By CARL GREEN
Carbondale, IL – The name of Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner has been a flashpoint for criticism at union meetings ever since he took office last year, considering that his goal is to wreck the Labor Movement in any way he can.
But Rauner opponents can take note and take heart that the rest of Illinois has been steadily coming around to their point of view.
Approval polls aren’t the same thing as votes in an election, but they do provide a snapshot of where the electorate is heading. For Rauner, the progression has been steadily downward.
When Rauner had been in office just a few months last year, his poll numbers were somewhat positive – 37 percent approved of his performance, 31 percent disapproved and 32 percent didn’t know yet.
But in the latest reputable poll, taken for the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University Carbondale (SIUC), 50 percent of respondents disapproved of the job Rauner is doing while 41 percent approved, leaving only 9 percent undecided.
One of the designers of the poll, Professor John S. Jackson of the Simon Institute, said it reflects a divided electorate.
“Public opinion in Illinois is deeply divided over the governor’s job performance, and deeply divided on a variety of issues that are challenging the state and state government to meet the needs and expectations of the public,” Jackson said.
The poll had a few other interesting findings:
- Chicago – Rauner is even less popular in Illinois’ largest city than in the state as a whole. There, 58 percent disapproved of his performance, compared to 34 percent approving.
- Suburbia – Rauner polled better but still not well in the heavily Republican Chicago suburbs, where 43 percent approved and 47 percent disapproved of his performance.
- Downstate – Downstate Illinois respondents, too, approved of Rauner at only a 43 percent rate, and 49 percent disapproved.
- Wrong track – Overall, 84 percent agreed that Illinois was on the “wrong track” and only 9 percent chose “right track.” Also, 63 percent said the nation is on the “wrong track,” countered by 29 percent.
- Home town – Respondents felt better about their own locales, with half agreeing their own town or city is headed in the right direction and 42 percent disagreeing.
- Quality of life – Similarly, 51 percent rated their quality of life as excellent or good, with 32 saying average and 16 percent choosing “not so good” or “poor.”
The effects of Rauner’s holding the state budget hostage in exchange for union-busting concessions were a major topic of the poll. Many of the state government’s functions have continued, but not support for services to the elderly, social services or education.
Of the respondents, 32 percent said someone in their immediate family has been affected, while 62 percent said they didn’t feel so affected.
Of those who had been affected, 27 percent said it was from the loss of a job, 27 percent said it was from cuts in social services, 15 percent cited cuts to state universities and scholarships, and 10 percent each cited loss of child care services and damage to local economies.
David Yepsen, director of the Simon Institute, said the numbers of those affected are likely to grow.
“Many programs that are funded are being paid for with loans or one-time money, and that can’t go on forever,” Yepsen said.
“One reason this stalemate goes on is many simply don’t feel it is affecting their lives,” he added. “Those people aren’t likely to be pressuring policy makers to do something to break the logjam.”
HOW IT FEELS
One agency that is feeling the effects is SeniorServices Plus in Alton, which serves about 30,000 people a year. Its director, Jonathan Becker, spoke at an April 5 rally at the Capital calling for passage of a budget.
“We are owed millions of dollars, and the pressure has become insurmountable,” he said. “I don’t know how much longer we can carry on.”
Becker met with state Sen. Bill Haine (D-Alton), who said Rauner could help the agency and others like it if he wants to.
“When I met with Senior Services Plus last year, the situation was bad,” Haine reported. “Fast forward a year later, this situation is dire.
“What is even more frustrating is this was an avoidable situation,” Haine added. “I don’t know if Gov. Rauner understands what happens when he vetoes funding for services that help seniors. It means people go without food, they are forced out of their homes and into assisted living facilities, and their quality of life diminishes.”
Haine noted that the Senate recently passed a budget that would allow SeniorServices Plus and others like it to stay open.
“I hope he will keep this in mind before vetoing another plan to help our senior citizens,” Haine said.
The Illinois Observer news website in January published results of a similar poll in which Rauner’s disapproval rating was up to 51.6 percent, up from 49.9 percent in a similar October poll. In those polls, the approval rating hovered around 32 and 33 percent.
A year ago, the same poll taken 100 days into Rauner’s term found him with a 40.6 percent approval rating and 36.3 percent disapproving.
Michael Carrigan, president of the Illinois AFL-CIO, said Rauner has succeeded at one thing – uniting Labor against him.
“After living under the rule of Gov. Rauner for a year, I can resolutely say the Labor Movement is solidly together from the top to the bottom of the state,” he said.
“Everyone in Labor clearly sees his agenda doesn’t help those in the middle class. He doesn’t seem to realize there is no public support for what he wants to do.”