Tag Archives: public sector unions

Battleground Counties: Hamilton County, Ohio

Note: This is based on an article published April 30, 2012

With Battleground counties gaining such prominence, I decided to go back and see what The Wall Street Journal published in their Swing Nation coverage.  Below is their look at Hamilton County, Ohio shortly after Romney locked up the GOP nomination:

As the 2012 race intensifies between President Barack Obama and presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney, the political backdrop in this pivotal swing state is being shaped by events that roiled Ohio a year ago. The fight over the bargaining rights of public-employee unions energized partisans on both sides, and amounted to a trial run for the general election that each party is now trying to use to its advantage. Neither party has a decisive edge, and Ohio figures to be a pivotal as well as closely fought state in the presidential race. Both parties have targeted Ohio as a battleground state, and the two candidates plan to spend a lot of time there. Mr. Obama will be in Ohio this week during his official campaign kickoff. Mr. Romney paid a visit Friday.  And while the union fight and its aftermath will affect the November campaign, including Ohio’s congressional elections, it will hardly be the only issue. A recent survey by the Quinnipiac University Poll showed nine in 10 Ohioans rated the economy as “extremely important” or “very important.”

Public employee unions and collective bargaining rights

Last year’s fight over public-employee unions was waged when Ohio’s unemployment rate was around 9%. Since then, though, it has dropped to 7.5%. One political debate will be whether the Republican Gov. John Kasich—the man at the center of the union fight—or the Democratic president, Mr. Obama, gets credit if the state’s jobless rate continues to fall. Democrats think the fracas reopened the door for supporters who have slipped away in recent years: white, working-class, Republican-leaning voters who disliked the GOP move to shrink the power of public-sector unions, to which many remain loyal. During the fight last year, Mr. Obama lashed out against Ohio’s collective-bargaining law and a similar law in Wisconsin. Republicans, however, are optimistic the core debate over the size of government—including pay and pensions of public employees—will energize their base and pull financially pressed swing voters in their direction. Mr. Romney had backed the law, writing on his Facebook page last year that he fully supported Ohio Republicans’ efforts “to limit the power of union bosses and keep taxes low.” Ohio Republican Sen. Rob Portman, a potential GOP running mate, tried to stay on the sidelines during the fight, but he has supported collective-bargaining rights for police in the past.

Battleground county

Hamilton County is an important swing county in what may be the most important swing state. It is closely watched because its evenly divided electorate has so accurately reflected Ohio’s in the past. Vote tallies here almost precisely mirrored the state’s overall results when Ohio went for Mr. Obama in 2008, 52% to 47%, and then for Mr. Kasich in 2010, 49% to 47%. Ohio gives an ideal vantage point to see how the two parties are battling. Democratic campaign workers are poring over the 1.3 million voter signatures collected to repeal the collective-bargaining law, in hopes of pinpointing swing voters: Democrats say 10% of the signatures came from registered Republicans, 24% were Democrats and independents accounted for 65%. Hamilton generated more signatures per resident than any other county against three GOP-backed laws last year, including the collective-bargaining law. Its rich trove of votes has prompted the Obama campaign to open two of its 18 Ohio offices here. Volunteers began knocking on doors across the state two weeks ago.

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Labor Unions and the Battlegrounds

The political world was understandably focused on Wisconsin this past week and spinning the results often presents more confusion than clarity.  But a big lesson was the impact of unions on state election outcomes.  The Wall Street Journal presents some incredible research on unions’ potential election impact in three Battleground states–Ohio, Colorado, and Virginia–in a post-Wisconsin world:

The one sure loser in the Wisconsin recall was organized labor. There is reason for Mr. Obama and the Democrats to be concerned about the decline of union power, particularly if Wisconsin is indeed some kind of turning point. It would suggest unions may be of less help to the Democrats in states they need to win, particularly in the 2012 issue environment.

Using the latest electoral breakdown from political analyst Charlie Cook, union membership by state unmistakably correlates to the likelihood a state votes Democrat or Republican:

Electoral Probability % of Union Workers
“solid Democratic” 17.7%
“likely Democratic” 15.1%
“lean Democratic” 14.6%
“toss-ups” 9.1%
“likely Republican” 7.6%
“solid Republican” 6.2%

That walk down the ladder in support is even more pronounced when you look at membership in public unions [the union at the crux of the Wisconsin controversy]– an orderly progression through “solid Democratic” to “solid Republican” states.

If only it were that simple. The Battleground states of Ohio, Colorado and Virginia illustrate the complexities of union membership translating to electoral wins:

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