MADISON, Wis. — A new poll by the state’s largest business advocate finds Wisconsinites are more optimistic about the economy than they were this time last year.
The Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce Survey of Voter Attitudes shows that 35 percent respondents believe the Badger State economy will improve in 2017 while 42 percent believe it will stay about the same. Last year, 22 percent of respondents expected the economy to improve and 56 percent predicted it would stay the same.
Naysayer numbers are almost unchanged. The latest poll finds 19 percent of those questioned believe Wisconsin’s economy will falter this year, up 1 percentage point from last year.
“Confidence in Wisconsin’s economy continues to grow for Wisconsin voters, a sign that the policies coming out of Madison are moving our state in the right direction,” Kurt R. Bauer, WMC president and CEO, said in a press release.
“However, voters are still wary about ever-increasing health care costs thanks to the Affordable Care Act, the state’s burdensome tax climate and government regulations that will hike the cost of energy. Policymakers should continue to be mindful of this moving forward,” Bauer added.
The poll of 506 Wisconsin voters was taken Dec. 12-14. It was conducted for WMC by the Washington, D.C.-based Tarrance Group. The margin of error, according to the authors, is plus or minus 4.5 percent.
About 32 percent of voters believe their personal economic situation will improve this year, up from 18 percent at the beginning of 2016, according to the poll. Roughly half of respondents expect their personal economic situation will remain about the same.
Wisconsin’s unemployment rate was unchanged in November (the latest data available), at 4.1 percent. The state’s jobless rate has long been below the national gauge, which ticked up in December to 4.7 percent.
The problem in Wisconsin these days is finding workers to fill the tens of thousands of job openings, employers and workforce experts say.
Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development senior economist Jeff Sachse told Wisconsin Public Radio last month that hiring continues to rise, but some sectors, particularly health care, are struggling to find qualified workers.
“It’s driven by concerns over a lack of availability of candidates, as well as uncertainty about a number of more broad policy issues,” including “changes to the Affordable Care Act,” Sachse said.
President-elect Donald Trump is urging congressional Republicans to repeal and replace President Barack Obama’s signature policy, the health care law often referred to as Obamacare. Republicans, now in the majority in both the Senate and the House, are moving quickly to sweep aside much of Obamacare.
A majority of Americans disapprove of the law, according to a new Politico/Morning Consult poll, but they are skeptical of repealing the ACA without a plan to replace it. Only 41 percent of voters surveyed approve of Obamacare.
The WMC poll may have found the reason for the low approval rate.
A majority of those surveyed, 58 percent, said their health insurance costs increased over the last year. Just 2 percent said their costs decreased.
“These numbers show that Obamacare continues to be a drag on the national and state economy,” the poll summary states.
The poll also found:
- Wisconsin continues to be a high-tax state. When asked which taxes they would like to see cut, a plurality of respondents (43 percent) said they would like to see lower property taxes, followed by income taxes (31 percent) and the state sales tax (11 percent).
- Voters are split on raising the gas tax, with 49 percent in favor and 48 percent opposed. However, there is a clear partisan divide on the issue. A majority (56 percent) of Republicans oppose a gas tax increase, and a majority (57 percent) of Democrats support a gas tax increase. Geographically, support for a gas tax increase is being driven by liberal Dane County (63 percent in favor/33 percent oppose) and the rest of the Madison media market (62 percent in favor/36 percent oppose). Milwaukee County (43 percent in favor/50 percent oppose), the rest of the Milwaukee media market (45 percent in favor/54 percent oppose) and the rest of the state (47 percent in favor/50 percent oppose) all have more voters in opposition to a gas tax increase.
- On energy issues, voters are clearly concerned about government overregulation. A large majority (60 percent) said they would not support policies to combat global warming if it resulted in thousands of job losses. Additionally, two-thirds of respondents (67 percent) said they would not support a $25 increase in their electricity bill to pay for global warming regulations. Last year, 64 percent of voters said they would not support a $50 increase to pay for such regulations.
- On other policies, 78 percent of Wisconsin voters support school choice, 81 percent believe students should be responsible for paying back their own student loan debt and 84 percent favor financial incentives for internships, apprenticeships or job shadowing.