven percent (67%) of all voters say they are following at least somewhat closely news reports about the Wisconsin governor's effort to limit collective bargaining rights for most state employees, with 37% who are following Very Closely.

With new Republican majorities in both chambers of Wisconsin's legislature, the governor's plan is likely to pass, prompting thousands of protesting public workers and their allies to descend on the state capital. President Obama and the Rev. Jesse Jackson, among others, have publicly sided with the protestors, while national Republicans have backed the governor.

A sizable majority of Americans say their states are now having major budget problems, and they think spending cuts, not higher taxes, are the solution.

Most voters continue to oppose federal bailouts for financially troubled states.  Voters aren't thrilled with the idea of letting states declare bankruptcy, but they're more supportive if told government employees might have their pensions reduced in the process. 

Seventy-eight percent (78%) of Americans say politicians' unwillingness to reduce government spending is to blame for the budget crises in many states. 

When it comes to the nation's historic-level federal budget deficit, 70% of all voters think voters are more willing to make the hard choices needed to reduce government spending than elected politicians are. 

Sixty-six percent (66%) of all voters nationwide favor a proposal to cut the federal payroll by 10% over the coming decade. 

Sixty-eight percent (68%) of Americans think workers in the private sector work harder than government workers

Rasmussen Reports is an electronic media company specializing in the collection, publication and distribution of public opinion polling information.  We poll on a variety of topics in the fields of politics, business and lifestyle, updating our site's content on a news cycle throughout the day, everyday.

Rasmussen Reports Platinum Members get an all-access pass to polling news, analysis and insight not available to the general public.

Scott Rasmussen , president of Rasmussen Reports, has been an independent pollster for more than a decade. To learn more about our methodology, click here.

The survey of 1,000 Likely Voters was conducted on February 18-19, 2011 by Rasmussen Reports. The margin of sampling error is +/- 3 percentage points with a 95% level of confidence. Field work for all Rasmussen Reports surveys is conducted by Pulse Opinion Research, LLC. See methodology.

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