Why Did So Many Workers Vote for Walker?

The results of the Wisconsin recall election were very similar to the first run of this matchup in November 2010, when Scott Walker beat Tom Barrett. This means that the radical right agenda of the GOPers elected in 2010 has not turned off the voters.

How can a government of the 1% receive so much support from the 99%?

In the case of the Wisconsin election, there’s been a lot of finger pointing and speculation post-election: Walker used loose campaign finance rules to overwhelm Barrett financially; Obama didn’t come to Wisconsin; unions didn’t force the collective bargaining issue front and center. And so on.

Yet pre-election polling and Election Day exit polling showed that the vast majority of voters had taken their positions months before the serious campaigning. So, the money and the celebrities made little difference. And people were already as informed on the issues as they wanted to be.

The fact is the radical right is very good at propaganda. They have used race and cultural issues to hold their base and they have used anti-government rhetoric in an era of frustrated economic hopes and resentment to expand that base to majority status.

Walker, even more so than in 2010, ran against Milwaukee and Madison.

His negative ads against Milwaukee Mayor Barrett were actually negative ads against the mayor’s city, equating it with high unemployment, rising property taxes, crime, and poverty. This is the tried-and-true GOP race card because everybody knows Milwaukee has a substantial population of dark-skinned people.

And Madison, of course, is the state capital where privileged bureaucrats earn too much, enjoy too rich benefits, and do too little work.

Walker did not dream up this argument. Even before the 2010 election, on-the-ground research from a University of Wisconsin professor showed that ordinary Wisconsinites outside of Madison had a very negative view of this city of large government office buildings, a fairly high standard of living, and liberal politics. Walker simply exploited an existing bias.

Exit polling showed Walker won the votes of a majority of non-college graduates, along with way too many union households (around 38 percent) in both 2010 and 2012.

Meanwhile, college graduates—the ever-shrinking middle-income households—and the very poor did not vote for Walker.



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In other words, way too much of the working class voted for Walker.

We progressive labor people might smugly shake our heads and ask, how can these people vote against their own interests? While some of them are serious cultural conservatives or racists, probably a majority legitimately see themselves as actually voting in their own self interest.

People struggling to get by on $12-15 an hour have to watch every penny. And the Republican message of small government and low taxes resonates every time a worker pays sales tax, property tax, or income tax.

And thanks in part to a gullible or lazy media which dutifully and uncritically repeats GOP propaganda about the eventual demise of Social Security and Medicare, struggling workers have a jaundiced view of their payroll taxes. The Republicans, with their expensive wars and tax giveaways for the wealthy, are certainly not the party of small government and fiscal responsibility, but they have sold their message well.

If progressives hope to regain governing power, they have to win back the “unfriendlies” in the working class, as Mike Amato correctly points out. They might not be able to garner the support of the devoted racists and cultural conservatives, but they can and must win the loyalty of the others.

We can get started right away with the issue of taxes. Not by promising tax cuts, but rather tax fairness. At every level of government in the United States our tax structure is one of the most regressive in the world.

Obama, to his credit, has made some effort to address this by calling for the Buffet rule, which would lift taxes on millionaires, and an end to the Bush tax cuts for the super rich. Meanwhile, Bill Clinton (who I can now publicly admit I could never bring myself to vote for) undermines this push by giving the Republican argument that rolling back these tax cuts would hurt the economy.

As usual, Democrats do not seem to have a coherent and consistent philosophy on matters of important public policy. Nor do they appear to have a plan beyond the next election.

The Republicans clearly do.

Unions and other progressives must push the Democrats or some other vehicle to pursue a coherent and consistent pro-working class agenda, or we will continue to be governed by Walker types and to wring our hands over this state of affairs.


followingsylvis (not verified) | 06/28/12

It should be noted that one of the issues is the division between public and private sector unions.

From David Moberg's piece in In These Times ( http://inthesetimes.com/working/entry/13340/what_labors_loss_in_wisconsi... ):
According to a Hart Research poll of union members for the AFL-CIO, 85 percent of public-sector union members voted for Barrett, 15 percent for Walker. Private-sector union members voted 69 to 31 for Barrett (for a combined union member tally of 75 to 25 percent split)

The fact that private sector unions have gotten crushed underlies the main GOP talking point - that public sector workers have it better than those in the private sector. Of course, this disparity is greatly exaggerated, but there is a kernel of truth.

It's pretty clear to me that the public sector unions are much like the craft unions used to be - a shrinking bastion of decent jobs - and that we will not see a revived labor movement until we figure out how to rebuild in the private sector...

arrowrod (not verified) | 06/11/12

Worse than lazy, obstructive.

Clinging to work rules.

Does anybody relish going to a government agency to try to get something done?

Michael Rectenwald (not verified) | 06/10/12

They voted for Walker because they weren't presented with a meaningful choice. The only thing that the Democrats offered was a 'recall', which was used to divert change energy away from a general strike. So who cares that Walker won? He's just the more honest prick.

The article begins with a faulty, unstated premise, that the election of Walker is some drastic loss for the working class. Whereas Democrats are also enemies to the working class. They just cloak their opposition differently.

1blueheron (not verified) | 06/09/12

As everyone in business knows - "advertizing pays" - and advertizing was paid very well by out of state special interests. The adds managed to convince those personalities in the union who fall into self-blame, that collective bargaining in America is a problem - especially in the public sector. It did so by eclipsing the important issues of worker's rights, education, the environment, and democracy in the election place by saying the recall is a bad process, and demonizing those who triggered it. But the union working public sector is not of ill will as the GOP has brainwashed people into believing. They placed money on the table to help out Wisconsin in a time of need. The GOP exploited the federal shortfalls of a reckless run under Bush that included a war of waste and fraud, and Wall Street plundering. They turned the shortfalls into a demonization of state workers and teachers. In short this is rule by the wealthy - plutocracy. It isn't bad enough that they use their foreign investment earnings to place everything in our households stamped "Made In China," they also want China style workers, obedient to them, subservient to them, with less education. Those who think they have a real deal here on their taxes, are being short-sighted, and do not see the cultural realities that are lost. I would have liked to have seen the national health care tied to this recall - something Walker will keep out of Wisconsin, something that would help all businesses, large and small. Note - the GOP has demonized Obama's health care plan for 4 years. Why? Big drug and medical special interests are more important. But here is where the GOP breaks down! You cannot have for profit health care and a healthy nation, nor a business friendly nation. What you have under the GOP is the treatment of the USA as just another Third World nation, exacting capital out of the marrow of worker's bones and leaving them to fend for themselves. Yes - the GOP works propaganda well. Your neighbor should work harder like the Chinese and just be happy they have any type of work at all. The gospel according to Adam Smith. Come all you Israelites down into Egypt. It looks like future generations will have to relearn the fight against long work days and weeks, unsafe working conditions, early death, and poverty. This is where the middle class and poor and going when worker chants "forward."

LaborGuyatAECI (not verified) | 06/08/12

Maybe people just wanted to see their tax dollars spent more wisely. Is is possible that perhaps our Labor friends got complacent and rather than demonstrating that they deserve those nice pay and benefits, instead they were not efficient and acting like they were entitled to them?

Maybe, the people of Wisconsin weren't duped at all, as suggested by Mr. Cavanaugh. Maybe their eyes were wide open and they voted for reform.

I've been working with labor for over 25 years. The biggest complaint people have about labor is not that they get paid too much or have benefits that are too rich. It is that they think they are lazy.

I think the new millenium has a new expectation for organized labor. No more entitlement mentality. I think it is time for Labor to set a new standard for the world. Show them you are the best and have earned the pay and benefits. Be efficient! Be flexible! Work hard! Let us see 3 shovels digging and one attendant watching for safety, not the other way around!

Just a thought.