Walker was able to divide and conquer.
Exit polls of elections are typically less than exact, but they can provide a rough measure of voting trends. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's showed a striking division among voters by income: Gov. Scott Walker lost the election among those with family incomes under $50,000 by an 18% margin, but won by 11 points among voters with family incomes between $50,000 and $100,000 and by 16 points among voters with family incomes of more than $100,000.
Those findings are reinforced by a map of the state that shows Walker won most counties, but lost many of those with a high percentage of poor people, including Milwaukee, Menominee, Rock, Vernon and Ashland counties. He also lost Dane County, the state's second-most-populated county, where some 12% of residents are low income. In short, Walker swept to victory by winning over the middle and upper class.
So what did Walker deliver to them? His signature legislation, Act 10, largely eliminated public employee collective bargaining rights. That, coupled with the requirement that they contribute more to their benefits, mostly hurt the middle class. About one of nine workers in Wisconsin is part of the state pension system, largely folks with middle-class incomes. Their loss was huge: some $3 billion, as Walker has often bragged.
Walker's mantra is that he returned this to the taxpayers, but for those workers employed in government, their loss in benefits far outstripped the average tax cut of $322 per household distributed. They were net losers.
Walker was able to use that $3 billion to pay for tax relief, and the wealthiest 20% of state taxpayers -- those earning $119,000 or more annually -- received more than half of the tax cuts, according to an analysis by the Wisconsin Budget Project. In short, that average $322 tax cut was much lower for middle- and lower-class people and far higher for the wealthy.
Meanwhile, Walker's cuts in the Homestead Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit resulted in low-income households paying $170 million more in taxes.
So the big losers were poor people, who voted against Walker. The big winners were the upper-class residents who supported him. As for the middle class, some gained and some lost. Walker was able to divide and conquer here, stoking the jealousy of private-sector employees of public-sector workers, and gaining their support for slashing government employee benefits.
Walker has been a governor who promised to be about jobs creation, but instead has been about decimating public unions. He's also been a leader who claims to help the middle class but has on balance achieved a huge wealth transfer from the poor and many middle-class people to the wealthy. And while he has promised his only goal is to serve another term as governor, it's a cinch he's already planning his run for president. Odds are that Republican primary voters will love the idea of slashing federal employee benefits.
Bruce Murphy is the editor of UrbanMilwaukee.