After oral arguments were heard at the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals Tuesday, attention has again been placed on the John Doe investigation into possible illegal coordination between the Walker campaign, other Republican state Senate campaigns and Wisconsin Club for Growth around the time of the 2012 recall election.
The investigation, which has contributed to the partisan trend in the state of Wisconsin, may be major factor in the upcoming gubernatorial election, University of Wisconsin journalism professor Mike Wagner said.
“I think that from the public’s point of view, the effects of the investigation are partisan in that strong supporters on each side see this kind of investigation as a rallying cry for why they want their side to win,” Wagner said.
Barry Burden, UW political science professor, agreed with Wagner’s “rallying cry theory,” adding there are many voters in the state who are very tied to one party or the other and will probably not be persuaded to change their votes.
However, in a state split on party lines with already-high levels of political polarization, public opinion of the slim number of independent voters on the Doe case could make or break the hopes of Walker’s re-election campaign, Burden said.
“There is this very small share of the electorate that seems not to be tied to either side, despite the polarization that has happened,” Burden said. “They’re really attuned to current events and how the state is faring […] so the economic numbers around jobs and the budget and the John Doe investigation will be factors that I think will affect them, and they could be decisive if both partisan sides are dug in and it’s that group that ends up making the difference.”
However, according to Wagner, due to the nature of the investigation, public opinion on the case may not necessarily be as important as some members of the media may think.
The problem, Wagner said, is that the John Doe case is too confusing to sway even the independent voters’ opinion.
“I think the strongest supporters on both sides are following this [investigation], but most folks find these investigations a bit too confusing and muddled to understand what kind of conclusion they should draw from it,” Wagner said.
Burden said he sees the investigation as a distraction the Walker campaign will have to address, but also said it is difficult to know now whether there will be other decisions in other courts regarding the case or when such decisions would happen.
Nonethless, Burden said he believes Walker’s critics will continue to raise the investigation as an issue throughout the campaigning.