Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Polls and Elections

Regular readers of the blog already know that I’m easily perplexed. Let me loose on the internet for a few minutes and I’ll usually find something that flummoxes me. Today, I'm scratching my head over the success a lot of Democrats seem to be having convincing themselves that they stand a decent chance of winning the political battle now being waged in Wisconsin over the public employee benefits and collective bargaining rights. Otherwise, they wouldn't be waiting with bated breath for polling data indicating which way public opinion in Wisconsin is breaking.

Here, for example, is Michael Tomasky celebrating a poll indicating that, although they think that Democrats should return to the state so that its Senate can resume its business, a majority of Wisconsinites disapprove of the content of Walker’s plan to limit public employee collective bargaining rights:
“These are the first polls I've seen on the Wisconsin business, and guess what? Trouble for Mr. Governor.

“This is from WeAskAmerica, which TPM says is a GOP-friendly outfit, and is an automated poll. The firm asked two questions: basically, which side are you on, the governor's or the unions', and should the Democratic legislators report back to Madison.

“On the second one, of course a majority said yes, by 56-36%. But on the first question, 43% approved of Gov. Scott Walker's plan against collective bargaining, and 51% disapproved. Interestingly, even non-union households were evenly split at 48-46% (within the margin of error).”
Another AFL-CIO poll shows, to Tomasky's satisfaction, that "[m]ost people just don't hate schoolteachers, and aren't going to be worked up into a frenzy against them, and don't think them greedy either." 

I don’t begrudge Tomasky or any other sturdy liberal his hopes. These days, they have to find consolation wherever they can. But let’s review some undisputed facts: Scott Walker has made a political career out of deploring the budgetary consequences of public sector collective bargaining. He ran for Governor promising to balance the budget by cutting public spending and public employee unions down to size. If his political opponents hadn’t taken Walker at his word they wouldn’t have run all those campaign ads saying that anyone who is out to break public sector unions is unworthy of high office.

Three months ago, Wisconsin voters elected Walker and substantial Republican majorities in both houses of the state legislature anyway. Even the poll that's inspiring Tomasky's hopes suggests that a 56-36% majority disapproves of Democrats staying out-of-state to prevent duly elected Senate Republicans from conducting the public’s business. Yet he and other Democrats are doing their best to convince themselves that the day’s new polling data about specific planks of the Walker agenda and the popularity of public sector employees, is a more reliable measure of the politically relevant state of public opinion than a recently concluded, and depressingly decisive, election.

Haven't we seen something like this before? Recall the weeks after Scott Brown won a Senate seat in the bluest of blue states by promising to be the 41st vote against ObamaCare.  Liberal Democrats shook it off by convincing themselves that they’d still be doing themselves a political favor by passing ObamaCare because some of its separate provisions polled so well when considered in isolation. Whatever you think of the merits of ObamaCare as public policy, it’s hard to deny that Democrats paid a steep political price for deluding themselves about what actual election returns revealed about its unpopularity.  Looks to me like they're doing it again.


Anonymous said...

I think I can see why you're perplexed. But what choice do democrats have but to fight this one to the death. If public sector unions are busted, the democrats lose big. Why should they care about public opinion when the ship is sinking?

Osama Von McIntyre said...

Just to clarify - Walker was not elected on a union-busting platform, although he did promise to reduce public employee pensions.

What he is doing is pure partisan warfare.

Anonymous said...

Couldn't it also be argued that what Walker is doing is what he said he was going to do, which is balance the state budget by cutting expenses? Last I checked, his wasn't the party that fled the state to an undisclosed location (possibly a Hooters in Illinois).