Five Lessons From Big Blue's Wisconsin Disaster

Republicans and Democrats look to November after a dramatic night in Wisconsin.

1. Big Blue Loses Big

Here’s the scam that has been going on for decades: Public employee unions demand hefty wage increases. Politicians say: “no way, we’ll have to raise taxes.” Public employee unions say: “okay, we’ll take lower wage increases in return for ever-more generous pension and retiree health benefits.” Politicians say: “that won’t work long term.” Unions say: “that will be someone else’s problem.” Politicians say: “deal.”

Time passes. Longevity increases. Financial crises and slower economic growth cripple pension fund returns. Suddenly “the long term” is today. Unsustainable pension and retiree health benefits begin to wreak fiscal havoc. The Blue Social Model no longer works.

There are two ways to fix this problem. The first is political. The second is to let the markets decide who gets what. Voters in California and Wisconsin last night chose the political option. They voted to reduce pension benefits in San Jose and San Diego, California (the 8th and 10th largest cities in the US) and they voted to affirm Governor Scott Walker’s assault on the bargaining power of public employee unions.

Ross Douthat has a big picture column on this today at the New York Times, which is useful. Managing the collapse of the Blue Social Model is now the central issue in municipal, state and county governance.

2. Big Blue Can’t Even Get a Tobacco Tax Done In California

Everyone knows that California is broke. Tax revenues are so weak that the state recently announced that its projected budget deficit would explode from $9 billion to $16 billion.

What to do? Raise easy taxes! What are easy taxes? Cigarette taxes! Specifically, raise the tax on each pack of cigarettes sold in the state by one dollar. On the ballot it went. Down it went, 51-49%. No easy taxes for you Sacramento!

Nothing says Big Blue like California. The fiscal crisis there now grows more acute.

3. The Midnight Tweeter

President Obama kept his distance from the Wisconsin gubernatorial recall election. He did manage to send a last-minute tweet, reiterating his support for Tom Barrett. But that was about it.

Now we know why. Barrett was certain to lose. His support among white voters had collapsed. According to the, ahem, exit poll, roughly 90% of the electorate in Wisconsin yesterday was white. If 90% of the voters in Wisconsin are white in the November general election, Mitt Romney need only win 56% of them to win the state. He wouldn’t need any of the “other” voters at all.

Nationally, when he won the 2008 general election by a wide margin, President Obama garnered 43% of the white vote. That was at the height of his political powers. He’s long since left that perch.

Wisconsin is a toss-up now. The tri-state block of Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa (all of which have overwhelmingly white electorates) are in play.

4. Exit Polls

Very conservative voters avoid exit pollsters. When they are the “nth” voter at an exit point, they often decline the opportunity to participate. The next voter is therefore taken. Very conservative voters are therefore under-counted.

Combine this with budget restraints (the exit polling company surveys, arguably, half as many polling “points” as they might otherwise do, just for safety’s sake) and you end up with scores of “analysts” on TV talking nonsense, based on erroneous polling data. The clients of the exit polling company (television networks, newspapers, the AP) need to fix this problem.


Republican get-out-the-vote operations in Wisconsin were impressive across the state. In the main, Governor Walker ran ahead of his 2010 tallies, county-by-county.

Democratic get-out-the-vote operations were not so impressive, except in Dane and Milwaukee counties, where same-day registration ran up their totals in those Democratic strongholds, considerably.

A Massachusetts political operative named Joe Ricca ran the same- day registration/GOTV operation for the Gore campaign in 2000 and was widely credited with delivering the state to Mr. Gore by a 16,000 vote margin over George W. Bush. Team Obama will be looking for Mr. Ricca. They’ll need every last vote in November.

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