The results of the 2012 Wisconsin Governor recall are in, Scott Walker has defended his governorship, and Mayor Tom Barrett has conceded. What does this mean for the general election? Not much. The issue is very basic: Scott Walker, champion of business or destroyer of unions, according to voters didn’t do anything officially wrong.
Buried at the bottom page of The New York Times’ exit polling data is the crucial question: “Do you think recall elections are appropriate?” The possible responses are “For any reason,” “Never,” and “Only for Official Misconduct.” Walker was drilled by those who believed that recalls are appropriate for any reason 90-9 percent. He received overwhelming support by those who felt recalls were never appropriate, 94-5 percent. In the most indicative category, which made up 60 percent of Wisconsin voters, Walker won 68-31 percent.
This number is so distinctive because most of the other breakdowns see both even distribution and minor shifts in behavior. Mr. Obama won Wisconsin by 14 points in 2008. The above category is the only metric that explains Mr. Walker’s convincing electoral defense. Looking at past election results, two distinct trends emerge. First, the Wisconsin governorship has trended more distinctly Republican over the past four elections. Second, during that same time period, voters are trending more and more support for Democratic presidential candidates. The pundits do not address this contrary development. They should, as it debunks many theories that a loss for Mr. Barrett portents electoral doom for Barack Obama.
The numbers are clear. In 2002, Democrat Jim Doyle defeated Governor Scott McCallum 45 percent to 41 percent. Mr. Doyle won again in 2006, 53-45 over Republican Congressman Mark Green. Governor Doyle did not seek a third term, allowing Republican Scott Walker to defeat Mayor of Milwaukie, Democrat Tom Barrett, 52-47. We see a trend toward Republican candidates after the 2006 election. This could mean Wisconsin voters identify with the party platform, or are were just plain sick of the Democratic incumbent.
Were these numbers predictors of the presidential election, Wisconsin would have voted for John McCain in the 2008 Presidential Election, but they did not. Wisconsin has not given its electoral votes to a Republican Presidential candidate since Ronald Reagan (PBS Electoral Map) in 1984. In 2008, Candidate Obama won Wisconsin 56-42 percent. Bill Clinton beat Republican challengers twice in the state, although by a much smaller margin. Al Gore defeated George W. Bush by 0.2 percent in 2000. John Kerry won defeated President Bush by 0.4 percent. These numbers are clear. At the same time Republicans were winning state wide offices in Wisconsin, the Democrats were winning electoral votes.
Several news organizations are indicating that this race is a barometer for the 2012 presidential election. If that is the case, take a look at the margins. In 2010, Walker won 52-47. In the recall, he won, 53-46. If we see at two percent net change in Republican’s favor, President Obama still has an excellent chance to win the reelection. While this win is big for the Republicans, it’s a win on defense. The political landscape remains virtually unchanged in terms of voting behavior. The recall was an election which hinged on process. The Presidential campaign will be an election decided on partly by issues, but mostly by politics.