Who’s winning the public relations battle in Wisconsin?

Another poll is out today to muddy the discussion water over which side is winning the public relations battle in Wisconsin.

A Rasmussen poll shows 67% of those surveyed nationwide do not agree with Senate Democrats’ decision to leave the state to prevent a vote on a bill stripping some public employee unions of their collective bargaining rights. Republicans, as you might expect, were against the move by a wide margin. But, somewhat surprisingly, Democrats were split on the question.

On the question of whether public employees should even have unions, the results were generally split.

Nate Silver of fivethirtyeight.com deconstructed some polls a day ago, including one — a Gallup poll — that showed people in favor of public employees being in a union and one — Clarus — showing people are not in favor of public employees being in unions.

There was some bias in the wording, but generally, he says, people tend to support unions less during times of high unemployment:


But there are an awful lot of issues on which the American public has ambivalent feelings, but nevertheless objects to rights being taken away. People might think that alcohol has a negative influence on society, for instance, but I’d imagine that relatively few want to ban it. Even on an issue like abortion, this pattern can sometimes be observed — about as many Americans describe themselves as “pro-life” as “pro-choice”, but polls generally show a clear majority opposed to overturning Roe v. Wade.

A University of Wisconsin poll expert tells the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that he thinks Walker has lost ground in the struggle.

  • bsimon

    I imagine its too soon to tell by polling, but Gov Walker’s performance on the call with not-david-koch can’t be helping the PR battle. I understand one of the unions has an ad out today noting that the union has agreed to the proposal for employee contributions to pension plans etc, asking the Gov “can you meet us halfway?”

  • Noelle

    I was listening to Midmorning today discussing the battle across the border, and a couple of callers brought up the point that the debate about unions is really pitting private sector workers against public sector workers. Understandably, a lot of private sector employees are resentful towards unionized public employees because of their great benefits packates and presumed job security.

    I wish these resentful private sector employees would instead ask WHY they don’t also have access to great benefits and job security, rather than complain that it’s time for the public employees to “join the club”.

    A friend of mine posted on her blog this morning about why she supports unions – because they put the needs of people before the needs of business. That’s a fundamental part of unions that a lof of people seem to forget.

  • Jamie

    Thanks, Noelle. Very good point. And thanks for saying “presumed” job security. There hasn’t been much more job security for public sector workers than there has been for private sector workers for many years. State workers in Minnesota have been laid off periodically for decades. We just don’t usually hear about it. We’ve seen comments on this site recently about workers doing the work of two or more people.

    Any increases in state (and federal and municipal) workers (and budgets) that we hear about are because of growing population and other growing needs around the state. Government entities have been working hard on being more efficient for a long time. It’s way not a new idea. And sometimes it means people are laid off.

  • Jamie

    Republicans are most likely winning the PR battle. They almost always do. They know how to make lies sound like the truth, and they know how to grab people in the ways that they get the best grip possible on them. And even things like Walkers despicable conversation with Not-Mr.-Koch don’t really matter to the people who have such mean-spirited resentment toward public sector workers. Walker could actually go and bash some protesters in the head with his baseball bat and they would still think he’s The Man.

    It doesn’t help that the news media give most of their time and attention to Walker and the Republicans. This incudes MPR. After Walker’s tv propaganda, er – statement the other day, MPR (and all the others) reported on it in every news break, airing lots of sound bytes of what Walker said, and then NOTHING from anyone on the other side/s of the issue. And these were supposed to be straight news stories that are not supposed to favor one side over the other. That’s just one example. There have been many more. Good journalism doesn’t air just one side’s propaganda.

    Here in News Cut was the only place I saw that someone from the other side had anything to say.

    And Democrats in Wisconsin are just as bad as Democrats in MN in regard to PR and marketing. They haven’t been OUT THERE telling their story nearly enough. But that’s no excuse for news media outlets who are supposed to seek out the other side/s to make sure they get as close as possible to the truth.

  • Noelle

    Very true, Jamie. My experience is a little biased – my parents are both WI music teachers, so their positions are more at risk than others. One parent’s former job of over 35 years was reduced by over 50%, and was essentially forced into an early retirement. They made other consolidations in the music department in that school as well. My uncle used to work for the city of Milwaukee, and was laid off years ago. My mom works in a tiny rural school that’s in fierce competition with neighboring districts for students. There’s no guarantee that their school, with high school enrollment below 300 kids, will be in it for the long haul.

    There’s no guarantee in any industry, and the “guarantees” will only decrease as politicians continue to favor big businesses (see: Walker’s recent tax cuts) instead of the middle class.

  • Noelle

    From my experience watching Facebook reactions – I saw one person who’s on the side of Walker & the GOP claim that the prank call was fake – a publicity stunt. They’ll believe whatever they want to believe.

    In MPR’s defense – on Midmorning both yesterday and today, Kerri Miller had guests on the show that were pro-union. Robert Reich (who is staunchly pro-union) was on yesterdayand today a professor at Madison was one of the guests. (He was trying to be objective, but made the point early on that he’s a public worker and against the bill.)

    I will agree that Democrats let Republicans walk all over them most of the time, and if they were as vocal (dare I say manipulative?) as some of the conservatives are about issues like this, perhaps they could help to educate the general public about the opposing viewpoints.

    Big thanks to Bob, by the way, for the fact that you’ve been following this issue from almost day 1.

  • Bob Collins

    //It doesn’t help that the news media give most of their time and attention to Walker and the Republicans. This incudes MPR.

    This is categorically incorrect. All of our material is online and you’re welcome to go through it ALL to support your conclusion.

    //After Walker’s tv propaganda, er – statement the other day, MPR (and all the others) reported on it in every news break, airing lots of sound bytes of what Walker said, and then NOTHING from anyone on the other side/s of the issue.

    Again, categorically false. First, it was the other night, actually. I’ll post out that on News Cut the following morning I provided video of Walker as well as the Democrats’ response.

    But what you didn’t point out is in the same newscasts in which you heard Walker, you also heard audio of Gov. Dayton and other AFL-CIO reps at the Capitol rally in Minnesota in support of the Wisconsin protesters.

  • Jamie

    First, Bob, I want to point out that I did give News Cut credit for posting the only piece from the “other side.” I wasn’t very clear, but I was referring to the video you posted under Walker’s. And I should have said what Noelle said, that your coverage in News Cut has been, as usual, excellent. But how many people read News Cut or any other MPR online content compared with the number who are listening to the news as they drive to or from work or prepare dinner?

    Imagine the person who hasn’t made up his mind about these issues, hearing on the 6:30 and 7:00 news that Walker made a statement and here’s some of what he said. And then the news reader moves on to the next topic, not addressing what Walker said, or offering any fact-checking or analysis or a Democrat’s point of view. He may also hear during those news breaks about the pro-union rally with a Mark Dayton sound byte (I don’t remember hearing that, incidentally), but it likely doesn’t directly address what Walker said. So he doesn’t get a complete or true picture.

    I haven’t heard this for a couple days, but MPR, like everyone else delivering the news, kept saying long after pro-union “forces” in Wisconsin made it clear that they would make monetary concessions (and they were always open, reluctantly, to that), that the protests were about the bill’s requirement that they pay more for insurance and retirement plans. I heard that over and over again, giving people the impression that the protesters were just being selfish and essentially pouring fuel on the union-haters’ fire.

    I (and most others, I’m guessing) don’t have time to surf MPR’s website to get closer to a complete picture of the events of the day. I hear a significant amount of MPR’s (and NPR’s) programming, including SOME news breaks, so that’s where I get my impressions of MPR’s news coverage.

    I just think that if a news organization airs one “side” of an important story, they have to not only air other sides, but also provide us news consumers with context, analysis, and fact-checking. If you can’t do that in your 6:00 news break, you should just say that Walker and people who are anti-Walker made statements — or something. And you can see them online — or we’ll provide the complete story in about 15 minutes. Or something.

  • bob collins

    Again, utterly false. First, in a two minute newscast, you’re going to get headlines of 5-6 stories. But if you really do listen to MPR extensively, there’s no possible way you can make your allegations. If you don’t have time to support the allegations, you shouldn’t make them. MPR and NPR have done a fantastic job covering this story. Suggesting we have presented only one side of this story is a patently false accusation utterly unsupportable by the facts.

  • http://hizeph400.blogspot.com mulad

    I agree with Jamie’s point — government has to get bigger over time due to our increasing population. It’s like the management structure inside a company — you can’t run a corporation without any managers. Certainly, having too many can be a problem, but having too few also gums up the works and prevents effective use of a company’s resources.

    Republicans have been very good over the years at getting people to vote against their own best interests. When I do catch the chatter on conservative television programs, they use a lot of rhetoric that sounds great to me right up until they come to a conclusion that is completely at odds with what they were saying up until that point. They’ve become master manipulators, twisting the truth and wrapping bad ideas in all sorts of patriotic and populist phrases.

    Unfortunately, a lot of those phrases bleed into other news coverage from what should be unbiased outlets. MPR and NPR are not immune to this — they can resist it better than other major outlets, but some of it does sneak through the filters. These days, pollsters could probably get a lot of negative responses to a question like “Do you agree that the Earth is round?” — partly just because many people are disinclined to be agreeable.

  • Jamie

    Bob, I didn’t say that MPR has presented only one side. I said that MPR has sometimes presented one side and an incomplete picture. If you air Republican spin during a news break as though it’s news, then you have to at least air the other side/s’ spin on the same topic immediately, not several hours later. And of course, that’s not ideal either. News shows do this all the time: “ABC said ’1-2-3′ and DEF said ’4-5-6.’” That’s not good enough. If you don’t have time in a news break for analysis, then you shouldn’t air anybody’s spin. And it’s odd, but MPR seldom airs just Democratic or liberal spin unanswered in a newscast, but they frequently air Republican spin (thousands of sound bytes by Pawlenty alone) without airing an opposing view.

    MPR has done a better job on this recent political crisis, and they always do a better job, than most other news outlets. But you’re not perfect.

  • Bob Collins

    //but MPR seldom airs just Democratic or liberal spin unanswered in a newscast,

    I’m assuming that once again you haven’t had time to do any actual research on this but are guessing.

    Why don’t you take the time to actually analyze such an important allegation?

  • Jamie again

    I have to comment on Midmorning since Noelle brought it up. Kerri Miller’s shows on this topic this week were actually disappointing to me. I usually love Midmorning, but I didn’t love those 2 shows. The worst thing was when I heard her sort of “harrumph” when a caller said that conservatives, backed by the Supreme Court’s activist decision to allow corporations to make political contributions, are trying to turn the country into a plutocracy. And then she hurried the caller off the air like hosts often do with callers they consider to be crackpots. It was both rude and naïve of her to do that, and I wonder if it revealed her true feelings. The caller was right on – that’s exactly what conservatives are doing! We’re already well on the way to being a plutocracy!

    And also in the first show, she had a pro-union voice on for less than half of the hour, while she had an anti-union guy for most of the hour. As I said before, we’ve heard more from the anti-union “side” from most of the news media. Robert Reich was a good choice for the show, but not when he was waiting to board a plane. His attention was divided. She should have chosen someone else, like maybe Peter Rachliff.

    Also, to ask the anti-union guy whether he thinks Walker will prevail, and to have him bore us not only with his expected answer but also with repeating all the details we already know, was a waste of time.

    It was also a waste of time to spend – what was it – ten minutes? with the mediator. We aren’t hearing enough about the real issues in this debate. She should have allowed more discussion of them.

    The second show (yesterday?) seemed to be framed with an anti-union assumption. A guy called toward the end of the show and said soemthing like, “Finally, the previous call is finally getting to the real issue people should be concerned about here,” and went on to say somethingabout corporatism. So I wasn’t alone in my frustration with how that second show went.

  • Jamie

    I’m sorry, Bob. I just don’t have the time, and my DSL service is really slow which makes it even harder.

    What I’ve said here is based on what I hear on the radio. Perhaps I should make it more clear that I’m expressing an opinion based on my own experience and perception, which are at least as limited and flawed as MPR’s news coverage is imperfect.

  • Nancy

    Interesting that Walker thinks that Ronald Reagan’s “Union Busting” activity in the 1980s brought down the Berlin Wall and destroyed communism. Guess he imagines himself as a Twenty-First Century Reagan and not a bully. Will be interesting to see how long the people of Wisconsin tolerate him.

  • Jamie

    Nancy, I think they’ll tolerate him for as long as he wants to be there, unfortunately, including another term. Much of the country seems to have become very mean-spirited. They LIKE bullies.

  • BJ

    @jamie – I think you might be a little sensitive to the subject, I have been hearing on just about every station (tv,radio) have pretty even coverage. I could see how one side thinks their story is not being told. I was out on tuesday with 2 friends on each side. We we heard a news story about this and their comments, about a news story we all just listened to, were so different. You would have thought we had seen different stories.

    @bob – you don’t usually see MPR or NPR accused of being a shill for republican ideas. :)

  • Jamie

    I didn’t say “shill,” BJ. I think it might be more like carelessness.

    I just heard one of the reports from nearby WI counties in which the guy being interviewed still seemed to think that what union workers and supporters are protesting about is having to pay more for insurance and pensions. That mis-informed-ness is at least in part because of careless or biased news coverage. It’s so critical to get it right.

    I heard several news reports on MPR in which the news reader started the story with the fact that unions are protesting the proposed curtailing of their bargaining rights, blah blah, and then the stories ended with “the bill aims to increase the cost for workers of pension and insurance plans…” That’s not a direct quote of course, but the idea is the same. It leaves the wrong impression. He could have added “…which the workers have already conceded to.” Of course, they would probably not have ended the sentence with a preposition!

    Most of the news coverage I’ve heard elsewhere (I click around through all the 10 pm news broadcasts, including the BBC, on my 2 TVs) has been very similar. They mention the union busting, but they also often leave the impression that the protests are about paying more for benefits.