New Poll: Wisconsinites Support Continued Action on Great Lakes Funding, Asian Carp

75% support continued funding for restoration programs

60% support construction of Asian carp barrier

Milwaukee (Oct. 1) –Wisconsin voters from all political stripes agree the federal government should be protecting and spending money to restore the Great Lakes, according to a new poll released today by the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition.


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Majorities of Democrats, Republicans and Independents want the federal government to continue its investment to restore the Great Lakes. Similarly, majorities of voters from all political colors would be very concerned if Asian carp entered the Great Lakes, and they support federal action to erect a barrier in the Chicago River to keep out the voracious non-native invader.

“Although it is unusual to find an issue that brings voters together across the values and beliefs that divide us, such issues do exist, and in Wisconsin, protecting Lake Michigan, Lake Superior and the other Great Lakes is one,” said Paul Fallon, president of the Columbus-based Fallon Research & Communications, Inc., which conducted the survey. “Our polling indicates that protecting the Great Lakes is one issue that unites Republicans, Democrats and Independents. Wisconsin voters across the political spectrum want the federal government to continue its effort to restore the Great Lakes.”

The Coalition released the poll as it calls on President Obama and Gov. Romney to commit to supporting Great Lakes restoration and action on Asian carp.

“This should be a wake-up call to both Presidential campaigns,” said Emma White, senior director at Belden Russonello Strategists, LLC, a Washington, D.C.–based polling firm that has advised the Coalition. “To be successful in Wisconsin and other swing states, candidates must not only hold their base vote but also attract independent, unaffiliated voters. This poll shows that standing up to protect the Great Lakes and taking action to beat back an Asian carp invasion are winning issues among this critical constituency.”

“Millions of people are counting on the next president of the United States to stand up for Lake Michigan, Lake Superior and the other Great Lakes,” said Joel Brammeier, co-chair of the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition. “Great Lakes programs are producing results in Wisconsin, but there is more work to do. Cutting restoration funding and failing to permanently solve the Asian carp crisis will cost taxpayers more money because problems will only become more difficult and expensive the longer we wait.”

Fallon Research & Communications surveyed 801 Wisconsin voters. Key findings include:

  • Three-quarters of Wisconsin voters (75%) overall support continuing Great Lakes restoration funding, including 63% of Republicans, 78% of Independents, and 84% of Democrats. Men are particularly supportive, with 81% of men overall supporting continued restoration funding.
  • Support for Great Lakes restoration funding remains strong even when voters are asked if it should take a budget cut like everything else to reduce the deficit. In fact, more voters reject such an idea than support it. Nearly half (49%) say restoration funding should be maintained to keep the Great Lakes healthy, including a majority of Independents (52%) and Democrats (67%). In comparison, only 39% of voters overall say restoration funding should be cut like everything else to reduce the deficit.
  • Eight in ten Wisconsin voters (80%) have heard at least a little about Asian carp, and voters respond with a great deal of concern when given a brief description of the threat posed by the invasive species. Among all voters, 92% say they would be concerned if the fish entered Lake Erie, and 56% would be very concerned. Independents are slightly more likely to be very concerned (59%) than Democrats (55%) or Republicans (54%).
  • Given the problem posed by Asian carp, a majority of voters (60%) support erecting a barrier in the Chicago River to keep the fish out of the Great Lakes. Independents are most likely to support erecting the barrier (66%), although majorities of Democrats (61%) and Republicans (53%) also support the barrier. Men are also more likely to favor a barrier (69%).
  • Informed of both sides of an ongoing debate in Congress on the Clean Water Act, 66% of voters overall support a more expansive reading of the law to protect small streams and wetlands from dangerous pollution. They reject the argument that doing so would hurt the economy and burden businesses with unnecessary regulations. Support for the Clean Water Act unifies Democrats (88%) and Independents (65%), and divides Republicans (43% believe it should apply to small streams and wetlands, 42% that it should not).


“The people of Wisconsin understand how important the Great Lakes are to our environment and our economy,” said Jeff Skelding, campaign director for the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition. “It’s essential that both presidential candidates put forward a strong Great Lakes platform. Now is not the time to scale back our federal government’s commitment to a resource that provides drinking water to more than 30 million people.”

Great Lakes restoration has enjoyed bipartisan support from Republican and Democratic administrations. President George Bush led a region-wide initiative to craft a plan to restore the Great Lakes, resulting in a $20 billion Great Lakes restoration plan. President Barack Obama launched the federal Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, infusing more than $1 billion in the states of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin to restore habitat, clean up toxic pollution from rivers and harbor, fight invasive species and reduce polluted runoff from farms and cities.

In the first two years of the program, Wisconsin has received over $69 million for more than 130 restoration projects around the state. Examples of the progress being made in Wisconsin include:

  • Removing PCBs and heavy metals from the Kinnickinnic River near Milwaukee that is improving water quality and spurring economic development along the waterfront.
  • Restoring wetlands in western Green Bay that that is allowing northern Pike to return, as well as providing new habitat for migrating birds.
  • Installing rain gardens in a parking lot at Bradford Beach in Milwaukee that is reducing storm water pollution on the beach, transforming a once-polluted shoreline into a hotspot for beachgoers.
  • Building structures to help fish bypass two dams along the Menominee River that is helping restore Lake Sturgeon populations to Lake Michigan.


“Great Lakes restoration projects are putting people to work and delivering results for Wisconsin communities,” said Mike Carlson, government relations director for Gathering Waters Conservancy. “There’s more to do, which is why we need the next president to step up to the plate and support robust Great Lakes funding.”

The next president and congress face critical budget choices due to the looming “fiscal cliff”—the combination of mandatory tax increases and steep federal spending cuts as part of the 2011 debt-ceiling deal. The co-called “sequestration” would cut 8.2 percent from domestic and military programs. The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, for example, would be reduced about $25 million, from $300 million to $275 million, based on current funding levels, according to the Office of Budget and Management.

“Now is not the time to pull the rug out from Great Lakes restoration efforts,” said Brammeier. “In Wisconsin and elsewhere, communities have projects waiting in the wings to confront urgent problems. Reducing the federal investment in the Lakes will allow problems to worsen and become more costly to fix.”

Great Lakes restoration programs provide a solid return on investment. The Brookings Institution found that every $1 investment in restoration programs produces at least $2 in economic benefit in the form of increased tourism, fishing and home values. Economists found that a Michigan restoration project produced a 6-to-1 return on investment.

Despite progress to clean up the Great Lakes, problems persist. Sewage pollution, invasive species, loss of wetlands and run-off of manure and excessive fertilizer into waterways that feed the Great Lakes have led to a resurgence of problems, most notably harmful algal blooms that pose a risk to people, fish and wildlife.

The Great Lakes are a vital resource. More than 1.6 million people in Wisconsin depend on Lake Michigan and Lake Superior for drinking water. More than 170,000 jobs in the Badger State are directly connected to the Lakes. And more than 250,000 people a year enjoy fishing in Lake Michigan and Lake Superior.

“People in Wisconsin love their Great Lakes and do not want to see the federal government turn its back on restoration efforts,” said George Meyer, executive director, Wisconsin Wildlife Federation. “Great Lakes restoration is not a Democratic or Republican issue. It’s an issue defined by urgency and action. We want the next president to carry the torch for Great Lakes restoration so that these precious lakes can be enjoyed by people now and generations to come.”

The Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition consists of 120 environmental, conservation, outdoor recreation organizations, zoos, aquariums and museums representing millions of people, whose common goal is to restore and protect the Great Lakes. Learn more at or follow us on Twitter @healthylakes.

Formed in 1970, the Alliance for the Great Lakes is the oldest independent Great Lakes organization in North America. Our mission is to: conserve and restore the world’s largest freshwater resource using policy, education and local efforts, ensuring a healthy Great Lakes and clean water for generations of people and wildlife. More about the Alliance for the Great Lakes is online at

Gathering Waters Conservancy is the statewide association for Wisconsin’s land trust community, with a mission to help land trusts, landowners, and communities protect the places that make Wisconsin special.  Our goal is to increase the amount of protected land in Wisconsin through private, voluntary action.

The Wisconsin Wildlife Federation is comprised of over 170 hunting, fishing, trapping and forestry-related organizations located throughout the state. The Federation is dedicated to conservation education and the advancement of sound conservation policies.

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