I didn’t personally understand the initial email outrage. Even if Governor Scott Walker was being a typical hyperbolic politician regarding the emails, simply citing that he was basing decisions off “8,000 emails” should have been enough for critics. It is, after all, barely one-eighth of one percent of the population of Wisconsin. However, now that we have the data, and because I like data, it’s worth analyzing how and why there was such a massive shift in the number of emails Walker was receiving in a 36-hour period.
Isthmus, the AP, and the Wisconsin Center of Investigative Journalism have all released their takes on the emails sent to Governor Scott Walker in response to the “budget-repair bill.” Walker had said during a press conference on the evening of February 17 that his office had received “over 8,000 emails” with the majority telling him to stand firm. On February 18, he said that number had more than doubled to “19,000” with the majority still in favor.
The Associated Press analyzed 26,000 emails from the date Walker announced his controversial plan to the time he said he had received “over 8,000 emails.” The findings concluded, “By the end of Feb. 16 – the eve of a planned vote in the state Senate and a day in which Madison schools were forced to close due to high number of teacher and staff absences, presumably to protest at the Capitol – Walker had received more than 12,000 emails in all, and they ran roughly 2-to-1 against the bill.”
By the time Walker took to the podium at 5 p.m. on February 17, “the governor’s office had received nearly 5,900 emails of support that day to roughly 1,400 against. Still, at that point, the overall tally was split roughly down the middle.”
By the end of the day, the Governor had received 9,400 emails in support, “three times the number of messages of opposition. The final overall tally through the end of the day: 54 percent in support, 43 percent against.”
The Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism factored in emails from February 18 in their findings. In all they discovered at least 47,752 unique email addresses. Of those, they analyzed a random sample of 1,910. They found that in emails received over that time period “62 percent supported it, while 32 percent opposed it.” When they removed out-of-state emails the margin wasn’t much different from AP’s analysis that only included up until February 17 and also included out-of-state emails: “55 percent favoring his bill and 42 percent opposed.”
Why did the emails not only shift dramatically but also double in 24 hours what was received in seven days?
The media and the rallies. By the time Walker’s February 17 press conference started the Capitol had already borne witness to four rallies of increasing size. The Madison school district had been shut down by a teacher sick-out and the 14 Democrat Senators had fled the state in an attempt to give taxpayers more time to consider what was in the bill. While it is true that one or all of these things could have shifted some undecideds into the “support Walker” column, the combination of these events did something even more important. The media was suddenly paying attention to Wisconsin and the protesters were in control of the narrative. The conservative PR machine was clearly caught off guard and their messaging was easily two days behind.
Locally, individuals such as Ann Althouse and Vicki McKenna were on top of things. The duo, who could never be bothered to call out the Tea Party movement for hoisting racist signs or images portraying President Barack Obama as Osama bin Laden or Hitler, started talking and writing posts acting like the Walker/Hitler signs (which I’ve personally denounced as being inappropriate unless you’re actually protesting Hitler) were unique to the movement unfolding at the Capitol.
Conservative intellectual Michelle Malkin leeched onto McKenna and Althouse’s words and images and raised them to the next level. FOX News began using weasel words to suggest Madison had been taken over by “thugs” and people were “rioting.” Ignoring the truth that the protests were not only peaceful but also oddly celebratory of the fact that so many neighbors were showing up to participate in what they saw as important for the Republic.
Once the disinformation campaign was in full swing, the Tea Party bloggers began calling for emails of support to be sent to Walker’s office.
As the 17th crept toward Walker’s 5 p.m. press conference more organizations began joining in. An hour before Walker’s news conference started the Patriot Action Network called on all of its members to email Walker. By the time his press conference was over the South Florida Tea Party had put up a Facebook page telling people to email Walker. An hour after the press conference Malkin had officially called on her readers to email Walker and the 19 Republicans in the Senate by posting the email that was being sent around to Tea Party activists.
More Tea Parties and branches of Glenn Beck’s 9-12 Project began telling members to email Walker. The Kentucky Club for Growth sent an alert to members to support Walker so that likely means other Club for Growth organizations did the same. And finally, Americans for Prosperity set up a form letter page making it as easy as pie to contact Walker. The Koch Brothers are founders of both Club for Growth and Americans for Prosperity.
Prior to these national organizations mounting their campaign it’s fairly clear that those in Wisconsin who felt an email was the best way to express their support or dissent were nearly evenly divided, but either way, even when emails from the out-of-state Flying Monkey Brigade were removed the results are clear – the emails did support Walker, but they don’t reveal much.
What has been revealed with Walker trumpeting the emails is a troubling double standard and dismissive attitude toward his fellow Wisconsinites.
The Governor essentially used the emails as an argument that a Wisconsinite who bundles up and heads down to the Capitol to have her voice heard shouldn’t be considered as much as someone who fires off a message from his home computer before climbing into bed.
The Governor also suggested that the taxpayers demonstrating at the Capitol and the taxpayers opposing him as he travels around the state are mostly bussed in. Not only was this suggestion wrong, it is also a double standard. During two press conferences, he referenced the emails as speaking for the majority of Wisconsinites even though thousands of those emails came from out-of-state supporters taking their cues from at least one FOX News pundit, the Club for Growth, and Tea Party Patriots.
Walker has also touted the Americans for Prosperity funded “Stand with Walker” bus tour as evidence that the majority of Wisconsinites support him, again while dismissing the hundreds of people that show up to greet him whenever he visits a municipality. Those people came on foot and by car from their places of work or their homes. They didn’t show up in a tour bus.
If the AP and Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism are correct in their extrapolation, then that means roughly 29,000 people emailed Walker in support over eight days. Nearly 3,400 of those emails were from out-of-state. That means Walker is holding up the input of less than half of one percent of Wisconsin taxpayers as more important than the voices of tens of thousands that have followed him all over the state.
This originally appeared at dane101.com on March 23, 2011.