In a recent February 25 symposium at the La Follette School of Public Affairs at the UW-Madison, David Canon, a UW professor of political science, bluntly stated: “He (Governor Walker) wouldn’t have won the election if he had campaigned on eliminating collective bargaining.”
Earlier I had a post discussing the possibility that Governor Walker had not come clean with Wisconsin voters during the 2010 election. The questions I posed were: (1) When did Governor Walker form his intention to eliminate public union collective bargaining in Wisconsin through provisions like those in the Budget Repair Bill? And, (2) did he actively conceal this intention while on the campaign trail, when asked specific questions about how he would rein in public spending? I had offered the view then that it would be next to impossible to determine whether the election would have turned out differently had the governor campaigned on eliminating public union collective bargaining. Dr. Canon’s comments caused me to investigate the issue a bit more.
According to exit polling in the 2006 and 2010 midterm elections cited in a recent article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, union households made up 30% of the vote in the 2006 midterm, but only 26% in 2010. The article noted that geographically, the biggest turnout surge last fall came in the overwhelmingly Republican suburban counties outside Milwaukee, “underscoring the so-called enthusiasm gap between conservatives and liberals.” The polling also established, within the margin of error, that Governor Walker carried 37% of voters from union households.
26% of the 2,160,832 total votes in the governor's race in 2010 equals 562,000 votes from union households, and 37% of those 562,000 votes that went to the Governor equals 208,000 votes. It is fair, I think, to assume that had Governor Walker run on reducing collective bargaining, the turnout of union households in 2010 would have approached that of 2006. Even assuming that the total votes cast in 2010 in the governor's race would have remained identical, that would have been an increase of over 80,000 additional votes from union households. The demographics of union households and the political persuasions of individual members of these households undoubtedly have significant variability. But I think it fair to say that a public campaign stand against public employee collective bargaining would have raised serious concerns in even private union households about "right to work" legislation and other restrictions on private unions in the future.
So if one assumes that the voters from union households in 2010 had jumped from 562,000 to 640,000, and assume that Governor Walker only carried 25% of those households instead of 37%, he would have garnered 160,000 votes from union households instead of 208,000, a swing of 48,000 votes from his column to Barrett's. That would not have been enough of a swing in votes to change the outcome.
Now let's approach the issue from a different perspective. The vote totals for Governor were almost identical in 2006 and 2010: 2,161,700 and 2,160,832, respectively. It has been widely acknowledged that there was significant voter apathy in 2010 on the part of liberals and union members. Let's assume that the drop in the number of voters from union households, approximately 78,000 voters, was reflective of this apathy. If the decrease in total voters from union households between 2006 and 2010 was added to the 2010 totals as 78,000 additional voters, and they had been mobilized to vote solely over concern as to a planned attack on unions in Wisconsin, Governor Walker's margin in the final tally would have been reduced down to just 47,000 more votes than Barrett, or a winning margin of two percent. If we assume that Walker would have lost just 12% of the total union household voters that did vote for him in 2010 over to the Barrett side of the ledger, based on a public stand to curtail collective bargaining, that would have been a shift of 25,000 voters, and would have been enough to change the outcome of the election. So perhaps Professor Canon's conclusion is sound.
Obviously, all this dancing on the head of a pin falls into the “woulda, coulda, shoulda” category. But it seems at least marginally germane to a couple of aspects of the recent debate over the Budget Repair Bill. The GOP and conservative commentators on both the local and the national level keep talking about the fact that Governor Walker is doing nothing more than what the voters elected him to do. That is demonstrably false as it relates to trying to gut collective bargaining. ("Demonstrably false" is a polite euphemism for "a damn lie.") It seems reasonable to assume that they are trying by this lie to bolster the notion that Governor Walker came sweeping into power riding a tidal wave of desire to curb labor unions. That raises the other aspect, the notion that Walker's win was a borderline landslide. I think that at a minimum, had collective bargaining rights been an issue in the campaign, Governor Walker's win would have been a mere squeaker, generating even more outrage in response to his budget initiatives.