Walker, Republicans Dominate in Wisconsin Recall (Updated)

As I write this, Republican Scott Walker is flirting with a 60-40% landslide victory over Democrat Tom Barrett in the Wisconsin recall election. The GOP state senators up for recall are also all leading by 20%+ margins. While the counting is early yet and those margins may come down (even though the races have been called), the county-level results are showing Walker almost uniformly outperforming his 2010 showing, which was of course a very Republican year. What accounts for this overwhelming victory, which seems to defy much of the polling (although one late poll had Walker up 12) as well as the CNN exit polling?

We can discard one possible explanation right away: low turnout. In fact, the election had very high turnout, about 60% of the eligible electorate, which is normally thought of as favoring Democrats. It is possible that Republicans were more motivated than Democrats and turned out in particularly high numbers, and indeed Walker was more likely to outperform his 2010 performance in counties that were Republican to begin with. So differential turnout remains a strong possibility, but merely invites a further question: Why did pro-Walker voters turn out in greater force?

Another possibility is that Walker is quite popular and that the median voter strongly favors his collective bargaining reforms. This is likely part of the explanation, as polls show majority approval of Walker’s job performance and his collective bargaining reforms, but he still seems to be outperforming even these polls in the recall election.

The third piece of the puzzle may be that some people who oppose Walker and his reforms actually voted for him because they did not believe in using the recall process. The exit polls, flawed as they apparently were, show a strong majority in favor of the view that recall elections should be used only in cases of official misconduct. However, I remain skeptical that very many voters would actually cast a vote in favor of a candidate to which they were opposed. Ideology almost always trumps process concerns for voters. What may have happened is that the process concerns kept moderate Walker opponents home disproportionately, thus contributing to the GOP turnout advantage.

UPDATE: Despite the apparent county-level improvements over 2010 for Walker in the early counting and huge leads for the Republican senators, the final count ended up much closer than the early results. In fact, one of the Republican senators was defeated. The early precincts to report must have been overwhelmingly Republican across the state. The closer final count makes me think that the “process” issues were a lot less relevant to voters than the media spin would have it.

5 thoughts on “Walker, Republicans Dominate in Wisconsin Recall (Updated)

  1. If I think about Wisconsin, I think about it being not only the laboratory for a lot of progressive reforms, but one of the “testing grounds” for welfare reform under Tommy Thompson. So this is a good thing for those wanting to reform the relationship between public unions and taxpayers.

    But I also remember that Wisconsin, despite the conservative reform mantra under Thompson, still kept voting Democratic. We’ll see what happens in the fall, but what gives Cheeseheads?

  2. If we peel away the media spin, we find that the final margin of victory is only slightly different than in was in 2010 when Walker beat Barrett the last time. The turnout was quite impressive, but the results were not much of a surprise in my opinion. As a Wisconsin native, I have relatives on both sides of this contest and without exception their positions have only hardened since 2010.

      1. If Romney wins Wisconsin, it will be because the national mood has turned quite sour, and he will have won the election without Wisconsin anyway. The exit polls had a +7 D bias but still showed Obama with a 10-point lead, so even with 2010-style turnout, it will be an uphill climb for Romney.

      2. I doubt it, but agree with Jason–if Romney wins the Badger State he won’t need it. I don’t put much faith in the exit polling last night given the gap between the predictions and the final vote.

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