Will we start to see a bit of Republican pullback in light of two polls that suggest that Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is at increasingly variance with the country’s center over the issue of public unions — and that he’d lose the election if it was held today amid his ongoing efforts to disembowel public union collective bargaining?
That’s the prevalent question in light of two new polls, when placed against the context of what The Huffington Post’s Howard Fineman reported a few days ago: that going after the unions in Wisconsin (and elsewhere) is a harbinger of a calculated political effort to get ready for a hardball partisan ground game in 2012 where Republicans hope to short-circuit union support that normally goes to Democrats. An even bigger problem for GOPers: this suggests that if Walker and Republicans continue down this path they may lose the support of independent voters that helped give the GOP it’s winning majorities in the 2010 elections.
Even more significant, the new polls suggest the country’s political center — and Wisconsin’s — are not delighted with what the see the Wisconsin Governor doing.
First, this poll on the larger issue, via the New York Times:
As labor battles erupt in state capitals around the nation, a majority of Americans say they oppose efforts to weaken the collective bargaining rights of public employee unions and are also against cutting the pay or benefits of public workers to reduce state budget deficits, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.
Labor unions are not exactly popular, though: A third of those surveyed viewed them favorably, a quarter viewed them unfavorably, and the rest said they were either undecided or had not heard enough about them. But the nationwide poll found that embattled public employee unions have the support of most Americans — and most independents — as they fight the efforts of newly elected Republican governors in Wisconsin and Ohio to weaken their bargaining powers, and the attempts of governors from both parties to cut their pay or benefits.
Americans oppose weakening the bargaining rights of public employee unions by a margin of nearly two to one: 60 percent to 33 percent.
That’s a pretty significant figure. AND:
While a slim majority of Republicans favored taking away some bargaining rights, they were outnumbered by large majorities of Democrats and independents who said they opposed weakening them.
So the GOP is now in danger of facing the same coalition of Democrats and independents that swept Barack Obama and the Democrats to power in 2010.
It isn’t that the Democrats have done such wonderful things to regain independent support: it’s that Walker, correctly or not, is coming across as just more ideologue sending a what I call a “pretext
message” — using the budget as a pretext to pursue an ideological, partisan power-play agenda. There are indeed serious budget issues. And unions indeed are a drag on some efforts to resolve them. But Walker (as this conversation with a bogus Koch brother proved) is not merely focused on the budget.
Those surveyed said they opposed, 56 percent to 37 percent, cutting the pay or benefits of public employees to reduce deficits, breaking down along similar party lines. A majority of respondents who have no union members living in their households opposed both cuts in pay or benefits and taking away the collective bargaining rights of public employees.
Another bad sign for Walker, suggesting he is now outside the country’s mainstream:
Governors in both parties have been making the case that public workers are either overpaid or have overly generous health and pension benefits. But 61 percent of those polled — including just over half of Republicans — said they thought the salaries and benefits of most public employees were either “about right” or “too low” for the work they do.
Meanwhile, a new poll finds that a lot of Wisconsin residents now have voters’ remorse. And it contains some particularly alarming news for Walker and the GOP: the most significant shift there is of REPUBLICANS from union households:
We’ll have our full poll on the Wisconsin conflict out tomorrow but here’s the most interesting finding: if voters in the state could do it over today they’d support defeated Democratic nominee Tom Barrett over Scott Walker by a a 52-45 margin.
The difference between how folks would vote now and how they voted in November can almost all be attributed to shifts within union households. Voters who are not part of union households have barely shifted at all- they report having voted for Walker by 7 points last fall and they still say they would vote for Walker by a 4 point margin. But in households where there is a union member voters now say they’d go for Barrett by a 31 point margin, up quite a bit from the 14 point advantage they report having given him in November.
It’s actually Republicans, more so than Democrats or independents, whose shifting away from Walker would allow Barrett to win a rematch if there was one today. Only 3% of the Republicans we surveyed said they voted for Barrett last fall but now 10% say they would if they could do it over again. That’s an instance of Republican union voters who might have voted for the GOP based on social issues or something else last fall trending back toward Democrats because they’re putting pocketbook concerns back at the forefront and see their party as at odds with them on those because of what’s happened in the last month.
This is a Dem poll, but this finding — that Republicans are turning on Walker — is echoed by Gallup. Last week Gallup’s national poll found that a startling 41 percent of Republicans oppose Walker’s plan to roll back public employee bargaining rights.
The reason this matters is that in the days ahead, Dems and labor are going to intensify pressure on Republican state senators to break with Walker and support some kind of compromise route out of the current impasse. Walker himself seems to recognize this is a potential problem: On his call with the fake Koch, he acknowledged that Republicans in swing areas would need to be propped up by aggressive messaging.
Walker himself will not budge in this standoff. The only way Dems and labor can force a compromise is to peel off Republican senators. While the swing in Wisconsin GOP voters against Walker is not huge — seven points — it’s something, and makes this possibility marginally more likely.
This is pretty much exactly what I thought would happen here. The longer this goes on, the more the anti-Walker feelings of union members solidify, the more it hurts Wisconsin Republicans in 2012.
In the counter-factual world where unions did not exist, a number of other things would undoubtedly have evolved differently as well, which would have produced different coalitions and constituencies.
Likewise, unions are not just going to disappear (even if a few Republicans might wish they would). If a Supreme Court decision came down on Monday that declared unions illegal, some of these voters might continue to vote Democratic because they were formerly members of unions and continued to identify with them. Or unions might be replaced with some other type of political organizations.
More tangibly, Republican efforts to decrease the influence of unions — while potentially worthwhile to their electoral prospects in the long-term — could contribute to a backlash in the near-term, making union members even more likely to vote Democratic and even more likely to turn out. If, for instance, the share of union households voting for Democrats was not 60 percent but closer to 70 percent, Republicans would have difficulty winning presidential elections for a couple of cycles until the number of union voters diminished further.
Being in line with the desires of the heads of Koch industries and top radio talk shows (run by rich talk show hosts who fly around the country in private jets) is ok — but not if you lose independents…and start losing some Republicans…in the process.
It’s called being out of the mainstream. Will the GOP continue on this course?
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.