Wisconsin – Recall Election Prospects for Tom Barrett Hinge on Reminding People They’re Embarrassed of Scott Walker – 31 May 2012


This headline sums up all my worries about the upcoming recall vote for Gov. Scott Walker in Wisconsin: “New Wisconsin Poll Shows Walker Maintaining Lead; Obama Gaining Strength”. Wisconsin is now a state where Obama is doing well, but Walker will be returned to power? There is no reason why, if Wisconsin residents embrace the President’s message, they should not also embrace Tom Barrett’s message and turf Scott Walker. It is disturbing to see there is a gap here.

But perhaps Barrett can close this gap. Even the poll mentioned in this article, which looks like it places Walker way ahead, is within the margin of error for the poll. For some reason, poll takers don’t ask the tradition thousand voters, but ask fewer respondents and consequently deal with higher error margins. This poll has Walker at 52% and Barrett at 45%. The margin of error is about 4%, so it is possible that Walker really has 48% and Barrett 49%. Granted, it is also possible the 4% could cut the other way, but the point is, Barrett does still have a shot. Other polls do have Barrett closer than this – though unfortunately, the ones that give him a better shot still appear to be mostly Democratic party-commissioned polls rather than independent ones.

I do worry that part of the problem is that the Wisconsin protest movement, which takes voting seriously, is being superceded at a national level by the Occupy movement, which mostly does not take voting seriously and is fairly obviously dominated by organisers who are hostile to electoral democracy and politicians generally. Perhaps some individuals who might have been mobilised by the Wisconsin protests are now going to stay home and let Governor Walker continue to steamroller democracy in Wisconsin. (Indeed, those of that mindset will probably be delighted if Walker wins, because it will provide a green light for an expansion of the “democracy doesn’t work, so let’s have street battles instead” political strategy they favour.)

Of course, if “people giving up on voting” were the sole explanation, Obama would probably be losing in Wisconsin as well. To understand what’s really going on, we need to look at that group of voters who support the President but have not signed on to defeat the Governor.

The problem may be that those working for Barrett are alienating independent voters by publicly grousing about how little help they’re getting from Obama at the national level (not a smart move if Wisconsin voters appear to be more well-disposed to Obama than Barrett), and about how little money they have to fight this campaign (Wisconsin independents will be more impressed by judicious-spending Democratic Davids defeating big-money Republican Goliaths than they will be by big-spending Democrats pouring money into Wisconsin the way even bigger-spending Republicans have).

If you want to win those independent voters over, I think there’s one phrase, repeated as often as possible, that will do it. “Tom Barrett won’t embarrass the State of Wisconsin”. That’s the reason this recall will have legs, if it does, because people recognise that, whatever they may think of Republicans generally, Scott Walker is an embarrassment to the State of Wisconsin.

A recall election requires serious infractions to be legitimate in the eyes of the average voter. There have been such infractions, again and again, in Scott Walker’s administration.

This isn’t about partisan affiliation, it’s about not having the kind of governor that wants to turn back the clock on eight decades of social legislation backed by a wide consensus across the US. This is about people in Wisconsin being able to hold their heads up high when considering their state government instead of covering their faces in shame.

To win this recall election, Barrett’s supporters must remind people of that.

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