There is no shortage of analysis in the wake of Gov. Scott Walker’s crushing win last night. On the Democratic side, most pundits are explaining this away as the result of being outspent 10-1. Scott Walker and his allies raised and spent $63M, making this by far the most expensive recall in our nation’s history. The problem with money arguments, though, is that while they demonstrate correlation, they don’t evidence causation. We can’t say for certain that Walker was successful because he raised the money or whether he raised the money because he was successful.
Republicans on the other hand will point to last night as proof that organized labor is in a decline, and they will encourage more Republican Governors to strip away long-held union protections. They will also find joy in internal Democratic divisions, several of which became glaringly obvious in the final weeks of the campaign.
While its difficult to parse through the exit polls to determine exactly what was on voter’s minds, my gut tells me last night was the result of something deeper and simpler.
As much as the political industry is loathe to admit this, and despite the best efforts of the cable television echo chambers, most Americans are not partisan. But its more than that – they disdain partisanship. Candidates who are overtly partisan, disingenuous, or appear to be playing the game, make the voters recoil. Whatever you think about the merits of collective bargaining, this recall smacked of partisanship, and that’s why the Democrats lost. Walker didn’t commit a crime or reveal some sordid side of his personal life. He merely followed through on his campaign promises. The issues at stake in the recall were decided in 2010, and even many Democrats didn’t think it was right to re-litigate them a year and a half later.
This is borne out by the exit polling. 6 out of 10 Wisconsin voters – i.e., some of the people who voted for Barrett – said that recalls are only appropriate if there’s been malfeasance or criminal behavior. Only 27% thought recalls were appropriate for any reason.
This leaves is with some good news and bad news for the presidential candidates, who are desperate to find meaning in last night. Walker’s victory does not mean Romney will win WI in November (exit polls in fact still give Obama a lead). It also doesn’t mean that unions have been rendered impotent. Last night was about partisan politics, and voters want none of it. None of this will be news to readers outside D.C., but its going to be a hard reality for most of the 202 to swallow.