What's next? Politicians, analysts debate election's lessons for state leaders

2012-11-11T11:05:00Z 2013-05-09T10:43:02Z What's next? Politicians, analysts debate election's lessons for state leadersSTEVEN VERBURG | Wisconsin State Journal | sverburg@madison.com | 608-252-6118 madison.com

Wisconsin voters once again showed themselves to be both persuadable and polarized Tuesday.

They stuck with their Democratic president despite a sour economy and they elected a very liberal woman to the U.S. Senate — but at the same time they reinstalled and strengthened an aggressive Republican state Legislature that discarded 50 years of labor law, loosened gun controls and tightened restrictions on voting.

The conflicting election results should shred the belief that the state turned hard right once and for all in 2010 when Republicans won almost everything in sight, said Barry Burden, a UW-Madison political science professor who studies Wisconsin elections.

"It's a fairly mixed message and not really a ringing endorsement of either approach by either party," Burden said.

While there are plenty of devils in the details, many partisans and experts concede that Tuesday simply put on display the same Wisconsin that has been dividing its political allegiance between the major parties for decades.

The head of the state Democratic Party said Wisconsin is "purple state" with a liberal blue hue, while a top GOP legislator insisted he sees a Republican red tint.

"Sometimes Wisconsin is a little schizophrenic," said state Rep. Robin Vos, R-Rochester, who expects to be elected Assembly Speaker this week.

More legislative conservatism?

Burden said neither party won a mandate in Tuesday's split decision, but not everyone agreed.

"We need to get more conservative," said Matt Batzel, Wisconsin director of American Majority, a tea party group that trains political candidates and helps get out the vote. "We have more conservative Assembly and more conservative Senate, and obviously Scott Walker is still governor, so we are well positioned to continue to have a conservative agenda."

Since taking office in January 2011, Walker and the Legislature weathered mass protests, an interstate boycott by Democratic senators and recalls after the majority began introducing a series of laws that eventually would allow people to carry concealed guns, place new controls on voter registration and early voting, and all but sweep away public employee union rights.

Some Republican leaders said the state needs a break from the drama, and Vos said he'll reach across the aisle to the minority party next year.

"But at the end of the day, we were elected to govern on our conservative principles, not in some murky middle," Vos said.

He said he'll push tax cuts, a law to encourage mining companies to dig here, and an exhaustive review of all regulations on businesses.

Vos minimized Tuesday's comfortable majorities for President Barack Obama and Sen.-elect Tammy Baldwin, a Madison Democrat, calling them aberrations.

What voters really want is seen in the 2010 elections of Walker and Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, and the ascension of GOP state legislative majorities in 2010 and 2012, Vos said.

Wisconsin Democratic Party chairman Mike Tate said Vos shouldn't be so quick to dismiss the Baldwin and Obama victories.

The reason Republicans held onto the Legislature Tuesday is that they were in charge when voting district boundaries were adjusted to reflect population changes in the 2010 Census, Tate said.

"They put in place a redistricting strategy that really shut us down and didn't give us much of anyplace to run," Tate said. "The good news is that demographics are always changing."

Another, possibly smaller factor is that Republicans in 2011 enacted restrictions on voter registration and absentee balloting that may have suppressed the vote, Tate said.

Voters who change addresses frequently — people who are young and have lower incomes, including racial minorities and single moms who tend to vote Democratic — are most likely to be tripped up when registration is more difficult, Tate said.

Expanding electorate

But how did the same state elect the conservative Johnson in 2010 and the liberal Baldwin two years later? How could the Republican Walker be victorious in a June 5 recall election, while the Democrat Obama wins the state on Tuesday — both by about a 7 percentage-point margin?

One reason is that somewhat different groups of voters showed up for each election.

"The people who voted in 2010 (and the recall) are simply different and fewer than those who voted Tuesday," Burden said.

Presidential races excite more voters — more than 3 million in Wisconsin on Tuesday, compared to about 2.2 million in the 2010 midterm and 2.4 million in the recall.

"We do know that voters who participate in midterm elections like 2010 are on average more interested and involved in politics, and more ideological, and of somewhat higher socioeconomic status, so those are voters who tend to lean Republican," said Charles Franklin, director of the Marquette University Law School Poll.

"When you go to a presidential year, you expand the size of the electorate by a third or a quarter, and that brings in a somewhat more Democratic constituency," Franklin said.

On Tuesday, Democrats may have won the top of the ticket and lost the bottom in part because of voters who don't pick a candidate in every contest on the ballot, possibly because they don't have as much interest in or knowledge of the smaller, less publicized local races, experts said.

And, despite all the partisan passion in Wisconsin's electorate after the Republican moves in 2011 and subsequent recalls, there are still "persuadable voters" who chose candidates from more than one party, based on a judgment about the candidate's performance, Franklin said.

The Marquette poll, taken before the election, indicated that 7 percent of likely voters Tuesday approved of both Scott Walker and Barack Obama.

"This group cannot be fundamentally partisan or ideological because if they were then they couldn't approve of both," Franklin said. "But if they look at each incumbent's performance, they may say, 'Hey, both are doing OK.'"

Copyright 2015 madison.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(10) Comments

  1. uwjeff
    Report Abuse
    uwjeff - November 11, 2012 2:39 pm
    There's an interesting article that appeared today in the WashingtonTimes titled: Rising number of states seeing one-party rule which points out that currently Democrats now control all three bases of power – the governorship and both houses of the state legislature – in 14 states and Republicans in 23, with only 12 states sharing power. The current breakdown in Governorships is 30 Republicans and 20 Democrats.

    Does anyone else see a correlation between the fact that at the State level - budgets are made much more transparent to the public -- and, at least, when compared to the Federal Budget need to be maintained in a more 'balanced budget' state - as opposed to the 'out of control' Federal Budget ---- and that Republicans seem to enjoy greater control and favor from the voters at the State level of government than at the Federal level? Might be something to that greater correlation of Republicans in power at the State level where budget control matters more ............. of course there are some exceptions - as the same article points out that in the State of California and the State of Illinois the voters have now elected and awarded so-called 'super majorities' of veto-proof legislative control to the Democrats.............anyone want to bet it's one of those States that will file for bankruptcy first when their unfunded benefit mandates for their public employees starts to reach the crisis tipping point? Anyone here willing to 'chip-in' to help bail those states out when it happens and they turn to the Federal Govt for a bail-out as they're 'too big to fail'.........as will happen according to most actuarial experts.
  2. poochie2
    Report Abuse
    poochie2 - November 11, 2012 11:21 am
    In the US House of Representatives this current election cycle, there were over 500,000 more votes for Democratic party candidates, yet Republicans in the new House total approximately 25 more seats, approximately 55% Republican, 45% Democratic. In other words, a majority of voters voted for Democrats, but wound up with a House dominated by and controlled by the Republican party. During the past two years Republican Reps have consistently voted virtually 100% on some of the most significant bills affecting jobs, taxes, and economy, with mostly total Democratic opposition. In other words, whatever Lola wants, Lola gets. It's time for everyone to make a better attempt at compromise. For the Republicans, a first step would be to break their pact with the devil (Grover the Norquist). Regarding Wisconsin, I suspect that gerrymandering has a great deal to do with the make up of the Senate and Assembly. I would like to see if the total vote counts, Democrat and Republican, for the state House and Assembly, resemble the figures for the vote count of the US House this year.
  3. bookman21
    Report Abuse
    bookman21 - November 11, 2012 11:18 am
    The GOP misinformation machine has been working overtime. Millionaire state employees? Voter fraud? Union bribes? Ad astra per alia porci! The loose translation is 'That's a crock and we all know it!'

    Come back to the real world. Romney lost bigtime because he is so arrogant and out of touch that he didn't have the good sense to conceal his disdain for the middle class. I guess he thought that we couldn't handle the details.

  4. nan3
    Report Abuse
    nan3 - November 11, 2012 11:17 am
    Busted! I voted at least 10 or 20 times, in districts all over the state.
  5. nan3
    Report Abuse
    nan3 - November 11, 2012 11:15 am
    Lynn4300XL claims she has friends!
  6. verna
    Report Abuse
    verna - November 11, 2012 10:28 am
    Mike Tate identified two of the threereasons for the success of the Republicans in expanding their hold on the State Assembly and State Senate: extreme creativity in drawing the district lines and voter suppression efforts. The third, of course, is big money. No sign the Koch brothers will fold up their wallets anytime soon. So be ready for more of the same in 2014.
  7. joe
    Report Abuse
    joe - November 11, 2012 9:58 am
    It is at the State level where most people realize the Democrats have been taking bribes from unions for decades at the expense of the taxpayers. We are done with the corrupt Democrats who hide behind compassion, but in reality create millionaires from govt workers while increasing our taxes to the third highest in the country.
  8. PennyWise
    Report Abuse
    PennyWise - November 11, 2012 8:37 am
    Lynn4300XL : You are a straight out and out liar. "My friends said a lot of democrats vote twice". You should belong to Faux News and Karl Rove with an attitude like that. A lie is a lie and you are the most likely demographic for the Rethugs. Reality means nothing to your type and you say what you can as if it were gospel. Even though you know you're going to get called on it. But it doesn't matter to your type, say a lie enough and maybe you can convince enough low intelligence like minded people, hey? Can you say Tea Party and honor in the same sentence without that being a lie too?
  9. dakref
    Report Abuse
    dakref - November 11, 2012 7:55 am
    Lynn is out on pass this weekend from the psych ward.
  10. Lynn4300XL
    Report Abuse
    Lynn4300XL - November 11, 2012 6:55 am
    I think the state is hard right. All of my friends are. Obama got elected because a lot of people voted that shouldn't have. My friends said a lot of democrats vote twice.

We provide a valuable forum for readers to exchange ideas and opinions on posted articles. But there are rules: Don't promote products or services, impersonate other site users, register multiple accounts, threaten or harass others, post vulgar, abusive, obscene or sexually oriented language. Don't post content that defames or degrades anyone. Don't repost copyrighted material; link to it. In other words, stick to the topic and play nice. Report abuses by clicking the button. Users who break the rules will be banned from commenting. We no longer issue warnings.

Add Comment
You must Login to comment.

Click here to get an account it's free and quick

Activate subscription button gif

What's hot

Vote! Today's poll

Loading…

Should a 48-hour waiting period be required for gun purchases from gun shows and online?

View Results
You might also like
×