A poll released Tuesday found more voters disapprove of Gov. Scott Walker’s performance than approve, although he still leads most potential Democratic opponents who could face him in 2014. 

According to a Public Policy Polling report, 49 percent of Wisconsin voters approved of Walker’s performance, while 49 percent disapprove.

Walker had an approval rating of 51 percent last November, when Public Policy Polling conducted its last survey.

PPP conducted 1,799 phone interviews of Wisconsin voters statewide to track Walker’s approval from Feb. 21 to Feb. 24, the poll report said adding that polls began the day after Walker released his new biennial budget proposal. The margin of error was 2.3 percent, the report said.

The Democratic-leaning polling firm also surveyed voters’ support of five possible Democratic gubernatorial opponents against Walker in 2014, the report said. 

PPP asked respondents their likelihood of voting for the other Democratic candidates versus Walker in the upcoming election, along with their favorability of each candidate, the report said.

The Democratic candidates included Assembly Minority Leader Rep. Peter Barca, D-Kenosha; Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton; former U.S. Representative Steve Kagen, D-Green Bay; President of the Professional Firefighters of Wisconsin Mahlon Mitchell and former U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold.

According to the report, Feingold was the only candidate voters said would have the potential to edge out Walker in 2014, with a 49-47 percent edge, the report said.

Dustin Ingalls, assistant PPP director, said while Walker’s ratings have decreased, he remains more popular than many Tea Party governors in other states.

University of Wisconsin professor of journalism and mass communication Dhavan Shah, an expert on public opinion, said there has been a national shift away from Tea Party politicians.

“Nationally, public approval has stood behind a less aggressive stance than members of the Tea Party would want to advance, but nonetheless, there has been a push back against [those policies],” Shah said.

Ingalls said Walker is likely to repeat his lucrative fundraising efforts he demonstrated during the recall when he runs for re-election in 2014. Still, Ingalls said a deep-pocketed Democrat could pose a challenge to Walker.

According to Shah, Feingold is a seasoned candidate and he said the former senator may have a better chance to unseat Walker compared to Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, for example, who has lost twice to the current governor.

“[Feingold was] a respected former senator…and many people view it as a mistake that we took away this respected senator in favor of [Ron] Johnson,” Shah said. “[People] see Feingold as having name recognition, respect and stature.”

According to Shah, many think Feingold is a candidate who has a thoughtful voice, some bipartisan support and a strong civil libertarian backing.

With still about a year and a half until the gubernatorial election, Shah said a number of issues could change this opinion. He said Wisconsin’s unemployment issue is decreasing, but not at the rate Walker promised.

Michael Wagner, UW journalism professor and expert on public opinion, said the governor’s new proposed budget could be a factor in the poll results as well as the natural decline in popularity chief executives often experience.

But, he added, Walker’s approval rating likely has not changed, due to the small margin of error.

“It is tempting to read into a three point drop,” Wagner said.  “But it is more meaningful if it stays that way or drops in month or two.”

We're hiring! Check out our jobs page. Applications due April 27th. badgerherald.com/about/get-involved/hiring.