The most embarrassing academic conduct in response to this election wasn't Prof. Charles Franklin's off-the-cuff suggestion that voters are stupid. What was more embarrassing was the poll released by UW Prof. Ken Goldstein for WPRI, in which voters were asked to choose between two arguments on high-speed rail, one of which presented the impossible scenario that the money would be turned over to Wisconsin roads, and neither of which mentioned the future of a regional network that connects Minneapolis to Chicago.
The poll accomplished WPRI's objective, which was to present Scott Walker's position as the favorite of the people of Wisconsin. But it was yet another example of the misinformation that dominated the issue throughout the campaign, and is only slowly being uncovered by the media and the public.
Why now? Because Democrats messed up royally. It's their fault voters went to the polls thinking that Scott Walker could do whatever he wanted with the money, and it's their fault that many voters cast their ballots puzzled by the notion of a Madison-to-Milwaukee rail line --a project whose merits are dubious outside the context of a regional rail network.
As one reporter told me recently, the first mistake the Dems made was referring to the train as the "Madison-to-Milwaukee line." Few people, even in Madison, are dying for an alternative way to get to Milwaukee, unless, as I pointed out in the Sconzcast, they're looking for a way to get home from a Brewers game without driving drunk. Moreover, the "Madison-to-Milwaukee" line drives the already-existing impression in some parts of the state that the two big cities get a disproportionate share of the government's attention and funding.
The Democrats should have called the project the "Chicago-to-Minneapolis" route. That's what the project is all about, and frankly, it's a concept that would appeal to people all over the state. It would have been better politics, and it would have been a more accurate representation of the policy objectives.
Second, the Democrats didn't make clear that the only thing that Scott Walker's plan would send the money to another state. Why didn't they run ads on the subject? Why weren't there billboards in Milwaukee before the election? No TV ads?