Scott Walker has a messaging problem [Reader Post]


Wisconsin governor Scott Walker has a problem. It’s not the smelly, indian sitting – Kumbaya singing activists who are turning the statehouse into Woodstock ’11. Although they are a problem – it’s primarily to the olfactory system. Nor is it the union thugs who are harassing reporters, people who dare to voice their support of the Governor and representatives on their way to their offices.

No, the Governor’s problem is one of messaging. For much of the last two weeks the news cycle has been focusing on Madison. Much of the coverage in the mainstream media has focused on the union message of standing up for “working families”, protecting union “rights” and “fairness”. That’s a problem for the Governor. Americans generally will pull for an underdog in a fair fight and the mainstream media is making this out to be a David and Goliath competition… and he’s Goliath.

Few Americans (or Wisconsinites for that matter) are actually in Madison and able to see exactly what is going on it the Capitol. As such they are forced to rely on what is being reported, primarily on television, but also on the Internet. While Fox News dominates the cable news arena, their numbers are very small when compared to broadcast network news. The average news program on Fox News attracts approximately 2 million viewers nightly while ABC, NBC and CBS have a combined 23 million viewers between them. Online Fox News defeats the news websites of the networks, its traffic is dwarfed by CNN’s.

At the end of the day, this story, like most stories, political and otherwise, comes down to two things, facts and communication. On the facts, Scott Walker has everything on his side. The state’s finances are a mess. Unionized government workers earn more money, have better benefits and much more job security than their private sector counterparts, i.e. the taxpayers. (The average Milwaukee public-school teacher earns $56,500 a year in salary and another $43,500 in benefits for total of $100,000, and in return Milwaukee students perform far below national standards…) The state’s income tax rates are higher than 37 other states and its corporate income rate is higher than 32 others. According to Arthur Laffer, in 2010 Wisconsin came in 44 out of 50 states in economic performance. The facts are in his corner. It’s the communication that Governor Walker is missing.

Most Wisconsinites, like most Americans, when looking at this situation would understand that something needs to be done, and that raising taxes is not the solution. At the same time there seems to be some residual support for unions and collective bargaining. This in large part has to do with the sympathetic portrayal of the public sector employees by the media. What you rarely see from the mainstream media however is the thug tactics that unions across the country… including Wisconsin, use to harass, intimidate and threaten their opponents. (That last piece is from the NYT and a hat tip is due for one of the rare MSM pieces that mentions such tactics.) This is fundamentally why unions want Card Check. It’s one thing to vote against a union secure in the anonymity provided by a secret ballot, it’s a completely different thing when the union enforcers are standing at the front door of your home with a clipboard or hovering over you at the signature table.

In this current environment Walker should take a page from another darling of the GOP Chris Christie. Christie has been out in the trenches mixing it up with union members across the state. The web is chock full of videos of Christie taking questions from audience members complaining about having to pay for their own benefits or having their wage raises limited. In each case he clearly explains the situation the state is in, why the state is in that situation (usually demonstrating how union intransigence helped bring it about) and what he is trying to do to fix the situation. Invariably audiences understand his position and the state’s population largely does as well.

Although Walker has been crystal clear in his critique of Democratic lawmakers and has spoken about the challenges the state faces, he has yet to put on a full court press in bringing his message to the citizens of Wisconsin. This can be seen in the latest Rasmussen poll that shows support for his position down to 43% amongst likely state voters. While a governor should never govern by poll, this poll suggests that he is not getting his message out clearly. This is particularly true given the fact that Wisconsin voters just put him in the Governor’s mansion and gave the GOP both houses of the legislature with a mandate to fix the state’s financial mess. Given that, the public should be poised to give him benefit of the doubt. The fact that his numbers are moving in the wrong direction suggest he has a communication / messaging problem.

The support of a majority of the voters is not a requirement for implementing a policy. The foundation for this was perhaps best said by Edmund Burke: Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays instead of serving you if he sacrifices it to your opinion. Majority support is however critical for long term success of any policy, particularly when not all legislators live up to Burke’s ideal. As long as Walker allows the flower children, the union thugs and the mainstream media to define the discussion, his numbers will continue to decline. If he hopes to succeed in his pursuit of transforming Wisconsin from an economic laggard to a job creating dynamo, he might want to figure out how to take control of his own story and get the message across to the voters of Wisconsin that their state is a landed version of the Titanic headed towards an iceberg and he’s the only one suggesting a change of course.

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If he had forcefully communicated the fact that the Union Bosses can’t agree to the cuts he is asking for without a vote by the union and individual contracts with all the school districts he wouldn’t be in the pickle we are in.

No union has an obligation to honor an agreement by the Union Boss, the members have to vote on it. The union membership isn’t going to agree to the cuts that Scott Walker is asking for regardless of the out and out deception by the Union Bosses that their members would accept the cuts.

This is the lie, Scott Walker has failed to communicate this along with the rest of his supporters. Failure to communicate when your motives are pure will cause you to fail politically even when there really isn’t any alternative to the course you are on.

Thanks for the link to the NYTimes article.

What you rarely see from the mainstream media however is the thug tactics that unions across the country… including Wisconsin, use to harass, intimidate and threaten their opponents. (That last piece is from the NYT and a hat tip is due for one of the rare MSM pieces that mentions such tactics.)

I noted another fine point in it:
One teacher blithely claims:“I love teaching, but I’d have to start looking for another job, period,” Kim Hoffman, a middle school music teacher, said she and her husband, also a teacher, would lose $1,200 a month under the plan — too deep a cut to manage.

$200,000 a year between the two of them and they couldn’t take a 6% cut?
As if she could simply go out and find better paying work in the MUSIC field!

Yes, Gov. Walker has a messaging problem.
He is surrounded by dummies like Mrs. Hoffman yet somehow they are painted better by the media than he is.
He is SAVING her and her hubby’s jobs!
She is SO stupid!

As long as Walker allows the flower children, the union thugs and the mainstream media to define the discussion, his numbers will continue to decline.

This is his real problem, in a nutshell. The MSM, being shills for the Democrats, who are beholden to the unions for already given, and future, campaign contributions, has a voice much louder amongst the general public than does the Governor. However, even with that, Gov. Christie in NJ has shown that the message can get out there.

The budget numbers, both present and future, the corrupt public union influence, and the actions of the Democrats work in his favor. The message about all of these needs to be brought to light amongst that general public. If not, he will lose the public, and the future of WI.

@Nan G:

$200,000 a year between the two of them and they couldn’t take a 6% cut?

This is a perfect example of the disconnect public employees have regarding the state of government budgets across the country. The worry for themselves and their “fair” slice of the pie overshadows the truth about the general taxpaying public at large. They have an entitlement mentality, similar to those on welfare, that believes the government is there to give them theirs, and they never stop to think about where the government is getting that money from. They never stop to think about unemployment, economic depression, and other factors, all of which combine to limit the ability of a government to pay wages and benefits to employees.

They don’t want to give in at all, concerning their wages and benefits, and this includes future increases on both through collective bargaining, even in the face of a Gov. telling them it’s either that or massive layoffs. They don’t believe the layoffs will include them, and when it does, then they complain about the lack of any pay. So much for the liberal/progressive theme of “for the common good”. They want “theirs”, and to hell with everyone else, including the backs of taxpayers, most of whom are lucky to receive a small portion in wages and benefits in comparison to the public sector employee.

I say, to hell with them! Privatize everything. Put everything in the hands of people who have to contend with choice, where the public chooses for themselves the best deal, the one that makes the most economic sense for them. Put their jobs in the hands of people who can fire them for poor performance. Put the responsibility for their jobs back on their shoulders, instead of the current situation where their ‘tenure’ protects them and whether or not they do their job well doesn’t matter because they cannot be fired in relation to that. Make their wages dependent upon how well they do, not some backroom deal made by the people representing them holding it over on the ones who are supposed to represent the people. Let them get a taste of the fear, or worry, about their job going away because of a poor economy.

Several years ago my Aunt was at an assisted living home. One of the attendents was a pleasant young woman going to scool to be a teacher. I told her that in spite of the importance of lessons such as: How to put a raincoat on a bannana, the value of diversity, and the impotance of global wrming, she had a more important task. I advised her that if she could teach her pupils the importance of self reliance she would have taught them a skill that would last a lifetime. Needless to say she looked at me like I was orange (no charlie crist jokes please) and had just steped off a spaceship. The teacher in the picture can’t teach because they taught her the wrong lessons in teacher college. Her rights stop when she accepts pay for protesting rather than teaching.

Gov. Walker does not have a message problem. He has a media problem.
He needs to figure out what Pres. Reagan figured out: to go around the media, directly to the people.
This means posting you-tube videos. This means appearing on talk radio.
This means posting on Facebook. This means using the grass roots.
The media will never cover the Wisconsin story in a fair and unbalanced manner. The media are all union employees, and will support the union to the end. They will bias everything, make the Governor into an evil person, portray the Republicans as hating the working person, children, older citizens, and so on. They will make stuff up in order to blacken the name of any Republican.
That is who the liberals are. That is what they do.
They have power, and they will keep that power, no matter what it costs.
Until the revolution, when the tumbril will come for them.

Vince: You are somewhat wrong. The problem is not all messaging. Its mostly the Republican malady, lack of guts.