The answer is pretty straightforward: If we want to improve the quality of education in Milwaukee we must meet Milwaukee residents where they are at, not where would be reformers think they should be, or wish they would be. The failed mayoral takeover attempt of the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) illustrates this point vividly. As our poll shows, Milwaukee residents do not blame their school or the school board for the city’s challenges. Hence, it was not surprising that the attempt to eliminate the elected board was met with wide opposition. Hopefully, this polling effort will empower the next generation of reformers with a starting point from which to engage Milwaukee residents in efforts to improve educational quality.
So what did our polling teach us? The major lesson is that Milwaukee residents do not view their schools as the problem, but do see schools as a possible solution. Almost two-thirds of respondents think children from poor families are just as capable of learning as children from wealthier families. There are numerous other conclusions I reached from these data:
Efforts to improve outcomes in Milwaukee should be talked about as just that, efforts to improve outcomes. Arguing for the reform of schools, or for getting rid of bad teachers, will be met with heavy resistance. Milwaukee residents like and respect the institutions of education, including teachers.
Milwaukee residents view funding as the path to improving performance. In reality, there is not great disparity between the funding of MPS and suburban districts. Nonetheless, when reform efforts do put more resources into the classroom, advocates would be wise to emphasize that point.
Milwaukee residents like school choice. About 57% of respondents favor the choice program while only 27% oppose it. About 48% support charter schools, while 30% oppose. When asked which is more important, sending their child to a high-performing school or to a school close to home, 65% chose sending their child to a high-performing school. Clearly, any efforts to curtail school choice, public or private, will be met with resistance in Milwaukee.
These are of course just a few of the many things that stood out to me. Moving forward WPRI will continue to use focus groups and polling to learn as much about Milwaukeeans’ views on education as possible. Why? Well, a decade of living in Milwaukee and seven-plus years working with schools and educators in the city has made clear to me that widespread improvement of education in Milwaukee is possible. But only if we know where to start, and only if my neighbors are viewed as partners with the many well-meaning people currently working to improve Milwaukee schools.
The full toplines of our two polls are available here and here.
Again, I think the value Milwaukee brings to Wisconsin as the state’s lone major urban area is obvious. Consider, a Wisconsin without Milwaukee would be a Wisconsin without:
A major public urban university;
Summerfest and the other ethnic festivals;
The Art Museum, Symphony Orchestra, Marcus Amphitheater and other top-line cultural attractions;
Port of Milwaukee;
Professional baseball and basketball;
A major urban daily newspaper;
The ethnic and racial diversity of a city that is 55% non-white; and
Johnson Controls, Manpower, Rockwell Automation, Northwestern Mutual, Harley-Davidson, and the many other corporate citizens big and small.
All of things on this list contribute to the quality-of-life in this state, and all exist because of a unique confluence of size, density, and diversity in southeast Wisconsin. The state has other great places, but none offer the urban amenities of Milwaukee.
Madison, for example, is a growing and intrinsically interesting place due to the presence of state government and a world-class research university. It however, cannot supplant Milwaukee.
Take the issue of diversity. Milwaukee is 55% non-white, Madison is 21% non-white. 15% of Madison residents are foreign language speakers compared to 19% in Milwaukee. Only 5.3% of Madison businesses are Black or Hispanic owned. In Milwaukee that number is 26.3%. Milwaukee also has a higher percentage of female owned businesses, and wider income distribution than Madison, especially at the high-end.
The type of diversity present in Milwaukee is essential for a thriving urban area. It is the extremes and contradictions of great cities that yield energy, creativity, and productivity. The rich and poor, foreign and native, and young and old are all universally attracted to the economic opportunities, social mobility, and amenities present in dense urban places like Milwaukee (Milwaukee has over twice as many residents per square mile as Madison or Green Bay).
None of this is a knock against Madison – it too is an irreplaceable asset to Wisconsin for an entirely different set of reasons. It is however, a reminder that despite Milwaukee’s problems it is far from a drag on the rest of the state. The city is already a dynamic place and has much potential that remains untapped. It is reassuring to see, via the Franklin poll, that the majority of Wisconsin residents recognize the importance of their largest city.
Filed under: Polling — Christian Schneider @ 8:18 am
Yesterday, Marquette Law School issued their monthly poll of Wisconsin politics; the closer the state gets to the recall election on June 5, the more weight these polls carry. The poll showed Governor Scott Walker and potential Democratic challenger Tom Barrett in essentially a dead heat – when “likely voters” were asked who they would vote for, Walker led by one point, 48% to 47%. When “registered voters” were asked, the numbers flipped and Barrett led 47% to 46%. Both leads are well within the poll’s 4% margin of error.
Some thoughts as I dug a little deeper and perused the crosstabs:
Scott Walker beats Tom Barrett 47% to 35% among Independents with (9.5% undecided.)
60% of Independent voters think the state is better off in the long run due to the changes of the past year.
Voters favor limiting collective bargaining for most public employees, 49%-45%. This is why, once the Democratic primary is over, that will be the last the state will likely hear of the collective bargaining issue – which is the whole reason the recall election is taking place.
Voters disapprove of Kathleen Falk’s pledge to veto the budget if it doesn’t restore collective bargaining by a 48% to 37% margin. Voters are more receptive of Tom Barrett’s plan to call a special session to restore collective bargaining powers for unions, by a 52% to 39% margin.
Scott Walker’s favorable/unfavorable rating with Hispanic voters is 55% to 41%. Tom Barrett’s is 41% to 34%. Granted, once you start dicing polls up by race, the sample size gets a little sketchy – but in the same poll, Hispanic voters favored Barack Obama over Mitt Romney 48%-40%.
Last week, Kathleen Falk’s campaign said she was “dead even” everywhere in the state other than Milwaukee. Yet the Marquette poll has Tom Barrett beating Kathleen Falk 70%-20% in Milwaukee, 37%-20% in Madison, and 33%-18% in Green Bay. Barrett leads Falk 38% to 21% statewide.
Fewer Democrats say they’ve displayed a yard sign or bumper sticker than Republicans. This seems suspect – If you’ve been to Dane County lately, you’d see that anti-Walker signs and bumper stickers are blanketing Madison.
Oddly, Democrats are more likely to say that the state of their public schools is “very satisfactory,” by a 26% to 21% margin over Republicans. (One would think Democrats would be more likely to downplay the excellence of their schools, given Walker’s changes over the past year.) Only 9.9% of Democrats say they are very dissatisfied with their public schools.
Despite Walker’s strong lead among independents, the fact is, there just aren’t very many independents left in the state anymore. That, plus the heavy sample of Democrats in the poll, is what leads Walker to essentially be tied with Barrett in the survey.
It appears that the public, for the most part, is on board with Walker’s most controversial plans, and oppose things he didn’t do, like cutting school aids. Walker’s goal should be to make sure people give him credit for the things they like, and he should spend the next month demonstrating how he actually didn’t cut schools – which will be a primary Barrett attack. (And for good reason – voters by a 66% to 30% margin oppose balancing the budget by cutting aid to local school districts; Which Walker did, but fully paid for by increasing employee health and pension benefit contributions, which voters favor 73% to 23%. So he rectified something voters hate by doing something they love.)
Finally, I think the sample in yesterday’s Marquette poll snagged a lot of Republicans who are somewhat on the fence. According to the numbers, only 83.4% of self-described Republicans say that they would vote for Scott Walker against Tom Barrett. If 17% of Republicans in Wisconsin vote against Scott Walker, I’ll eat my shoe.
You can play the home game of digging through the crosstabulations by downloading this .zip file.
The November issue of Commentary features the opinions of 41 American writers tasked with answering the question: are you optimistic or pessimistic about America’s future? What follows is a broad discussion of public policies and politics that leads to no clear consensus. What is clear, and the reason for Commentary asking the question in the first place, is that the country is in a period of transition.
Wisconsin finds itself in a similar period of transition. Both the budget repair bill and the 2011-13 biennial budget dramatically changed the state’s fiscal and political course. I suspect a panel of Wisconsin writers asked about their level of optimism would give similarly divergent answers. When asking friends and neighbors last spring of their opinion of the protests in Madison I generally received two reactions: disgust with the breakdown of civil debate or solidarity with a group they saw seeking to right a wrong. Rare was the ambivalent shrug of shoulders.
The high level of political and civic engagement experienced last spring was not illusory. A new WPRI poll shows Wisconsin citizens are highly engaged. We are more likely to take specific positions on policy issues than people nationally. One might expect our high level of engagement to translate into support of the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street movements. Not so. A minority of Wisconsin residents has favorable opinions (33% and 34% respectively) of these emotionally charged groups.
Wisconsin’s high level of engagement and tepid support for these two populist movements gives me great optimism for the future of this state.
As I have written before, Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party before it appear to be genuine grass-roots movements borne of legitimate beefs with government. But they are also emotionally charged and unfocused. In contrast the structural issues facing government are specific and often unsexy. Things like unfunded liabilities, transportation funding, and the quality of public-sector management cannot be seriously addressed through emotional protest. What is needed is an ongoing informed public debate.
Mark Steyn in the referenced Commentary article digs up an insightful Milton Friedman quote:
“I do not believe that the solution to our problem is simply to elect the right people. The important thing is to establish a political climate of opinion which will make it politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right thing. Unless it is politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right thing, the right people will not do the right thing either, or if they try, they will shortly be out of office.”
The new WPRI poll gives reason to believe that the engaged citizens of Wisconsin can build just the political climate Friedman describes.
Filed under: Polling — Christian Schneider @ 2:27 pm
Today, NBC and the Wall Street Journal released a poll that details public opinion regarding the health care bill before Congress, the public’s views of the direction of the country, and other national issues. The NBC/WSJ poll tracks very closely with the WPRI poll we released late last week. To wit:
In the WSJ/NBC poll, 48% of the public opposed the health care bill currently before Congress, while 36% labeled it “a good idea.” In the WPRI poll, 37% favored the plan and 55% opposed it.
In the WSJ/NBC poll, President Obama’s approval rating was 48%. In WPRI’s poll, Obama’s approval is 49%.
In the WSJ/NBC poll, 33% of Americans believed the country was headed in the right direction, while 59% believed the country was on the wrong track. In the WPRI poll, those numbers are 34% and 59%, respectively.
We do a good bit of polling here at WPRI, and it’s fairly rare that we see really extreme numbers on any issue. (The only one that comes to mind is that 6% of Wisconsin residents think their elected officials are working in the interests of the voters. Yikes.)
So it comes as news that only 6% of respondents in a recent New York Times/CBS poll believe that the federal stimulus bill passed a year ago actually created jobs. SIX PERCENT. I would bet that if you took a poll right now, ten percent of Americans think Barack Obama is from Jupiter.
In fact, I looked for other parallels – take, for example, this Zogby poll from 2007, in which 4.6% of respondents said they believe certain U.S. government elements actively planned or assisted some aspects of September 11, 2001 attacks. So about the same number of people believe the stimulus created jobs as believe Dick Cheney was on a headset barking orders to the 9-11 terrorists.
(In fact, the group that believed the U.S. was behind the attacks the most were those with only a high school education (9.6%). Go to college, kids.)
In somewhat related news, over at Pollster.com, Charles Franklin explains how two starkly different charts can explain the same phenomena. This is a response to a chart that had been floating around the internet purporting to show the unemployment situation getting much better under President Obama than it had been under George W. Bush.
Here are the two relevant charts:
Franklin sums it up:
The OfA chart gives the impression that we have “returned” to where we were in January 2008. The sharp rise since February 2009 gives the impression that what was lost in red has now been regained in blue. But of course, that isn’t right. The rate of loss has indeed slowed tremendously in the first year of the Obama administration, something the White House has every right to crow about. But that doesn’t mean we’ve returned to previous employment levels. In fact, we’ve continued to sink lower throughout the last year, just at a slower and slower rate…
Same data, two charts, two different impressions, both fundamentally true yet also fundamentally misleading in opposite ways. When data and politics mix beware the power of graphs to imply their own conclusions, even with the same data. And appreciate the rhetorical success of a graph that does it’s creator’s bidding.
Filed under: Polling — Christian Schneider @ 9:26 am
Over the weekend, WPRI and the UW-Madison released the results of a joint poll they conducted to gauge Wisconsin residents’ interest over a variety of topics. Sunday’s release of results targeted citizens’ opinions regarding the state economy, the 2010 elections, and the state’s general direction. Monday’s results described the public’s feeling regarding health care and education.
Professor Ken Goldstein of the UW-Madison appeared on the ”Up Front With Mike Gousha” television program on Sunday to discuss the results.
A master document prepared by Goldstein summarizing the poll results with charts and graphs can be found here.
Filed under: Polling — Christian Schneider @ 1:11 pm
The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel ran a really nice piece today on former WPRI president Jim Miller. For 22 years, Jim essentially was the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute – and had a profound impact on issues ranging from school choice to welfare reform. The article claims that Jim may have been “one of the most influential people in Wisconsin that you never heard of:”
If the term think tank brings to mind an imposing place where scholars sit around and, um, think, you’re on the wrong track when it comes to the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute. The staff was pretty much just Miller and an assistant.
The heart of Miller’s job was finding people outside the institute – professors or others, from near and far – to do studies on subjects of interest.
“We would job everything out,” he said.
“We wanted change, no question about it,” Miller said. “The status quo was represented by the left.”
So the institute came at things from the right, subjects such as the “brain drain” from Wisconsin, how state-funded school integration efforts were working, migration of welfare recipients into Wisconsin, school accountability and an analysis of the net benefits of imprisoning people. The rise of the school voucher program and the W-2 welfare reform in the 1990s were both associated, in part, with the institute’s work.
While he may have kept a low profile among the public, Miller’s work certainly did not go unnoticed by elected officials in Madison. In fact, in what may be a rare show of bipartisanship this session, the State Senate last week unanimously passed a resolution in Miller’s honor. Undoubtedly, the irascible Miller would have deemed this honor a waste of the Legislature’s time.
Filed under: Polling — Christian Schneider @ 3:26 pm
I vaguely remember this Pew poll relating to the public’s knowledge of current events being discussed elsewhere, but it has some information that I have to discuss.
First of all, 31% of Americans can’t name who the Vice President of the United States is. Read that slowly so it sinks in. It’s not exactly like Dick Cheney’s name hasn’t been in the news at all in the past, say, EIGHT YEARS. In fact, Cheney’s name identification is roughly that of Beyonce’ Knowles’ – which makes perfect sense, since Cheney’s name ID has been dropping since he got booted out of Destiny’s Child.
After seeing that result, I began to think about what it might be like to be that stupid. But then I realized, if I was that stupid, I’d be too stupid to know it. In fact, I’d be so dumb, I’d actually think I was smart. Then things wouldn’t be all that bad.
36% percent of Americans can name Vladimir Putin as the president of Russia. Which is ironic, because 36% of Russians have actually been tortured by Putin.
Among viewers of The Daily Show and the Colbert Report, 54% scored in the “High Knowledge” category. This is in contrast to viewers of “Sabado Gigante,” of whom 90% just scored in the “High” category.
Actually, blog readers didn’t score all that well. Only 37% of blog readers were judged to be in the “High Knowledge” category. Even worse were viewers of local news – only 35% of local news viewers are High Knowledge. But I dispute this result, because the poll obviously didn’t quiz people on the squirrel in Beloit that can play the drums.
In a roundabout way, this kind of illustrates a point I’ve been meaning to make on one of Owen Robinson’s posts a couple of weeks ago. When discussing a proposed constitutional amendment to require showing photo identification when voting, Owen says:
“Regardless of what you think about the merits of this constitutional amendment, shouldn’t the voters at least get a say?”
Well, no, actually.
Regardless of what I think about the merits of requiring photo identification at the polls, I think legislators should have their say – since it’s a matter of public policy. We don’t live in a direct democracy – and taking a look at the poll referenced above might illustrate why that’s a good idea.
Legislating via constitutional amendment is a tricky game. Not only is the public not necessarily well informed (as seen above), they are notoriously bipolar depending on the issue. Conflicting constitutional amendments are almost inevitable. Furthermore, as Federalist #10 points out, “majority rule” is fraught with danger from factions.
I am certain that a constitutional amendment limiting taxes and spending in Wisconsin would pass. I am also nearly as certain that a constitutional amendment declaring health care a basic right for every Wisconsin resident would also pass. Shouldn’t voters at least get a say on that? Should voters get a say on whether we need more gun control, especially after the Virginia Tech massacre?
Granted, the segment of citizens who can name Beyonce’ but not Condoleezza Rice probably aren’t voters. But at least there’s a reasonable expectation our lawmakers have a passing knowledge of issues relevant to the legislation before them.