Last July, I wrote a post for the Marquette Law School Faculty Blog that was premised on The Promise. The one Scott Walker made when he ran for governor four years ago. Walker pledged that at least 250,000 jobs would be created in Wisconsin during his first term in office. The thrust of the blog post was to look at whether that promise could come back to haunt the Governor in a reelection campaign. You can find my earlier thoughts here.
We won’t know for sure what role The Promise will have played in this year’s race until Election Day, but there are early indications that it may not be the all-powerful political weapon Democrats had hoped for.
That’s not to say job creation isn’t a potential problem for the governor. Wisconsin, according to the most reliable jobs numbers, has lagged behind the national average during Walker’s tenure. The latest tally of “jobs added” shows Wisconsin ranks 37th in private-sector jobs created. With roughly a year left in office, the governor is only 42 percent of the way to his promise of 250,000.
Walker prefers to talk about the decline in the state’s jobless rate since he took office—from 7.7 to 6.2 percent—and the number of new businesses created during his first three years, which he says exceeds the 10,000 he promised. In his State of the State Address last week, he referred to the 250,000 jobs pledge as “an aggressive goal.”
However you view it, the Marquette Law School Poll released Monday shows that most voters in Wisconsin, 79 percent, now believe the state won’t reach the 250,000 number. That includes a majority of survey respondents who identified themselves as Republicans. Could that have political consequences for the governor? At first glance, the answer might be “yes.” Nearly 70 percent of the 802 people surveyed said meeting or falling short of the 250,000 jobs pledge would be somewhat or very important in determining how they would vote.
But another poll result suggests that while job creation will be a factor in the fall election, it will hardly be the only factor. How else to explain the results of the poll’s “right track/wrong track” question? Voters were asked, “Do you feel things in Wisconsin are going in the right direction, or on the wrong track?” Fifty-four per cent said in the “right direction.” Forty per cent said “wrong track.” Are reports of a state surplus influencing voter opinion? Is talk of property tax cuts moving the electorate? There are even signs of a shift in public sentiment on the jobs issue. In May of 2013, 49 percent said the state was lagging other states in job creation. In this latest survey, that number had fallen to 40 percent. You can find the complete poll results here.
As I wrote last July, The Promise was a calculated political gamble for then-candidate Walker at the time he made it, and it still carries potential risk. In a head-to-head matchup with the likely Democratic candidate, Mary Burke, Walker leads, 47-41 percent. But while Burke’s number is down slightly, Walker’s number remains below 50, unchanged from the final Law School Poll of 2013. Burke is still not known by most Wisconsin voters. Her campaign still has time to remind voters of Walker’s words. Yet these new poll numbers suggest Burke will have to make a compelling case that she could do better, or tap into “fairness” issues such as the push for a hike in the minimum wage. In the 2014 election, the prospect of a broken jobs promise may not be enough.