Another take on the Walker emails

We read with interest the Associated Press story today analyzing the avalanche of emails to Gov. Scott Walker, since we published our story on that yesterday.

A summary of our story: Emails to Walker from Feb. 11 through 18 confirm the governor’s statements that they were largely in support — but one-third of those supporters were from outside Wisconsin.

AP’s story: Emails to Walker from Feb. 11 through 17 show that the tide of emails was against Walker for the first several days — but turned in his favor Feb. 17, the day he chose to start talking about emails.

On Feb. 11, the day Walker announced his plan to sharply reduce public unions’ collective bargaining rights, emails ran more than 5-1 against him, the AP reported.

But on Feb. 17, pro-Walker emails began to outnumber those in opposition. That’s when Walker started mentioning emails, saying in a news conference, as protesters roared outside: “The more than 8,000 emails we got today, the majority are telling us to stay firm, to stay strong, to stand with the taxpayers.”

The overall tally: AP’s analysis of 23,000 messages from Feb. 11 through 17 ran 55 percent in support, 44 percent against.

On Monday, the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism released its own analysis of emails to Walker, which was based upon a computer-generated random sample of 2,000 emails selected from more than 50,000 messages received Feb. 11 through 18 (one day more than the dates examined by AP).

The overall tally of the Center’s sample: 62 percent in support, 32 percent against Walker. The margin of error was plus or minus 2.3 percentage points.

The Center didn’t analyze enough files to chart day-to-day variations in the email content.

However, unlike AP, the Center studied whether the email senders appeared to be from inside or outside of Wisconsin –- and found that a third of Walker’s supporters were from outside the state.

The emails were obtained through a settlement in a public records lawsuit filed by the AP and Isthmus newspaper. At Isthmus’ request, the Center analyzed records received by the newspaper. Emails for Feb. 11 through 18 had been requested by Isthmus.

Charles Franklin, a professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said it appears the governor correctly portrayed the content of email he received on Feb. 17.

Franklin said although the methods used by the AP and the Center differed, both news organizations found that “over the long haul,” most emails favored Walker.

He said the higher pro-Walker tally compiled by the Center could have resulted from its inclusion of Feb. 18 emails, the day after the AP detected a surge in pro-Walker sentiment.

The AP’s analysis is valuable because it shows day-to-day shifts in public sentiment as expressed in the emails, Franklin said.

The Center’s report, Franklin said, offers insights into the heavy flow of pro-Walker messages from out of state.

“It strikes me that all of these are legitimate but different views of the same data,” Franklin said, adding that he found the similarities in the two reports’ overall findings “kind of comforting.”