Why Walker’s Liberal Campaign Tactics?
His ads target Burke for not being liberal enough. Is he desperate -- or crazy like a fox?
Scott Walker has to be very worried. The latest Marquette Law School Poll shows an electorate whose views have hardened — like concrete — into an evenly divided view of him. Half love him. Half hate him.
In May he was dead even with Democratic challenger Mary Burke, with each candidate supported by 46 percent of those polled. Yesterday’s poll showed Walker at 46 percent and Burke at 45 percent.
Among likely voters it was Walker 48 percent and Burke 45 percent in May while in yesterday’s poll it was 47 percent Burke and 46 percent Walker. What we have here, ladies and gentlemen, is a dead heat.
The reason is crystal clear. Nearly everyone has already made up their mind about Walker. As Marquette Law School pollster Charles Franklin puts it, “the two parties are so diametrically opposed on this.” Walker is seen favorably by 45 percent of voters and unfavorably by 47 percent, while in May, it was 47 percent favorable and 48 percent unfavorable.
All these minute changes in the numbers mean very little, because they are within the poll’s margin of error of 3.5 percent (up or down). In statistical terms the voters’ views on Walker seem frozen.
Which means is there is very little Walker can do to change the electorate’s view of him. Money spent on ads touting his accomplishments probably will have very little payoff. But what he can do is go negative, and change people’s perception of Burke.
The voters’ views on Burke have yet to solidify and are the one aspect of the race that could still change. Nearly half of Wisconsin voters — 49 percent — say they haven’t heard enough about her and don’t have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of Burke. Among those that have an opinion, 26 percent were favorable and 24 percent were unfavorable.
Sure, this can and will trigger return fire from Burke. But there isn’t that much downside to a nasty, negative campaign for Walker. For starters, he has more campaign cash: the most recent report shows he has three times more cash on hand than Burke, and he’s likely to retain at least that big an advantage. So he can afford to run more ads.
Secondly the voters view of Walker is so hardened he risks little with negative ads: supporters will approve and opponents already planned to vote against him.
Thirdly, the general wisdom is an overly negative campaign can turn off voters in general and depress turnout. And while Walker’s supporters tend to turn out in non-presidential years, Burke’s are more iffy. The MU poll shows her big edge is with young voters aged 18-49 and with single women — both the sort of voters less likely to turn out in non-presidential elections.
Still, it is one thing for Walker to go negative and another for him to employ a liberal populist attack. His recent ad criticizes Burke and her family’s Trek bicycle for “making millions of dollars sending jobs overseas that could have been done in Wisconsin.” This is taking a page out of the playbook of the Obama campaign, which condemned Mitt Romney for doing this. This is aligning Walker with the philosophy of liberal Democratic Senator Tammy Baldwin. The approach is so bizarre it quickly generated criticism in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece.
Walker at first seemed to be responding to Burke’s criticism of the governor for giving tax incentives for businesses that outsource jobs. But he soon doubled down on his attack, calling Burke a hypocrite for supporting an increase in the minimum wage “and yet personally profiting from a company [Trek} that sends work to China where they make two dollars an hour.” Piling on, Walker charged that Trek “hasn’t paid corporate income taxes since 1982.”
Wow. This is far to the left of many Democrats in its anti-business attitude.
“I’m sure they’ve done some research and found that’s going to play well with whatever constituency you’re trying to reach,” said Felicia Miller, a former Procter & Gamble brand manager who teaches marketing at Marquette University, in a story by the Wisconsin State Journal.
But what is the constituency Walker’s trying to reach? Certainly not his supporters, who Walker is banking on overlooking his sudden burst of lefty populism. Perhaps the small group of independents left in Wisconsin. But more likely the liberals in Wisconsin who support a minimum wage and feel businesses don’t pay enough in taxes — exactly the voters Burke needs to turn out in November.
“Traditionally that’s more of a Democratic issue and perhaps can peel away some Democratic voters,” the ever-cautious Franklin concedes.
Half of the voters still have no strong opinion of Burke. And the MU poll shows the likely voters in November lean left, at 32 percent Democratic and 25 percent Republican. Anything Walker can do to sour liberals and Democrats on Burke makes them less likely to turn out.
Almost from the time Burke announced she was entering the race, Republicans have been eagerly pouncing on any evidence Burke is not liberal enough for the far left of the party. All the evidence of this was listed by the national Republican Governors Association.
But for Walker — rather than some surrogate attack dogs — to engage in business bashing to blacken Burke is a dangerous game for a Republican to play. As Miller told the Wisconsin State Journal, “It’s a tightrope and it can definitely backfire.”
The fact that Walker is willing to take this chance suggests how worried he has gotten about the campaign. Perhaps the most sobering data in the latest MU poll was the switch among independents in Wisconsin; in May Franklin found Walker ahead by 9 percent but by July this had dropped to a one percent lead.
I had assumed Walker would simply ride hard on the tax cuts he delivered as governor and try to stay above the fray in the campaign. But we’re seeing some signs of desperation. Walker must turn the majority of those voters without an opinion of Burke against her. If not, he’s very likely to lose the election.
-Why did the last poll show a loss of support for Walker among independents? Franklin points to two factors: the bad publicity related to the John Doe investigations of Walker and also, “the economic news has not been particularly good.”
-Will minority and young voters, both of whom lean heavily Democrat, turn out in the election? Walker needs a turnout like 2010, led by Tea Party fervor. Burke needs a turnout more like the presidential elections of 2004 through 2012. Franklin notes the exceptional job the Obama campaign did on turnout in 2012, but doubts it can be duplicated. “Call me a skeptic,” he says. “I’m waiting to see if it can work in mid-term elections.”