Mar. 4 2011 By RICK UNGAR Forbes
In what may be the result of one of the great political miscalculations of our time, Scott Walker’s popularity in his home state is fast going down the tubes.
A Rasmussen poll out today reveals that almost 60% of likely Wisconsin voters now disapprove of their aggressive governor’s performance, with 48% strongly disapproving.
While these numbers are clearly indicators of a strategy gone horribly wrong, there are some additional findings in the poll that I suspect deserve even greater attention.
It turns out that the state’s public school teachers are very popular with their fellow Badgers. With 77% of those polled holding a high opinion of their educators, it is not particularly surprising that only 32% among households with children in the public school system approve of the governor’s performance. Sixty-seven percent (67%) disapprove, including 54% who strongly disapprove.
Can anyone imagine a politician succeeding with numbers like this among people who have kids?
These numbers should be of great concern not only to Governor Walker but to governors everywhere who were planning to follow down the path of war with state employee unions. You can’t take on the state worker unions without taking on the teachers – and the teachers are more popular than Gov. Walker and his cohorts appear to realize.
The data should also weigh heavily on the minds of each and every Republican gearing up to run for president in 2012 as the actions of Governor Walker, Kasich and anyone else planning to enter this fight are bringing Christmas to the Obama re-election campaign as they return rank and file union members to where they once lived – the Democratic Party.
The defection of union members to the Republican Party has been an important part of the electoral math for successful GOP candidates for many years now and a real thorn in the side for the democrats.
Consider the re-election campaign of President George W. Bush where success came down to winning the vote in Northeastern Ohio.
I’m from Northeastern Ohio. I can tell you without hesitation that union flows through the blood of these people who spent so much of their lives in the steel mills (before they closed up) and are reminded each and every day of how well their union looked out for them. While a number of these people are retired and living on their pensions provided by their collective bargaining agreement, their kids – many of whom do not hold union jobs- remain very appreciative of what the unions did for mom and dad.
While this appreciation may not have prevented these people from siding politically with the social philosophy of George W. Bush – as they did- had Bush taken on the unions in his re-election bid, the outcome would likely have been very different.
These strong, emotional attachments to the unions persist in many of the rust belt states where so many key presidential battlegrounds can be found.
While Governor Walker may yet succeed in getting his budget repair bill through the legislative process and accomplish his goal of reducing collective bargaining to a shell of its former self, the larger battle appears to already be lost. And while Walker – still in the earliest stages of his term-may be able to recover over the next three and a half years, from a national perspective, I don’t know that Walker’s future makes any difference at all.
The damage has already been done.
Should Gov. Walker accomplish his goal, he will have stoked a level of union anger that I very much suspect will become a key driver in an Obama victory in 2012. He will also have prompted the nation’s unions to work together for a common objective– a feat that would have seemed impossible just one month ago.
If Walker loses his fight, he will have reminded the unions of the importance of fighting back against their enemies, reminding them of how life was for their forbearers who fought to establish the modern union movement. This will ignite the passion for battle while reminding those union folks who have been voting republican of the importance of sticking with the party that sticks with them.
Walker would have done well to take ‘yes’ for an answer when the unions agreed to his financial proposals. Given the procedural advantages in Ohio, where the GOP legislators could push through the anti-collective bargaining bill without the need for Democratic legislators, Walker should have backed down and allowed John Kasich to take the lead in the effort.
The Wisconsin governor’s desire to be at the forefront of his perceived GOP revolution may not only have doomed the anti-union effort, but it may forever label him as the man who gave the democrats the gift that keeps on giving – the return of the union rank and file into the arms of the Democratic Party.