Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

Why Romney Can’t Win Wisconsin

Romney's misunderstanding of the Republican base could kill him.

By - Sep 27th, 2012 09:30 am
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On Tuesday night I got a Republican robocall featuring a recording of vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan from his speech that day about the horrible calls by referees in the Packers’ game: “Give me a break,” Ryan declared. “It’s time to get the real refs…It reminds me of President (Barack) Obama and the economy. If you can’t get it right, it’s time to get out.”

Aside from the fact that Ryan previously supported the crackdown on public unions and pensions in Wisconsin and now appears to support the referees union and their battle for better pension benefits, there’s also the question whether most Americans would equate the keystone cops-incompetence of the replacement refs with that of President Obama. There’s little evidence in the polls to suggest this.

All of which gave an air of unreality to this quickly-slapped-together robocall. Mitt Romney’s pick of Paul Ryan as V-P was supposed to help bring Wisconsin into the win column, but all the signs suggest that’s unlikely.

Romney’s campaign began advertising in Wisconsin a few weeks ago, largely because it is looking more and more like the crucial state of Ohio (no Republican presidential candidate has ever won without it) is slipping away. The obvious strategy was to try and take Wisconsin and Iowa, which together have about the same number of electoral votes as Ohio.

Easier said than done.  As the savvy poll analyst Nate Silver has noted, “The last time that the Democrat performed more strongly in Ohio than he did in Iowa was in 1980, when Jimmy Carter lost both states, but Ohio by a slightly narrower margin. The last Democrat to perform better in Ohio than he did in Wisconsin was Hubert H. Humphrey in 1968, who lost Ohio by two points, but Wisconsin by four. In other words, it seems unlikely that Mr. Romney can salvage either Iowa or Wisconsin if he’s already lost Ohio.”

Silver adds that while recent polls “have not been great for Mr. Romney” in Iowa, they are better than in Wisconsin, where the bounce Romney got from choosing Ryan as running mate “seems to have evaporated.” Silver says Obama has gained more ground in Wisconsin than in other states since the Democratic convention, and gives the president an edge of nearly 6 percentage points in Wisconsin, with an 87 percent chance of winning the state.

The recent Marquette Law School poll has been assailed by Republicans because there was a slight edge for Democrats among those polled. But even if the numbers are off slightly (which MU pollster Charles Franklin disputes), they are very bad for the GOP: Among likely voters, Obama’s rating is 55 percent favorable and 40 percent unfavorable, versus Romney’s 38 percent favorable and 54 percent unfavorable. More respondents (55 percent) blame George W. Bush for the current economic problems than Obama (30 percent) and most (47 percent) expect the economy will improve and only 12 percent say it will get worse.

What jumps out for me is the high disapproval rating (54 percent) for Romney in a state like Wisconsin. After all, whites lacking a college degree are a key part of the GOP base, and Wisconsin has a far higher percentage of white voters and a slightly higher percentage of people lacking a college degree than nationally. But a new survey by the Public Religion Research Institute shows some erosion in that base. While Romney has a 13 percentage point advantage nationally among whites without a college degree, that is driven by a huge, 40 point edge in the South. In the Midwest, in states like Ohio and Wisconsin, Romney actually trails Obama by 8 points among such voters.

Romney’s infamous comment suggesting that 47 percent of Americans were moochers was extraordinary on many levels, but what struck me was its attack on those Americans who tend to vote Republican. A stunning New York Times story in February found abundant evidence that people most dependent on government aid are most likely to vote Republican. Of 100 counties in America with the most dependence on government spending, two-thirds voted for John McCain in 2008. States that are heavily dependent on federal giving, like Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Arizona, are heavily Republican states.

The reasons for this are not clear (a good suspicion is these voters are more concerned about social issues like abortion and gun control), but the pattern is unmistakable. A study by Dartmouth College professor Dean Lacy has found that “Republican presidential candidates since 1984–when data on state tax burdens are first available—have won most of the states that benefit from federal spending, while Democrats have won most of the states that bankroll the federal government.”

Analyzing the 2000 election, Lacy found that Bush’s margin went up by 2 percentage points “for every additional dime of federal spending in a state per dollar of taxes paid by that state.”

Wisconsin, as is well-known, has always ranked near the bottom in federal spending received versus taxes paid, while Iowa is a net gainer, suggesting another reason why Romney might have a better chance with Hawkeyes than Badgers.

The analysis by Lacy and the Times turns on its head the idea that voters who want entitlements gravitate to the Democratic candidate. In fact, the reality is exactly the opposite. Which makes Romney’s attack on people who depend on entitlements a direct attack on the GOP base.

Bill Clinton has accused Romney of attacking the working poor, a growing category of Americans. “This is a rejection of basically more than three decades of bipartisan policy to support working families,” Clinton declared. “It’s not a bunch of freeloaders.”

In Wisconsin, which has always been heavily dependent on manufacturing, lots of whites lacking a college education have seen wages slashed or jobs lost during the Great Recession, and have had to rely on “handouts” like unemployment compensation and the earned income tax credit. They may not appreciate Romney’s characterization of them, and may express that feeling at the polls. Come November, this purple state may look very blue.

Short Takes

-I’ve heard from many questioning the overload of coverage of Paul Ryan by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. I can understand it: he is, after all, the first Wisconsinite in history to serve as V-P candidate for a major party. But if you’re going to do so much coverage, shouldn’t it include all the information, such as the fact he was booed by AARP, which was reported by countless media outlets.

-I’m told JS columnist Eugene Kane changed his mind about switching to a job as reporter, and will now take a buyout from the newspaper. The editors are reportedly considering moving James Causey up to replace Kane as a columnist. Causey, who now does a column for the editorial page, does more legwork, but at this point lacks the writing chops of Kane, who was a natural-born stylist.

-Even when Journal Sentinel reporter Ben Poston gets it right, he looks bad. There was nothing wrong with his latest story showing the Common Council is okay with PRI Management Group, the consultant chosen by the Fire and Police Commission to audit the police department’s crime data.

But it made his previous stories about aldermen “questioning the impartiality” of the consultant look slanted: he quoted only aldermen who sided with him. But as the council’s 9-5 vote showed, most saw no reason to find a different consultant. The independently elected City Comptroller, Martin Matson, also supported the approach.

If Fire and Police Commission head Mike Tobin is to be believed (and no one, including Poston, has provided evidence to the contrary), PRI is the foremost and perhaps only expert in this field. The council intends to have its conclusions analyzed by the comptroller for any bias or other problems. I don’t know if that is a perfect solution, but it seems the most reasonable on the table.

-The comments responding to my column on the county board’s growing power note that board members have introduced another proposal that would grab power from the county exec. The battle goes on.

5 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: Why Romney Can’t Win Wisconsin”

  1. All of these polls are using different schedules based on 2006 and 2008 for turnout. Who knows who will turnout yet?
    Causey or Kane, what is the difference? Both of them blame racism for every problem in Society. Conservatives ask why they do not spend the time finding teacher that will teach kids to read?

  2. William says:

    “It’s time to get the real refs…It reminds me of President (Barack) Obama and the economy.”

    The debacle of the replacement refs was a direct result of the greed of the ultra-rich owners. Gee Mr. Ryan, which candidate does that resemble?

  3. Bill Sweeney says:

    I have read where the GOP felt hopeful about Wisconsin because of the results of the Recall Walker vote count. This draws attention again to the issue of how many voters who, even though they did not like Walker or his policies, still either voted for Walker, or simply did not vote because they were against the whole idea of the recall. I believe that Bruce pointed out in an earlier article how Walker spent a lot of advertising early on during the recall campaign focusing on just this issue, ie regardless of how you feel about Walker, having a recall is illegitimate. Does anyone know if there was any estimate of how many voters fell into this category?

    On another note, it is going to be interesting to see how Paul Ryan weathers this campaign. From one point of view, he has nothing to lose. If Romney wins, he is Vice President. If Romney loses, Ryan has still increased his name recognition and profile across the country which could help if he decides to run for national office again. But prior to his becoming the Vice Presidential candidate, there was a storyline as to how Ryan was not your typical politician. In fact, he had a distaste for politics as usual. He was more high minded, more of a policy wonk as he liked to say, just interested in where the facts and evidence led him. This campaign has certainly tarnished, if not eviscerated, that reputation. The result may be that he is viewed in the future as more of an ideologue, not incapable of stooping to spreading deceptions and distortions in the tried and true traditions of dirty hands politics. It will be interesting to see how other members of congress deal with him after this national debut.

  4. why did we waste 7 cents on a robocall from Paul Ryan on Bruce. Should have had a Karl Marx fan call him. Paul ryan will be the next GOP candidate for president.

  5. Bruce Murphy says:

    Bob, at WCD, Mr. Marx has never been on the ballot as I recall. I like getting those robocalls and I must emphatically maintain I am worth seven cents.

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