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Reversal of fortune in Wisconsin

Over the weekend, liberal filmmaker Michael Moore said the fight in Wisconsin has “aroused a sleeping giant” for union rights across the country.

But the fight may have aroused a different “sleeping giant” -- the activist liberal Wisconsin electorate, which was dormant in the 2010 midterms.

A poll out today by the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute shows President Obama’s and Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s approval ratings heading in opposite directions.

Obama’s approval rating sits at a comfortable 53%-42%, above the national average, and a nine-point improvement in the poll from November. (In November -- after the Democrats' shellacking in the midterms -- the president’s approval in the poll was split at 44%-43%.)

By contrast, Walker’s approval rating is upside down – with 43% approving and 53% disapproving of how he’s handling his job. Walker’s “strongly disapprove” is a sky-high 45%; Obama’s is 26%. Walker’s favorability rating – also 43%-53% -- mirrors his approval. His negative rating is up 18 points from November, when his rating was 45%/35%. His “strongly unfavorable” is up to 41% from a “very unfavorable” rating of just 19% in November.

Wisconsin and the Midwest will be key once again to whether President Obama wins or loses a second term. Wisconsin has been something of a swing state, with Democrat John Kerry winning it in 2004 by just 0.38 percentage points -- the closest margin of any state in the presidential contest. Barack Obama won it by almost 14 percentage points in 2008. But in 2010, Republicans made big gains, taking over the governor’s seat, a U.S. Senate seat, two House seats, and several state legislative seats. And former Wisconsin GOP chairman Reince Priebus was able to use the party’s success there as a key selling point for his ascension to chairman of the Republican National Committee.

The fight over unions’ collective-bargaining rights has become national news, and has drawn protestors in the tens of thousands. Views of public employee unions are very favorable – 59% have a favorable opinion of them, just 34% view them negatively. Teachers have a 70%-25% fav-unfav; teachers’ unions have a lower, but still strong 59%-36%.

The poll also finds that by a 65%-33% margin, Wisconsin residents want Walker to compromise on the current standoff.

Midterm elections usually draw the most activist voters, and about 30% fewer voters turn out in them. In Wisconsin in 2010, just shy of 2.2 million people voted. That’s about 27% fewer than in 2008, when almost three million voted.

Members of the Tea Party were among the most enthusiastic voters in 2010. But the group is viewed unfavorably in this poll by a plurality of Wisconsin residents -- 38% view them positively, 44% negatively.

And even Democrats in the state legislature, with all 14 state senators fleeing the state to deny the GOP majority a quorum, enjoy a net-positive rating of 50%-42%, higher than Senate Republicans at 46%-46%.

A lot can happen between now and November 2012, but Republicans have to be concerned that Walker, who has said he refuses to compromise on his budget, may have overstepped.