#WIRecall: Final polling numbers show Gov. Walker with an edge

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock the last several months, you know there’s a Governor recall election in Wisconsin today – the third of its kind in our nation’s history – which is pitting reformist WI Governor Scott Walker (R) against his Big Labor-backed 2010 opponent Mayor Tom Barrett (D) of Milwaukee. The race is being treated by political observers as a bellwether for the November Presidential election. Let’s hope it is, if 538’s Nate Silver’s calculations are correct:

Two polls released over the weekend suggest that Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, a Republican, remains the clear favorite to win Tuesday’s recall election.

Although the contest is fairly close, polls of gubernatorial races are ordinarily quite reliable in the late stages of a race. We have not officially released a forecast
for the race, but Mr. Walker’s lead of about six points would translate into almost a 95 percent chance of victory if we used the same formula we did to evaluate gubernatorial races in 2010, which derives its estimates from the historical accuracy of gubernatorial polls over the past 15 years.

One of the new polls over the weekend, from Public Policy Polling, which conducts polling on behalf of Democratic clients as well as publishes its own polls independently, showed a somewhat tighter race, with Mr. Walker’s Democratic opponent, Mayor Tom Barrett of Milwaukee, having closed his deficit to three percentage points. However, the firm has showed somewhat more favorable results for Mr. Barrett than other polling firms, and this reflected a relatively minor change from the firm’s previous poll, which had Mr. Walker ahead by five percentage points.

At the same time, the Public Policy Polling survey had Mr. Walker at 50 percent of the vote and had very few undecided voters. The presence of undecided voters tends to correlate with higher unpredictability on Election Day, while the absence of them, as in this case, means that even a small lead is more likely to hold up.

Another poll from We Ask America, which is a subsidiary of the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association and often shows Republican-leaning results, had a larger lead, 12 points, for Mr. Walker. There had been no change from the firm’s prior poll, which also had Mr. Walker 12 points ahead.


From a macroscopic view, the mechanics of why Mr. Walker is likely to prevail are not that hard to discern. The results of another recall election last August, in which Democrats succeeded in recalling two Wisconsin state senators but failed in efforts to oust four others, had served as something of a referendum on Mr. Walker. My interpretation of the results was that they implied that opinion in the state was about evenly divided on Mr. Walker at the time in terms of how it translated into actual votes.

Since then, however, Mr. Walker’s performance ratings have improved, with his approval rating exceeding his disapproval rating in most surveys. It is difficult for an incumbent to lose with a net-positive approval rating under any circumstances, and it is probably more so in the case of a recall election, when some voters might give Mr. Walker the benefit of the doubt to allow him to serve out his term. (Mr. Walker, if he wins on Tuesday, would be up for a vote again in 2014 when his original term expires.)

With that said, recall elections are rare events, and it is plausible that the true margin of error in polls of recall elections is intrinsically higher than in regular contests. The results are worth watching, but it would be a true upset if Mr. Barrett were to prevail.

Even if Walker does win today, don’t expect this to be over. Organized Labor never goes away quietly into the night. Bank on it.

Also to keep in mind are other GOP politicos in Wisconsin facing recall elections:

The Walker-Barrett race is in the national spotlight for obvious reasons, but also on the ballot are recall elections for GOP Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, who faces Democrat Mahlon Mitchell, and four GOP state Senate seats. If Democrats can win any one of those seats, they will hold a majority in the Senate for the first time since 2010 and could obstruct any further advancement of Walker’s agenda if he wins.

Are you a Wisconsin voter headed to the polls today? Let us know what you see/hear.

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