Professor Pundits: Watching Wisconsin

Wisconsin’s Republican governor just survived a recall election. Will that have any impact on the presidential race in a state that has historically gone to Democrats? In their latest political commentary on the presidential race, the Professor Pundits offer differing views on the importance of Wisconsin events to the national political scene.

Got a question about the presidential campaign for the Professor Pundits? Send your questions to pundits@middlebury.edu.

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  1. The election in Wisconsin did have national implications because union monies and bussed in members failed to get their way. This is less about defeating unions and more about the general public realizing 1.we cannot continue to borrow +$0.40 on every $1; government spends; 2. The public sector is sucking the private sector dry and needs to be reigned in and and 3. Governments need to balance their budgets just like everyone else.

  2. Nice discussion! I agree that it doesn’t matter to the presidential election in the fall so much. I think that the WI right needs to be careful because they won mainly because the dem’s didn’t get a candidate that they could really get behind like a Russ Feingold and that they got WAY more $ to fight the recall.

    WI is not a tea party state, I’m from Madison and I know that Madison isn’t the same as the rest of the state but I also know that WI is proud to be the birth place of progressive ideas and values. The real story here is how tea party ultra right wing 2010 politics has radicalized and divided what was a

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    peaceful state and now its a total mess for both parties. Very sad all around.

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  3. Wisconsin ended up being a replay of the 2010 race for governor and this disappointed the labor movement and its allies. Barrett beat out the favored candidate in the Democratic primary of the labor movement. This meant having to shift support to a Democrat less favored by labor with the result of diminished enthusiasm. Instead of a contest that focused on Walker’s war with organized labor, voters faced a choice that replayed the choices of 2010. It became a rerun instead of an election focused on Walker’s war with public employee unions. It is ironic that public employee unionism that was done to protect public employees against a change of party control of state government from

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    Republican to Democrat has now seen the Democratic Party seeking to protect public employee unions while the Republican party seeks to destroy them in what is a role reversal of the initial alignment. Certainly, this is a reflection of how a national ideological movement within the Republican party has vanquished whatever was left of Progressive ideology in the Wisoonsin Republican Party. Wisconsin is an example of how the parties have become nationalized as a result of ideological polarization that has swept the GOP throughout the nation.

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  4. Thanks for the thoughtful comments. All three touch on a couple of themes that Bert and I raised in our commentary. First, as the comments by Greg and James indicate, issue activists on both sides of the Wisconsin contest are going to interpret the outcome in terms of their political predispositions. That is, the Walker supporters see this as a victory for fiscal prudence, and the recall advocates believe it reflects Republican union bashing. Both portray the battle in terms of deep ideological differences reflecting national fissures rooted in party politics more broadly. And, as Bert notes, neither side is likely to back down from utilizing the polarizing tactics that characterized the election recall.

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    But my point is that’s probably not how most voters viewed the recall vote. Instead, this was largely a replay of the 2010 gubernatorial race, and Walker won because the fundamentals, particularly the local economy, but also opposition to recalls for political purposes, favored him.

    And, while I appreciate Matt’s concern that Wisconsin has become polarized, one needs to be careful about interpreting too much into an highly-charged election where voters must choose between two options that have been demonized by the other side. I think Matt is right – Wisconsin is not a Tea Party state. But when you must choose between a labor-backed candidate and a Tea Party-preferred one, there is a tendency to interpret the results as a sign that the voters prefer one or the other, when in fact they may be lukewarm toward both, or they may not view their choice in the same terms as labor unions and Tea Party activists define the choice. That’s why I don’t think we want to misinterpret the Wisconsin results.

    To Greg’s point about union money – note that Walker heavily outspent Barrett. And to James’ point regarding labor’s preference for someone other than Barrett – it says something about labor’s strength, I think, that they weren’t able to overcome Barrett’s name recognition to run their preferred candidate as the Democratic nominee.

    These are great comments – keep them coming!

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  5. I think Matt Laux is right that if someone with greater statewide support than Barrett, such as Russ Feingold, had entered the race, the Democrats might have done better. How much better is up for debate, however, and Walker did win by a substantial margin. Perhaps the very fact that Feingold sat this one out says something about how savvy Democrats (Obama included) viewed their chances in the recall.

    The other point that I think is worth making is on the exit poll finding that people were against the recall in principle unless major improprieties were at issue. I’m going to disagree with Matt Dickinson a little bit on this one — I’m skeptical that this was actually a big

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    factor in the outcome. The reason is that this view so clearly echos Walker’s campaign message that it is quite possible that people who already supported Walker (for whatever reason) were the ones voicing this opinion in the exit poll, picking up on their preferred candidate’s talking points. This is an issue a lot in public opinion polling: do the issues drive candidate choice, or do people’s preferred candidates shape their view of the issues? I’d say it’s the latter more often than most pundits recognize.

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  6. AFSCME got its start in Wisconsin and was the lead union in the recall campaign. Final result of the recalls in Wisconsin is that Democrats now control the state senate. Organized labor expected to dictate the choice for the gubernatorial recall and was certainly disappointed when Barrett became the Democratic nominee over Falk. Barrett had been hard-nosed with unions as Milwaukee’s mayor and had to spend time clarifying that he was different from Walker on dealing with unions. Russ Feingold would have been a better candidate but he declined to run. Most Likely, he assessed that the risk of losing was far too great.

  7. In the end, every political race breaks down to four different, but connected, pieces. They vary in each race as to importance. They are: (in no particular order) Candidate, Issues, Organization and Money.

    In most elections in which the unions play a part, money is a big issue and the unions usually have the most. Money was important here to get out the message to both sides. The unions miscalculated the willingness of fiscal conservatives to engage and raise and donate big money. The Walker side rased more than twice as much as the unions. Edge: Walker

    Walker is a good candidate; Barrett is not an especially good one. He has lost several races; this

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    is likely the last time he will try. Edge: Walker

    The organization is usually a union strong point; not only are they organized by definition (“Organized Labor”), but they walk the precincts and get out the vote. Walker countered with heartfelt support by Tea Party activists who countered this effectively. Edge: Neither

    The issues. This is where Walker had a decided edge. He did not win the first election by much, but what he accomplished in office was to show the entire voting populace hat he could balance the budget and wrest control of the union money from the union bosses and put it back in the hands of the union members. Many declined to pay dues, once it was an option. BIg point here. He also showed the members they could get insurance cheaper and eliminate the big profit in the union owned insurance company that had captive users in the union members; Walker changed that and the members liked having the money intead of the union bosses giving it to Democrat candidates. Big point here.

    The issues of fiscal responsibility and and no more union mandatory dues taken from paycheck and paid to unions as a matter of law were very popular and the people who were not ordinarily engaged liked those issues and the Walker side. Big Edge: Walker.

    The above is a rough breakdown, but shows why not only did Walker win, but many other states and cities will follow. In California, the cities of San Diego and San Jose have already adopted similar laws. San Diego is generally conservative, but San Jose is decidedly liberal. Yert, they voted to have pension and salary reform.

    This election was mnore than just a local trial; it morphed into something the unions never anticipated, a virtual Tea Party Spring.

    This November, watch for these issues to be played out across America. I suspect that Romney, who is an excellent candidate, but not nearly as charismatic as President Obama, will benefit from the having more money, and having a better organization, but mostly from the issues that have become national. He, and almost all Republicans, will catch the wave that is voter backlash to public employee salaries exceeding private ones and public pensions going out of control In the November election, it is all about the issues, jobs, economy, debt. Huge Edge: Romney.

    Look for a landslide with the Republicans winning the White House, The Senatge and increasing their numbers in the House. It is 1994 on steroids.

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  8. Great comments, as always. Let me respond in the order in which they came.

    Bert and I rarely disagree on anything (since we are looking at the same data!), so it was refreshing (in a manner of speaking!) to hear him push back on the issue of exit polls and how much of the pro-Walker vote was driven by opposition to the use of the recall to express political disagreement. While Bert raises an excellent point, I’m going to stand by my claim that opposition to the recall itself did influence the final vote, with almost 7 in 10 voters, according to the exit polls, either disapproving of the recall under any circumstances, or as used for political purposes.

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    That percentage is greater than Walker’s winning total (keeping in mind, of course, that exit polls represent a sample). Walker may have successfully framed that issue as a campaign talking point, but he could do so because it resonated with the predispositions of many Wisconsin voters, some of whom likely still voted against him.

    I agree with both Bert and James – potentially stronger candidates, like Feingold, chose not to run for the same reason I believe Obama did not choose to go all in during the recall fight: the chances of losing were too high. Potential candidates are always making these types of strategic calculations.

    In asserting a reprise of the 1994 Republican “wave”, Sheldon makes a bold prediction regarding the outcome of the 2012 national elections. Bert and I will be talking extensively about all the nation elections during the next several months but – as of now – I know of no forecast model that is predicting either a wave election affecting Congress or a Republican romp to the White House. Matters may change, of course, but for now Sheldon is staking out a position that – so far – our best forecast models don’t support.

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  9. Matt:

    This may interest you. I should have credited Root when I posted (oversight).
    A Las Vegas “odds maker” opines on why Obama will get “killed” by Romney in November.

    Interesting analysis and only a minute or so to read.

    Wayne Allyn Root
    May 30, 2012

    Most political predictions are made by biased pollsters, pundits, or prognosticators who are either rooting for Republicans or Democrats. I am neither. I am a former Libertarian Vice Presidential nominee, and a well-known Vegas oddsmaker with one of the most accurate records of predicting political races.

    But as an oddsmaker with a pretty remarkable track record of picking political races, I play no favorites. I simply use common sense to call them as I see them. Back

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    in late December I released my New Years Predictions. I predicted back then- before a single GOP primary had been held, with Romney trailing for months to almost every GOP competitor from Rick Perry to Herman Cain to Newt- that Romney would easily rout his competition to win the GOP nomination by a landslide. I also predicted that the Presidential race between Obama and Romney would be very close until election day. But that on election day Romney would win by a landslide similar to Reagan-Carter in 1980.

    Understanding history, today I am even more convinced of a resounding Romney victory. 32 years ago at this moment in time, Reagan was losing by 9 points to Carter. Romney is right now running even in polls. So why do most pollsters give Obama the edge?

    First, most pollsters are missing one ingredient- common sense. Here is my gut instinct. Not one American who voted for McCain 4 years ago will switch to Obama. Not one in all the land. But many millions of people who voted for an unknown Obama 4 years ago are angry, disillusioned, turned off, or scared about the future. Voters know Obama now- and that is a bad harbinger.

    Now to an analysis of the voting blocks that matter in U.S. politics:

    *Black voters. Obama has nowhere to go but down among this group. His endorsement of gay marriage has alienated many black church-going Christians. He may get 88% of their vote instead of the 96% he got in 2008. This is not good news for Obama.

    *Hispanic voters. Obama has nowhere to go but down among this group. If Romney picks Rubio as his VP running-mate the GOP may pick up an extra 10% to 15% of Hispanic voters (plus lock down Florida). This is not good news for Obama.

    *Jewish voters. Obama has been weak in his support of Israel. Many Jewish voters and big donors are angry and disappointed. I predict Obama’s Jewish support drops from 78% in 2008 to the low 60’s. This is not good news for Obama.

    *Youth voters. Obama’s biggest and most enthusiastic believers from 4 years ago have graduated into a job market from hell. Young people are disillusioned, frightened, and broke- a bad combination. The enthusiasm is long gone. Turnout will be much lower among young voters, as will actual voting percentages. This not good news for Obama.

    *Catholic voters. Obama won a majority of Catholics in 2008. That won’t happen again. Out of desperation to please women, Obama went to war with the Catholic Church over contraception. Now he is being sued by the Catholic Church. Majority lost. This is not good news for Obama.

    *Small Business owners.Because I ran for Vice President last time around, and I’m a small businessman myself, I know literally thousands of small business owners. At least 40% of them in my circle of friends, fans and supporters voted for Obama 4 years ago to “give someone different a chance.” I warned them that he would pursue a war on capitalism and demonize anyone who owned a business…that he’d support unions over the private sector in a big way…that he’d overwhelm the economy with spending and debt. My friends didn’t listen. Four years later, I can’t find one person in my circle of small business owner friends voting for Obama. Not one. This is not good news for Obama.

    *Blue collar working class whites. Do I need to say a thing? White working class voters are about as happy with Obama as Boston Red Sox fans feel about the New York Yankees. This is not good news for Obama.

    *Suburban moms. The issue isn’t contraception…it’s having a job to pay for contraception. Obama’s economy frightens these moms. They are worried about putting food on the table. They fear for their children’s future. This is not good news for Obama.

    *Military Veterans. McCain won this group by 10 points. Romney is winning by 24 points. The more our military vets got to see of Obama, the more they disliked him. This is not good news for Obama.
    Add it up. Is there one major group where Obama has gained since 2008? Will anyone in America wake up on election day saying “I didn’t vote for Obama 4 years ago. But he’s done such a fantastic job, I can’t wait to vote for him today.” Does anyone feel that a vote for Obama makes their job more secure?

    Forget the polls. My gut instincts as a Vegas oddsmaker and common sense small businessman tell me this will be a historic landslide and a world-class repudiation of Obama’s radical and risky socialist agenda. It’s Reagan-Carter all over again.

    But I’ll give Obama credit for one thing- he is living proof that familiarity breeds contempt.

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