The Wisconsin Recall Election: What Does it All Mean?

In case you haven’t noticed, Wisconsin has been a hot house of progressive/liberal versus conservative/libertarian politics since Scott Walker’s election to governor in 2010.   He was elected to reform government spending and create jobs, but not as he has pretended, to curtail the public unions’ collective bargaining powers (*1).

While Walker was trying to pass a law to that effect back then, public union sympathizers and liberals in general stormed the Bastille, otherwise known at the Wisconsin State House.  Sit ins and other demonstrations became the order of the day which eventually led to the  recall election this past Tuesday.

Walker won 53.2% – 46.3%, according to one source.

English: Protesters demonstrating at the Wisco...

Protesters demonstrating at the Wisconsin State Capitol against the collective bargaining restriction on public employee unions  (Wikipedia)

Both parties immediately got their spinning wheels in gear.  For the Dems, this was a case of being hugely outspent by monied interests largely outside the state, against which they valiantly competed with a gritty ground game of over 50,000 volunteer door ringers and the like.   For the Reps this showed that “the people” (well, more than half) favored Walker’s “reforms” and his courageous stand against the public-sector  unions who were draining the public coffers of both state and local governments.

Some of each is true, but both narratives are misleading, as one might expect.  First of all, there are several editorials in the liberal press decrying the huge disparity in the money Reps spent, 7-to-9 times that of the Dems.   But this is only takes into account money contributed directly to each campaign.   The NY Times shows overall spending by both sides to be $45.6 to $17.9 million.  Less than 3-to-1, a significant advantage to be sure, but not Tsunami size (*2).  Also, some exit polls indicate 9 of 10 voters had made up their minds prior to May, so tons of Walker money in negative ads might have gone to waste last month.

As for the Rep spin, well,  in exit polls about 52% indicated support for Walkers’ actions vs. the public unions, but about the same per cent indicated a favorable impression of those unions.   So, what?  We like you, but we think you’ve been spoiled, and we’re taking away your allowance?

What might explain Walker’s win better is the 60% who indicated in exit polls that recalls should only be for misconduct in office.  I think for many or even most of them Walker did not fit the bill (and another 10% didn’t believe in recalls at all).  In short, the clearest take away of the recall election may be there shouldn’t have been a recall election, and we shouldn’t read so much into it now.

Only 62% of union households (defined by one union member, I think) voted for Barrett.  Maybe many of the other 38% were not exactly voting for Walker but against his recall on insufficient grounds.  Maybe even two or three or 300 were members of public unions.

Or they were members of private unions with resentments of their own.   A Wisconsin friend heard a UAW member on the radio explain why he didn’t vote.  He had always voted for Democrats, but was quite upset about teachers and state workers who drive cars made in the southern states (non-union shops).  He felt that was a slap in the face to private union members by public union members.  In short, the private and public union people were far from unified.

What I find interesting about this  UAW member is his reasoning was his own, and not easily generalizable.  If we sat down with 100 voters and went through the decision making process of each (assuming for the moment each knew), we might see many other factors at work, far afield of the spun “truths” of the two parties.

One factor hard to gauge is the role of resentment.   With huge deficits at all levels of government, I think the notion of fat pensions and health care benefits for government workers prompts resentment by many who don’t receive them.   Count me in.  Bad times have made us a pretty grumpy people,  looking for targets for our anger.  It is not mere coincidence that here in San Diego two anti-public union ballots measures were passed Tuesday, one altering the nature of our pension system for city workers.  San Jose passed similar propositions.

So, did the conservative/libertarian values of Scott Walker prevail?    I’m sure speculation and spin will continue for a long time.  More relevant to the national scene is what this portends for the November election.  In that regard an exit poll stat indicated continued support for Obama, 51 to 44 per cent Romney, with 18% of those who voted for Walker sticking with Obama for president.

So what does all of this portend for the general election?  Your guess is as good as mine, but as I type you can bet a cottage industry of analysis is fomenting, on both left and right,  all aimed at answering that question.


(1*)   I say pretend, but I could also have said “lied.”  Walker has often indicated that the dismantling of public union collective bargaining was part of his platform.  If so, it was his little secret.  He stressed reforms like reducing employee pensions, but said nothing about doing away with collective bargaining.

(*2)  The amount of Walker donated money is not as significant as where it came from.  Much of it came from out of state and a lot of that from a handful of very rich people.  Unless you favor government by the very wealthy few, this is a bad precedent.  Compliments of the Citizen United Supreme Court decision of 2010.


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