There’s been a ton of discussion here about why SB 5 is bad policy and bad economics for Ohio. But nobody seems to have considered how SB 5 is bad politics (especially for the GOP heading into 2012.)
Before there was a Tea Party, or soccer moms, there were the Reagan Democrats, blue-collar working stiffs who ordinarily sided with Democrats on economic issues but came out in force for Reagan. Miami University alum/nationally renown Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg found that in a Michigan community that went nearly 2/3rds for Kennedy, went the other direction for Reagan… twice. The socioeconomic demographic of the region had not changed. Blue collar union voters just stopped being the solid, uniform pro-Democratic vote it had been.
As this post on Balloon Juice noted, the idea of labor being a solid Democratic constituency is not exactly true. According to surveys, on average 57% of union households typically vote Democratic, that’s only 11-points higher than non-union households. That means that up to 43% vote Republican… consistently.
Republicans have made inroads into the labor vote by appeals to the white working and middle class on social issues like guns. Although the idea of a pro-union Republican now seems difficult to conceptualize with SB 5 being introduced, you have to realize that not all Republicans have been hostile to unions, especially in ways that we’re seeing now. That’s how Republicans like Tom Patton in Cleveland and Jimmy Stewart in Athens stay elected. They appeal to the Reagan Democrats without appearing to pose as any threat to the Reagan Democrat’s unions.
How pervasive has pro-union Republicans become in our political culture? Well, according to CNN’s 2010 exit poll in the Ohio’s Governor’s race, John Kasich took 37% of the union vote while Portman got 43%! Nearly two out of every five union members voted for John Kasich. (Of course, I dare say there’s some buyer’s remorse there.) But why? Because while the labor leadership understood that the Democratic Party was friendly to labor interest, the rank-and-file became convinced over time that there was no real danger in voting Republican.
After all, it’s not like these guys took away our unions when they controlled State government in the 1990s, right? Right?
As a result of SB 5, the rank and file of Ohio’s unions suddenly realize that this is a different breed of Republicanism than they’ve seen before. Despite the fact that Kasich said during the campaign that he wants to “break the back of teachers’ unions,” his rhetoric was either dismissed or ignored. Not anymore. If SB 5 passes, it may cause most rank and file union members to distrust every voting Republican again for a generation. What had been a sub-60% performance constituency could approach the kind of performance the party only sees in the African-American community. That, in and of itself, could be a major factor in future elections, and not one that benefits the Republicans. Thanks to John Kasich, the Republicans may have woken up a sleeping giant for which they lack any real political counterweight.
Again, let’s look at the partisan breakdown of the Quinnipiac Poll when it asked Ohioans if they supported what is essentially SB 5:
So if Quinnipiac is an accurate reflection of public opinion in Ohio, here’s what the Republicans get with SB 5:
- An energized labor base that will be mobilized more than ever behind the Democratic Party at levels they’ve never seen in their lifetime;
- The rest of the Democratic base which gets energized in opposition levels that equal or slightly exceed the labor base.
- A mostly split, ambivalent Republican base.
And it’s all going to be pushed by a new Governor who won with only a plurality of the vote, has the second lowest favorability rating of any Governor in the nation, and has a 30% approval rating during his “honeymoon” period. Seriously, who saw this and thought “political winner?” (The reality is the GOP didn’t look at it because they simply miscalculated public opinion on the issue.) To top it off, not even Rasmussen can generate a poll that shows the American public is solidly behind Walker.
And why is the support for this so weak with Republicans? Again, because of the existence of Reagan Democrats. These are the same union folks you can see on the Columbus Tea Party website opposing getting involved in favor of SB 5.
Take the issue out of the equation and just look at the above. This is absolutely suicidal politics. And how does this help the GOP next year. If Mitt Romney continues to be the front runner, how can he win in this environment. He’s going to have to write off Michigan given Obama saving the auto industry and Romney’s opposition to that. Where do you go to make inroads in States Obama carried in 2008? Well, you probably can’t go to Wisconsin and Ohio.
Yeah, if you’re a Republican looking to run for President next year, you can’t be thrilled with seeing this kind of labor mobilization in Wisconsin and Ohio. Seriously, where’s Mitt Romney on Wisconsin? AWOL. After campaigning to get Walker elected as Governor there, Mitt Romney is nowhere to be seen on this issue.
(Huckabee has sided with Walker, but he’s a Governor of a Right-to-Work State and has nothing to lose by siding with Walker as Huckabee is generally positioning himself to be general election poison anyways.)