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Thursday, Oct. 1, 2015 12:19 am

Poll, speech heighten partisan divide

PHOTO BY ALAN SOLOMON/TNS
A poll and a speech may have hardened positions even further on both sides of the highly partisan and bitter state government impasse.

The speech, by Chicago Archbishop Blase Cupich, you likely already know about. The survey, taken by Gov. Bruce Rauner’s pollster, you probably don’t. So, let’s start with the poll.

Basswood Research, which has done extensive work for the Rauner campaign, surveyed 800 likely Illinois general election voters Sept. 14-15 and found quite a bit of support for Rauner and a whole lot of opposition to House Speaker Michael Madigan.

The poll, which had a margin of error of +/- 3.5 percent, found that 45.5 percent approve of Gov. Rauner’s job performance, while 40 percent disapprove and 14 percent don’t know. Not great.

But a whopping 71 percent agreed with the statement: “Bruce Rauner is trying to shake things up in Springfield, but the career politicians are standing in his way,” while just 21 percent said that wasn’t true.

Another 55 percent agreed that “Bruce Rauner is working to find bipartisan solutions that will help fix Illinois’s budget mess and improve the struggling state economy,” while 34.5 percent said it wasn’t true.

President Obama’s favorables (50 percent) were higher than Gov. Rauner’s (47 percent) in the poll, but Obama’s unfavorables (45 percent) were higher than Rauner’s (40 percent).

Only 11 percent approve of the job being done by the General Assembly, while 73 percent disapprove. House Speaker Michael Madigan’s favorable rating was only 21 percent, while his unfavorable was 60 percent. Only 19 percent had no opinion of Madigan either way, which means that Madigan is quite well known to voters.

An overwhelming 76 percent agreed that “Mike Madigan controls the Democratic legislators in Springfield,” while a mere 10 percent disagreed and 14 percent weren’t sure.

If you trust these poll results, then the public is largely siding with Rauner and views the General Assembly as unlikeable obstructionist tools of the House Speaker. So, a well-crafted, well-funded message which ties legislators or legislative candidates to Madigan could be disastrous.

There are caveats here. This is Rauner’s pollster, so the Democrats will likely be dismissive. Also, the group which commissioned the poll, the Illinois Business and Industry Council, is an unknown quantity with a vague website that was created this past July.

But Rauner’s pollster was almost alone in accurately predicting the governor’s win last year. So, keep that in mind when the naysaying starts.

And the point isn’t what the Democrats or even you or I think of the poll anyway. The point is that the Rauner people trust that pollster and are convinced of the poll’s results. So they truly believe they are winning and can make Madigan pay a steep price for losing.

But on the other side of the equation, we now have some very powerful folks who believe they have God – or at least the Pope – firmly on their side.

Archbishop Cupich’s September 17th speech to the Chicago Federation of Labor was perhaps the most profound rallying cry for the importance of organized labor that I’ve ever seen. Without mentioning the anti-union governor’s name, he made it clear that he and Pope Francis stand firmly with unions – both public and private sector – and against those who would exploit or weaken them.

Two years ago, Speaker Madigan specifically credited Pope Francis’ words of inclusion for his change of heart about gay marriage. You could argue that Madigan was simply using his Pope to justify a popular position change, but this time around he has a pretty clear mandate from his church’s leadership. “The Archbishop has said the same thing that we’ve been saying in Springfield,” Madigan told reporters after Cupich’s address.

The problem with mixing religion too deeply with politics, of course, is that religious beliefs can’t easily be negotiated away. So Cupich may have complicated matters.

Both the poll and the speech came during a period when folks with ties to both sides were attempting to get the top dogs to talk. Some are saying that the governor will further narrow his economic demands to a far more politically doable list before he’ll agree to finally deal with the state budget.

But the poll numbers could easily harden the governor’s position, and the Archbishop’s timing might very well end up hurting many of the neediest people served by his church’s charities if we don’t get a budget deal anytime soon.

I never seem to have any good news.

Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.

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