I attended the Wisconsin post-mortem session this morning, which featured four people who had worked on the ground there. I came away with a mixed picture of what caused Tuesday’s loss.
Let’s start with the ads. Walker aired 24,000 TV ads versus Barrett’s 9,000. That moved Walker’s approval/disapproval from 41/59 to 52/48. “Walker owned the airwaves,” one panelist said.
Even so, Matt Sledge from HuffPo asked a good question: Walker’s favorability and polling had recovered by January, so did the ads really make a difference? The panelists pointed out that Walker was up with ads before January, and that much of the money spent by Walker and his allies was used to dig him out of his hole. Maybe–but even though the panelists wanted to blame the ads and money, they agreed that the election hinged on more than money.
The panel was fairly critical of the Barrett campaign’s messaging. As some of the people at my table pointed out, Walker said loud and proud that he thought the recall law was “dumb”. One panelist said that he thought that there wasn’t good counter-messaging for the anti-recall message, which exit polls showed was accepted by 60% of voters.
Another example of messaging fail was jobs. Wisconsin had some of the worst job numbers in the country. Walker’s people countered with an ad pointing out they had created ~32K jobs, without putting it in context. One panelist called it a “remarkable piece of political propaganda that looked like an Apple commercial”. He suggested that we watch the Tom Barrett ads to see just how poor the pushback was.
Finally, there was a lot of discussion at my table about the fact that voters have come to hate elections, because they hate the ads, and there was a backlash against this election because people simply didn’t want to have another one. I don’t know about Wisconsin, but in my home town, the local TV stations run obligatory “it’s election season again, oh, noes, here come the ads” pieces at the same time that they’re counting their money.