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Rauner-backed ideas draw some poll support; Experts: ‘Right-to-work’ numbers somewhat surprising

By Mark Fitton, Illinois News Network | Mar 10, 2016

Gov. Rauner

SPRINGFIELD — Three of Gov. Bruce Rauner’s agenda items have traction with voters, at least according to polling data released Wednesday by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute.

According to the Simon Institute, which is based at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale:

- 78 percent of 1,000 registered voters contacted favor term limits for state lawmakers; 20 percent were opposed, and 3 percent said they didn’t know.

- 64 percent of respondents supported the idea of having an independent commission draw legislative maps. Twenty-five percent said they oppose the idea, and 11 percent gave another answer or said they didn’t know.

- 57 percent said they would vote for right-to-work or open-shop laws, while 4 percent said they leaned toward such laws. Thirty-three percent said they were opposed or leaning toward opposition. Seven 7 percent gave an answer of “undecided” or said they didn’t know.

The first-term Republican governor has been pushing for term limits and independent redistricting as part of his Turnaround Agenda, which also includes demands for significant changes to the state’s workers’ compensation and civil lawsuit codes.

He originally sought right-to-work zones for public- and private-sector employees in portions of the state – by county choice, for example. He has since backed away from that proposal and is now focusing on public-sector employment, namely giving local governments the option of opting out of certain aspects of collective bargaining.

John Jackson of the Simon Institute said the right-to-work numbers in the poll caught his eye.

“That one was really pretty surprising,” Jackson said. “This is not a state where you’d expect people to favor right-to-work by anywhere near that margin. I don’t know if it’s linked with Rauner’s having campaigned about this so much or what, but I do think it’s surprising.

“I'm not entirely sure what to make of it other than the possibility of Rauner’s having campaigned on it so hard for so long,” Jackson said.

Another possible factor, Jackson said: Union membership has declined in Illinois and in the nation. It is down nationally from a high of about 37 percent to about 12 percent.

“There are not as many union households to understand what unions mean and why unions would be vehemently opposed to (Illinois becoming) a right-to-work state,” Jackson said.

Andy Shaw, president of the Better Government Association, said some of the results weren’t terribly surprising.

Independent redistricting has been an issue in Illinois for years and is again the subject of a petition drive to get a constitutional question onto the ballot, he said.

Similarly, a push for term limits in a state as dysfunctional as Illinois can’t be surprising, but “unfortunately there’s nothing relating to term limits on any ballots right now … and no push in the legislature from folks who don’t want to lose their jobs,” Shaw told WMAY Radio.

The right-to-work numbers in a state that’s long been considered friendly to unions was eye-catching, he said.

Voters are perhaps thinking right-to-work laws might drive down the cost of state government, which they feel isn’t doing a particularly good job of providing value for tax dollars spent, Shaw said.

Rauner’s support of right-to-work is controversial given the opposing argument, often voiced by Democrats, that right-to-work could drive down wages for people in and out of unions, Shaw said.

Jackson and other analysts noted the latest poll numbers might not be an outright endorsement of Rauner.

Simon Institute data also shows Rauner with a disapproval rating of 50 percent and an approval rating of 41 percent.

“Redistricting reform and term limits are good government initiatives that would help spur new ideas and bring real change to Springfield,” Rauner spokeswoman Catherine Kelly said of the poll. “Governor Rauner is simply asking for a vote on these issues from the General Assembly.”

The institute’s live telephone poll was conducted Feb. 15-20 by Customer Research International of San Marcos, Texas. Potential interviewees were screened based on whether they were registered voters, with quotas based on area code and sex.

The margin of error for the entire sample of 1,000 voters is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, according to the institute. The survey was paid for with non-tax dollars from the institute’s endowment fund.

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