Friday, June 8, 2012

No Need to Panic in Wisconsin

The unfortunate results of Tuesday's recall elections in Wisconsin should give those of us on the left some significant cause to stop for a moment and think about the results, and to retrench our strategic thinking in the long term quest to win over the hearts and minds of the American public.

If you're here, you probably know the back story and are disappointed by the results. From the department of small victories comes the news that one Wisconsin Senator was recalled, and that body now resides in Democratic hands.

But we need to be honest here and admit that progressives in Wisconsin took the wrong tack. In an environment where only 30% of voters think a recall for non official misconduct is appropriate, running a recall of politicians, especially a sitting governor, for spearheading the passing of laws that negatively impacted only a portion of the population is not a solid strategic tack.

Yes, laws passed in Wisconsin adversely impacted the ability of public sector employees to collectively bargain. Yes, this negatively impacts this core Democratic (for the most part anyway) constituency. But, to be frank, a majority of voters don't care enough about this subset of the population to blow up what they view, rightly or wrongly, as a democratically elected majority. The typical, prudent response of the electorate is: run a better set of candidates next election cycle, with one exception.

While the moderate portion of the electorate, and it does exist, is willing to do is support ballot referendums, and this would have been the better tack to take than a full on recall. One need only look back one year at the successful overturning of Senate Bill 5 in Ohio to get the productive results opponents of what Walker and company were looking for.

Gray Davis not withstanding, and let's not undersell what Enron did  in California in 2002, people do not like recalling politicians. They insist on adherence to the election cycle, unless said politician is convicted of misconduct while in office and refuses to resign.

Besides, if you take the long view, Scott Walker is going to do jail time anyway.


Any number of pundits will tell you any number of things about which they know very little. Fundamentally, they ignore that all politics are local, and assume that the electorate sees the same en masse us versus them simplified view of politics as they do. So there are some notions being asserted that need to be dispelled.

The first is that the Walker recall is an indicator for what will happen in the fall. It isn't. Exit polling among voters still give the President a six to nine point edge in Wisconsin in the fall. He will still win the state handily.

The second is that this speaks to the power of dark money in elections. While I can't prove it, we'll once again rely on exit polling that states that over 90% of the Wisconsin electorate made up their mind on how to vote more than 30 days before the recall election took place. This left less than 10% of the electorate, at most, to be "influenced" by the influx of out of state money, and this group of people voted for the challenger by a 30% margin.

While it's easy to rail against Citizens United, someone should probably take a good, hard look at the degree of influence commercials really have on the electorate. Groups pour billions of dollars into the airing of these commercials, and by September it becomes a cacophony of noise that most people tune out. I would submit that if we come up with a study that can withstand economic vigor, influence groups using commercials really impact less than 3% of the electorate that doesn't already "lean" in one direction or another.

So take a deep breath and resume your per-convention vacations. The lesson in Wisconsin is one of a tactical nature, nothing more, nothing less. Local politics are local. Ballot referendums are a considerably better venue for correcting legislative injustices than recall attempts. Take the long view, and adjust accordingly.

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