Evers, Walker are hit­ting ed­u­ca­tion hard in their ads

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - - Front Page - Craig Gil­bert and Molly Beck

If you watch the cam­paign ads for gov­er­nor in Wis­con­sin, you see both sides talking past each other much of the time.

Democrats have been talking about roads and health care.

Repub­li­cans have been talking about taxes and pub­lic safety.

There is only one is­sue that both sides are ham­mer­ing away at in their broad­cast TV ads, and that is ed­u­ca­tion.

The television ad­ver­tis­ing in the gov­er­nor’s race,

which is a tossup in the lat­est polling, il­lus­trates what a cen­tral role ed­u­ca­tion is play­ing in this con­test which has drawn $14 mil­lion in ads in fewer than two months,

Ed­u­ca­tion has been men­tioned in two-thirds of the broad­cast television ads by Demo­crat Tony Evers and his al­lies, ac­cord­ing to data pro­vided to the Jour­nal Sen­tinel by the ad-track­ing firm of Kan­tar Me­dia/CMAG.

It has been men­tioned in more than 70 per­cent of the ads aired by GOP Gov. Scott Walker and his al­lies.

It is not only the most talked-about is­sue in the ad wars, it is the only is­sue that fig­ures promi­nently in the ad­ver­tis­ing mes­sages of both sides. It is play­ing a big­ger role in the broad­cast TV ads in Wis­con­sin than it is in con­tests for gov­er­nor na­tion­ally, the ad data shows.

Be­hind that pat­tern is a con­ver­gence of fac­tors.

“Given the his­tory of Act 10, all the bud­gets cut to K-12 early in the Walker ten­ure, and with a some­what more pos­i­tive bud­get now for ed­u­ca­tion and the gov­er­nor claim­ing to be the ‘ed­u­ca­tion gov­er­nor,’ you knew the Demo­cratic chal­lenger was go­ing to talk about (ed­u­ca­tion) no mat­ter what,” said Univer­sity of Wis­con­sin-Madi­son po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist David Canon.

“Then, when the Demo­cratic chal­lenger is Tony Evers, the state school su­per­in­ten­dent, it’s ready-made to have ed­u­ca­tion be the fo­cus of the cam­paign.”

Who is the real ‘ed­u­ca­tion gov­er­nor’?

Walker’s best-known pol­icy achieve­ment, the Act 10 changes in col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing for pub­lic unions, has spawned un­end­ing de­bate over the con­se­quences for ed­u­ca­tion.

Walker and Repub­li­can law­mak­ers also cut about $782 mil­lion from state fund­ing to schools in Walker’s first bud­get, which was off­set by teach­ers pay­ing more for health care and pen­sion costs. And Walker’s bud­gets also have kept dis­tricts’ abil­ity to raise prop­erty taxes to pay for teach­ers and

pro­grams largely flat since tak­ing power in 2011.

Know­ing he would be un­der at­tack on the is­sue, Walker pro­claimed him­self “the ed­u­ca­tion gov­er­nor” and has aired ads tout­ing a sig­nif­i­cant in­crease in fund­ing for pub­lic schools that the gov­er­nor pro­posed just be­fore launch­ing his re-election cam­paign for a third term.

The ads say Walker is in­vest­ing money in the right places in schools, and that Act 10 opened the door for him to do that. The GOP cam­paign spots ar­gue Evers is more loyal to teach­ers unions than to class­rooms, and have crit­i­cized him over not re­vok­ing li­censes of teach­ers who have en­gaged in mis­con­duct.

Evers and Democrats con­tend Walker is try­ing to re­write his­tory with his ads and leav­ing out that he sought to cut pub­lic school fund­ing while also boost­ing money for pri­vate voucher schools. Evers’ ad­ver­tis­ing high­lights his work as a teacher, prin­ci­pal and school ad­min­is­tra­tor and as­serts that his past ex­pe­ri­ence means he would have an ad­min­is­tra­tion fo­cused on schools and fam­i­lies.

There is no doubt ed­u­ca­tion is a ma­jor is­sue for Wis­con­sin vot­ers.

Of­fered a long list of top­ics in a statewide poll in Au­gust by the Mar­quette Univer­sity Law School, 22 per­cent of vot­ers chose K-12 ed­u­ca­tion as the most im­por­tant is­sue fac­ing Wis­con­sin, topped only by the 24 per­cent that chose jobs and the econ­omy. Democrats and in­de­pen­dents were more likely than Repub­li­cans to choose ed­u­ca­tion, but even among GOP vot­ers, it was eas­ily one of the top is­sues.

School spend­ing has be­come a big­ger pri­or­ity for vot­ers in re­cent years. In a poll re­leased Wed­nes­day by Mar­quette, 57 per­cent said in­creas­ing spend­ing on pub­lic schools was more im­por­tant than cut­ting prop­erty taxes — up from 46 per­cent in 2013.

The vot­ers who pri­or­i­tize school spend­ing in­cluded 67 per­cent of mod­er­ates, 53 per­cent of in­de­pen­dents and 62 per­cent of women. School spend­ing was cho­sen ahead of cut­ting prop­erty taxes by vot­ers in ev­ery area of the state, in­clud­ing the south­east Wis­con­sin sub­urbs and coun­ties out­side the city of Mil­wau­kee — a GOP-lean­ing re­gion where Walker is lead­ing Evers by roughly

20 points.

Track­ing ads on both sides

How prom­i­nent has ed­u­ca­tion been in the cam­paign ads?

The an­swer comes from data pro­vided to the Jour­nal Sen­tinel by the non­par­ti­san Cam­paign Me­dia Anal­y­sis Group (CMAG), which tracks po­lit­i­cal ad­ver­tis­ing. Given the sheer amount of money spent — about $14 mil­lion in this race from mid-Au­gust to early Oc­to­ber on broad­cast television — the con­tent of the ads is a win­dow into what is­sues each side cares about most and thinks will move the vot­ing pub­lic. The num­bers be­low re­flect ads aired on broad­cast TV be­tween Aug. 15 (the day af­ter the pri­mary) and Oct. 4.

On the Demo­cratic side, 81 per­cent of the spots aired by Evers or pro-Evers groups have men­tioned health care, 67 per­cent ed­u­ca­tion, 48 per­cent trans­porta­tion and 11 per­cent jobs or un­em­ploy­ment.

The health care ads have in­cluded at­tacks on Walker, say­ing he is con­tribut­ing to ris­ing health care costs by not ac­cept­ing fed­eral dol­lars to ex­pand Med­i­caid and is work­ing to undo pro­tec­tions for pre-ex­ist­ing con­di­tions by au­tho­riz­ing a law­suit to re­peal the Af­ford­able Care Act.

Walker has pushed back by pledg­ing to pro­tect pre-ex­ist­ing con­di­tions through leg­is­la­tion, though a pre­vi­ous ef­fort didn’t get ap­proval from the Leg­is­la­ture. Walker has re­newed a call to pass leg­is­la­tion and also has pro­posed and signed a plan to sta­bi­lize the state’s Oba­macare mar­ket in an ef­fort to lower pre­mi­ums.

The Demo­cratic trans­porta­tion ads fea­ture crit­i­cism of Walker over the con­di­tion of the state’s roads.

On the GOP side, 74 per­cent of the ads men­tioned ed­u­ca­tion, 39 per­cent taxes, 34 per­cent pub­lic safety, 21 per­cent the bud­get or spend­ing and 17 per­cent jobs or un­em­ploy­ment.

The ads on taxes have ac­cused Evers of want­ing to raise taxes, in­clud­ing the tax on gaso­line by as much as $1 — an idea Evers has called ridicu­lous but did not rule out when first ques­tioned. The pub­lic safety ads have at­tacked Evers for sup­port­ing a 50 per­cent reduction in the prison pop­u­la­tion, which Walker said would put vi­o­lent felons on the streets. Evers has said the prison reduction is a goal worth pur­su­ing.

The share of GOP ads that men­tion ed­u­ca­tion — 74 per­cent — in­cludes the many ads Repub­li­cans aired af­ter the pri­mary about the case of a Mid­dle­ton teacher whose li­cense was not re­voked by Evers’ Depart­ment of Pub­lic In­struc­tion af­ter he looked at porno­graphic ma­te­rial at school. Evers main­tains he legally couldn’t re­voke the li­cense be­cause chil­dren were not ex­posed to the ma­te­rial, while Walker has ar­gued he should have tried any­way and let the courts sort it out.

If you take away the ads about the case of that one teacher and only in­clude broader mes­sages about ed­u­ca­tion in the tally, the is­sue of ed­u­ca­tion is still eas­ily the most cen­tral one in the television ad­ver­tis­ing, men­tioned in more than 50 per­cent of all the ads aired by both sides in the gov­er­nor’s race and in more than 40 per­cent of the GOP ads, ac­cord­ing to CMAG.

Wis­con­sin is an out­lier

Na­tion­ally, ed­u­ca­tion has been a prom­i­nent is­sue in cam­paigns for gov­er­nor — men­tioned in about a third of the broad­cast ads — but not as prom­i­nent as it has been in Wis­con­sin.

Un­like ed­u­ca­tion, the other is­sues in the race are mostly sub­jects an­i­mat­ing one side but not the other.

Health care comes up in 81 per­cent of Demo­cratic ads but only 6 per­cent of GOP ads.

Trans­porta­tion (roads) comes up in 48 per­cent of Demo­cratic ads but only 6 per­cent of GOP ads.

“Trans­porta­tion and roads are a lit­tle bit of a wild card,” said Canon. “I can’t think of an election re­cently where roads would have been a top three is­sue (for one party).”

In fact, those three is­sues — ed­u­ca­tion, health and trans­porta­tion — de­scribe al­most the en­tire pol­icy mes­sage on the Demo­cratic side on broad­cast television in this race.

The GOP ads are a bit more mixed in their is­sue fo­cus.

Taxes comes up in 39 per­cent of Repub­li­can ads but none of the Demo­cratic ads.

Pub­lic safety comes up in 34 per­cent of the GOP ads but just 8 per­cent of the Demo­cratic ads.

Spend­ing and the bud­get comes up in 20 per­cent of the GOP ads but not at all in the Demo­cratic ads.

Jobs or un­em­ploy­ment is men­tioned in 17 per­cent of the Repub­li­can ads and 11 per­cent of the Demo­cratic ads.

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