In just two months, the Wisconsin general election will take place and incumbent Gov. Scott Walker will seek re-election to the position he has held since 2011.
The Republican party has held the office and controlled the Wisconsin Congress since 2011, but as Wisconsin is nationally recognized as a swing state with a large percentage of independent voters, each election cycle can be a toss-up.
University of Wisconsin Press Secretary of College Democrats Sam Schwab explained that independent voters are who choose not to identify with either of the two major parties in US elections.
“In our view, independents tend to gravitate towards common-ground issues that we can all agree on, such as funding for public education, protecting the environment and providing people with affordable and quality healthcare,” Schwab said.
According to the most recent Gallup News poll, independents make up approximately 43 percent of national voters.
While in past years, Walker has garnered enough of their support for continuous reelection, this year, he is trailing Democrat Tony Evers by at least ten percent in terms of independent voting numbers, according to various polls conducted by NBC, Marquette University, Emerson College and Suffolk University.
According to the Marquette poll, the shift away from the Republican party for independents is most likely a function of declining approval ratings for Republicans in offices across the country. According to polls conducted by ABC News and Investor’s Business Daily, President Donald Trump’s approval rating is at 36 percent.
These low ratings come in the wake of controversial policies enacted by the Republican-controlled national administration, from the tax overhaul dropping over 10 percent of the corporate tax rate to their narrowly-missed attempt at repealing the Affordable Care Act.
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In Wisconsin, Gov. Walker’s politics have generated plenty of discourse as well. Many of his policies mimic those of Republicans in Congress, as he’s fought for tax breaks and job creation, and opposed planned parenthood and climate change action. He takes a hard stance against immigration, minimum wage and gun control, which can make it hard for many independents, who tend to gravitate toward moderate positions on most issues, to support him.
Schwab said that many independents are also growing upset with the disparity between some of his claims and his actions.
“As College Democrats, we think that Scott Walker is pretending to be someone he’s not,” Schwab said. “For example, Scott Walker claims that he is the ‘education governor.’ In our view, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Since his tenure as governor, the Walker administration has cut upwards of $1 billion in education funding. Polling suggests that voters in the state of Wisconsin, including independent voters, have watched Scott Walker’s assaults on our public school system.”
August’s primary election provided a good overview of Wisconsin voter’s attitudes towards Walker and his democratic adversary, Tony Evers. If the discontent with Walker’s more controversial policies spreads, Walker may encounter similar difficulty in the November election, Schwab said.
According to the Associated Press, in August’s partisan primary, a reported 537,000 voted Democrat, while only 456,000 voted Republican. Walker won 92 percent of the Republican vote.
As Barry Burden, political scientist at UW, noted, another factor could be voter turnout.
“Because Democratic voter turnout appears to be robust this year, Walker will need more support from independents than he has today to be successful in November,” Burden said.
If the Democrats outweigh the Republicans like they did in the primary, Walker will need a large percent of his voters to be independents, Burden said. And in a swing state like Wisconsin, that could be possible.
According to the Marquette poll, 34 percent of Wisconsin voters consider themselves independents. That’s approximately the same as the percentages that identify as Democrat and Republican, 30 and 33, respectively. More than enough to tip the election to either side.
According to Alesha Guenther, Communications Director of the GOP Badgers student organization on campus, the most important factor in Walker’s re-election could be the way he campaigns. Because he already has the support of most Republicans, he will need a campaign rhetoric that moderate independents can get behind.
“Governor Walker has done a great job of highlighting his accomplishments in office while traveling the state and meeting with voters. It is extremely important that his record of success continues to reach Wisconsin voters,” Guenther said.
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According to the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, during his time as governor, Walker’s legislature has been one of the most productive in Wisconsin’s history. The average bill deliberation time for the Wisconsin legislature has been 119 days.
With many of the bills signed into law receiving positive responses from Wisconsin families, Walker should have enough achievements to highlight on the campaign trail, Guenther said.
If Walker is able to change tactics and pursue policies closer to the middle ground independents love, perhaps revamping his approach to education reform and taking a more lenient stance in terms of environmental issues, health care and immigration, he certainly has the ability to tap into Wisconsin’s population of independents, Schwab said.
Although, he will have to actively appeal to the moderate in ways he hasn’t before. According to the ABC News polls, the influence of the Democratic party is growing as discontent with the current Republican administration spreads.
Burden says that independent voters could be important during the upcoming election. Come November, Wisconsin residents will find out just how influential.
“Independent voters are likely to be quite influential in Walker’s re-election bid,” Burden said.