Union war backfires

For a movement that loves to vilify the “other,” conservatives are eagerly cheering on Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s (R) war on his state’s public employee unions. What’s not to like about yet another enemy, to join the ranks of African-Americans, immigrants, Muslims, atheists, homosexuals, urbanites, single women, the entire city of San Francisco, the entire state of Massachusetts, Hollywood, scientists and anyone who demands clean air and water?

Just last week, I suggested that the GOP’s war on organized labor would backfire on Republicans. In 2008, Obama won union households 59-39, a dominant performance, no doubt, but not a monolithic one. And given that union households make up 21 percent of voters, it would behoove Republicans to keep that margin as tight as possible. Particularly in swing states. Like Wisconsin.

Now we have polling that shows just how damaging Walker’s anti-union crusade is to his party. 

Public Policy Polling did a “do-over” poll in Wisconsin asking people how they’d vote if they could re-run 2010 all over again. While Walker won his election 52-47, the poll found that voters would now choose his Democratic opponent by a similar 52-45 margin. And the shift has come almost entirely from union households. “Voters who are not part of union households have barely shifted at all — they report having voted for Walker by seven points last fall and they still say they would vote for Walker by a four-point margin,” wrote pollster Tom Jensen. “But in households where there is a union member, voters now say they’d go for Barrett by a 31-point margin, up quite a bit from the 14-point advantage they report having given him in November.” 

And the biggest shift isn’t coming from Democrats or independents, but from Republicans. While just 3 percent said they voted Democratic last November, 10 percent now say they’d abandon their party’s candidate. Meanwhile, Wisconsin Democrats who sat at home in November are fully engaged. Heading into a critical 2012 election cycle, the last thing Wisconsin Republicans need is a fully energized Democratic base, along with Republican-leaning union households trending toward Democrats. (Note: While PPP regularly polls for Daily Kos, I didn’t commission this particular poll.)

This effect is radiating far beyond Wisconsin. A new CBS News/New York Times poll finds that Americans oppose weakening collective bargaining rights by a big 60-33 margin. Furthermore, respondents opposed cutting pay and benefits of public employees to balance budgets by a 56-37 margin. So how would the public cut deficits? “Given a list of options to reduce the deficit, 40 percent said they would increase taxes, 22 percent chose decreasing the benefits of public employees, 20 percent said they would cut financing for roads and 3 percent said they would cut financing for education,” reported The New York Times.

Once again, the GOP finds itself on the wrong side of public opinion, fighting a battle on ideological grounds rather than practical ones. And again, the GOP’s new Tea Party overlords have taken an unpopular position and turned it into a litmus test for candidates. Already, online conservatives have mocked Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels for failing to follow suit, promising to undermine his presidential ambitions. Florida Gov. Rick Scott initially said he opposed Walker’s position on public unions, only to quickly reverse himself amid a barrage of negative press from his ideological pals in the conservative media.

Democrats can hardly believe their luck, as Republicans play out the political version of an own-goal.

Moulitsas is the founder of Daily Kos (dailykos.com).