It's a fascinating question in American politics: Who takes the blame for job losses? In a presidential race, the answer is simple: The incumbent. He's either doing too much, too little or nothing at all. It's all his fault.
It's more complex, however, on the state level, since state voters often do not know who to hold accountable for the tough times their communities are facing. Who should Madison voters blame for slow economic growth? President Obama, Gov. Walker, Mayor Soglin? All three?
Who voters blame often depends on their personal politics. If the opposing party is in power, then it's their fault. If your own party is running the show, then it's the economy that's gone awry, not political leadership.
What's great, however, about a split government, is that everybody gets to blame one group of politicians for economic woes. Democrats can blame Congressional Republicans and Gov. Walker, while Republicans, of course, can lay all the blame on Obama.
What a good pollster needs to do is find out who Wisconsin independents see as the culprit for recent job losses in Wisconsin. If Democrats are smart, they should be jumping all over recent stats that show the Badger State lost more jobs than any other state in October. Scott Walker certainly did not hesitate to point out that Wisconsin's unemployment rate was higher than the national average when he began his gubernatorial bid in spring of 2009. That talking point, of course, vanished from his lexicon as unemployment here dipped below the national average.
Assuming the economy doesn't drastically change in the next year, the 2012 elections in Wisconsin will feature a very interesting dynamic. Democrats running for legislative office will blame Walker for the bad state of the economy in Wisconsin, while Republicans running for Congressional office will blame the president for national economic woes.
What will Walker say for himself, however? Assuming he faces recall, will he say that his attempts to open Wisconsin for business are limited because of mismanagement at the federal level? And will independents believe him?
In most states, I think voters will generally vote with a national perspective up and down the ballot. That certainly was the case in 2010, when Republicans swept the state legislature, despite Wisconsin's better economic condition than the rest of the country.
However, what's unique about Wisconsin, in addition to our long tradition of ticket-splitting, is the intense focus on state politics that has come as a result of the spring protests and the recalls. As a result, I think there is a good shot that voters could likely favor one party at the federal level and another at the state level.
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