6/7/2012

The post-election demographic analysis of the Wisconsin recall election will go on at some length, here and elsewhere, but to understand the results you need only the numbers 57, 34 and 1. And, no, the election is not a bad omen for President Obama.

Fifty-seven. Only 57% of eligible voters cast a ballot, instead of the 65% that had been predicted by the Government Accountability Board. Walker did a better job of turning out his base than did Democratic candidate Tom Barrett. Fifty percent of Barrett’s voters said they were voting for Barrett, but another 47% characterized their vote as against Walker. Contrast that with Walker’s backers: 88% said they were voting for their candidate, not against his opponent.  Walker’s base in the affluent southeastern suburbs also turned out in record numbers” Ozaukee (73%), Waukesha (72%) and Washington (70%) had the highest turnout rates in the state.

Thirty-four. Walker outspent Barrett $30.5 million to $4 million, a 7.5-to-1 advantage. The $34.5 million figure “does not include so-called independent expenditures and issue ads paid for primarily by out-of-state billionaires (like the Koch brothers, Sheldon Adelson, and Joe Rickets), business groups, and the National Rifle Association.” Those expenditures, when tallied, will likely double what was spent on the race. It could be that better than 90% of the money spent on the race was spent in favor of Walker. 

One. Former Democratic Senator John Lehman defeated GOP incumbent Van Wanggaard. This combines with the seats the Democrats gained in earlier recall elections to give the Democrats a one-vote majority in the state Senate. The reason Walker could railroad through so much of his hyper-conservative agenda was that the GOP controlled both the Senate and the Assembly and were able to ignore – often in violation of rules and civility – all opposition. With the Democrats in control of the Senate, there is an effective roadblock to any more of Walker’s extremism. Walker’s effectiveness may also be further eroded if the John Doe investigation of his camp results in an indictment of Walker himself, something many now consider very likely.

Obama. Despite the breathlessly joyful predictions of the folks on Fox News, this election does not mean President Obama is in danger of losing Wisconsin. First, 18% of Walker’s supporters say they will vote for Obama in November. Second, among Wisconsin voters who went to the polls in the recall election, 51% said if the presidential election were held today they would vote for Obama, while only 44% would back Romney. Third, the party of a state’s governor does not match well with how that state votes for president: “Over the past 40 years, in fact, the relationship has run in the reverse direction than you might expect. The Democratic presidential candidate has typically done a little better when the state’s governor is a Republican, and vice versa.”

By the numbers. Other interesting tidbits from the exit polling:

  • Walker won the votes of men, white people, people over 30, people with no college degree, people who live in suburbs or rural areas and people earning more than $50,000 a year.
  • Barrett won the votes of women, black people, people under 30, people with college degrees, people who live in cities and people earning less than $50,000 a year.
  • Almost a fifth of the electorate was 65 or older, although they comprise only 13% of Wisconsin’s population.
  • Only about one in 10 voters were of college age.
  • While white people make up 86% of Wisconsin’s population, they accounted for 91% of the voters.
  • Oddly, Barrett won the votes of people identifying themselves as moderates, while Walker won the votes of those identifying as independents.
  • Contrary to how it’s been portrayed, this did not seem to be a referendum on unions. According to exit polls, 51% said they viewed these unions favorably and only 45% held unfavorable opinions.
  • The adage is that elections turn on the health of the economy, but not this time. The recall race unfolded against a backdrop of economic uncertainty, with only 2 in 10 voters saying their family’s finances have improved in the two years since Walker was elected. About a third said their financial situation had grown worse, and more than 4 in 10 said their finances had stayed the same. Still, Walker won the majority of votes from households in all three categories: doing better, doing worse and doing about the same as two years ago. 
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