Will This be Scott Walker's "Swan Song" as governor?

November 5, 2018


Election Day is tomorrow. Soon, Wisconsin will know whether it will remain a laboratory for authoritarian ideological beliefs now being put into practice worldwide, or if the next four years will bring more of a balance of power with the election of Tony Evers. As of Sunday, the Five Thirty-Eight blog has the race a toss up - with Evers forecast to receive 49.1%, and Walker forecast to receive 47.8%. This is well within the margin of error for any poll that has been conducted.


There is one thing we know about polling - the more well reputed polls still have no way (for now) of measuring the intangibles. How do people "feel?" What motivates them? What will drive them to the polls, or drive them away? And most importantly, with which candidate(s) do they feel a connection? These are the decisive questions that people seek answers for during an election. Many political strategists and commentators (primarily on the Democratic side) still struggle with how to address these largely unconscious factors. In this analysis, I'm going to take those factors into account and provide insights and a prediction for Tuesday night's election for Governor.



I (and many others) have been critical of previous Democratic campaigns for Wisconsin governor. Those previous campaigns running to unseat Walker (which failed) all made a critical mistake, especially as concerns cognitive science and what we know about how people think, make decisions, and behave in response to the world around them. Their mistake was to make those failed campaigns fundamentally about Scott Walker (or, "I'm not Scott Walker"). Thus, I considered the first video the Evers campaign released to contain a mixed message. It's also just too long, at over three minutes. Which means the first minute is critically important, and the cognitive frame is set immediately. Unfortunately, even though it tries to state negative facts about Walker, the video starts out being all about Walker - and the issues he has won on, like "job creation". As the video continues, it provides a more positive message about who Evers is, and why he represents a positive change for Wisconsin. The result is a mixed message to start the campaign. Another problem - the Evers' campaign's first ad might have hit on most of the big progressive issues, and introduced Evers as a nice, reasonable, likeable person; but it failed to specifically evoke what we know to be progressive values based in empathy.


The Walker campaign's first video ad was extremely positive, and strongly established the conservative authoritarian frame (which I have previously blogged about). It's also noteworthy that for the first full six months of the Walker campaign, the video ads were all positive, along the same message lines, and evoking the same positive, conservatively-framed message. It is important that within the first month of the Evers campaign, the first two attack ads against Walker were released. And they were both about what we know to be the foundation of the conservative economic ideology - private sector "job creation." 


As the crowded Democratic primary evolved, I contend that the large number of candidates, most of whom carried a very positive and progressive message, helped the Evers campaign define the candidate in more positive terms. It also provided an authentic view of Evers' strength as a person - an authentically good person who cares deeply for the people of Wisconsin. The same can be said of how his supporters view Walker - a good person who cares deeply for the state. I believe this is why we currently see a great deal more enthusiasm from both sides' bases during this midterm. Both bases have a positive view of their candidate based on largely unconscious values. The question is, which candidate will motivate and inspire beyond the base? Which candidate will voters (outside of the Party faithful) find to be inspiring? 


I contend that there are two wild cards in this election. First, the words and actions of Donald Trump. Secondly, the actions of Scott Walker, and how the majority of people perceive them. 


The words and actions of Donald Trump are hateful, divisive, and violent. In fact, for the vast majority of people (outside his 25% loyalist base) who live in our society, the ideas evoked by Trump violate something we all accept as a moral certainty - that we should treat others the way we would want to be treated ourselves. Since Trump currently represents the metaphorical moral vision of the Republican Party, there will be an unconscious connection made with anyone who self-identifies as an ally of Trump. Which Walker has done.


Walker himself has made his own metaphorical bed, by governing as an authoritarian more interested in political self-interest and power. In fact, he has blatantly undermined many of the Public institutions that have provided resources and care for most of the people of Wisconsin for decades. A very few have benefited from Walker's actions, while many more have been harmed. Again, just as with Trump, this violates a moral certainty that many Wisconsinites hold dear - that we actually care for our neighbors and community.


For the above reasons, it is my contention that had the Evers campaign run an aggressively positive campaign based on the core progressive value of empathy (and connected empathy with every issue); then used that frame to undermine Walker (i.e., "Scott Walker doesn't care about people like you"), this election would not be as close as it is. But that is not where we are today. The Evers campaign has adopted a standard strategy in terms of messaging, not dissimilar from prior attempts to unseat Walker. 



In terms of establishing the cognitive frame, it is the Walker campaign which has won that battle. The Evers campaign has evoked and responded in the conservative frame, largely based in authoritarian and hierarchical views. Ideas such as "job creation" and being a "tough leader"; along with the constant attacks on Trump and Walker using their own words and ideas (even though they try to negate i.e., "Don't Think of an Elephant") have kept the conservative worldview front and center.


That being said, the broader push back against what many people perceive to be less-than-moral behavior by Trump, and therefore Walker by unconscious association, could be the factor that ends Walker's time as Governor. Especially given two things - that Walker himself has reinforced the ideas of self-interest and political power over people; and that Evers is authentically a good person who is unconsciously perceived to care for others.


Yes, Tuesday night will be a nail-biter, and much closer than it ought to have been. And there is certainly no guarantee of a win for Evers - especially given the late-breaking "no new taxes" gaffe (who's idea was that?!). For the most part, Democrats have not learned their lesson about what actually inspires and motivates people at a cognitive level. Nor have they learned the lesson that it is values that define us, and that issues are not values. In fact, as I and many others have warned for years, Democrats have still not defined who they are in terms of values and moral certitude. 


In an extremely close election, I am hopeful in predicting that the authoritarian ideology that Trump/Walker represent will give way to a "kindler, gentler" form of political leadership in Tony Evers.