As another year comes to an end, so does another year of listening sessions for a Democrat from Middleton.
And, it's a milestone. U.S. Senator Russ Feingold completes his 15 th year of listening to voters in each of Wisconsin's 72 counties, and the public's priorities have changed a bit over the years. Feingold says the leading topic had almost always been health care, but it has moved down to second place, to make room for comments about the war in Iraq.
"In the last two or three years, for the first time ever, foreign policy is the top topic. We used to get two questions a year on foreign policy. Now it's the top topic but the reason is less about 9-11 than the anger about the Iraq war.
Feingold says Wisconsinites are not unique in their concerns about the war… "But the politicians aren't listening."
UW-Madison political scientist Charles Franklin isn't surprised. He says it makes sense that people are interested in foreign affairs … we're fighting a war in Iraq. However, he says as casualties have dropped over the past six months in Iraq, the importance of the war in voters' minds might be going down over the next six months, and that could change the political atmosphere.
"That's really unknown territory right now. So we could go into the fall elections with the war rebounding to be overwhelmingly the most important issue, but we could paradoxically go into the election with the war having wound down enough that it's no longer at the top of people's minds."
If the housing crisis leads to a recession of some kind, Franklin says that could change the number one issue on people's minds to the economy. The politics of the election would dramatically change, he says, if voters' concerns moved away from the war to the economy, but making any prediction this early is just too dangerous.
NOTE: Following Foreign Affairs (1) and Health Care (2)Ed ucation (3), Immigration (4) and Energy (5) round out the top five issues of concern with Wisconsin residents, as related to Feingold during his listening sessions. Also on the list are Environment (6), Administration criticism (7), Veterans (8-tie), Agriculture (8-tie) and Social Security (9).