On Monday, Obama campaign manager Jim Messina posted a short video for supporters. The video looked at the electoral map and put Wisconsin in the “undecided” camp, much to the surprise of many observers. Wisconsin hasn’t voted for a Republican candidate for president since Ronald Reagan won there in 1984. Wisconsin could be in play in November (and some of the elections since 1984 were narrow Democratic wins). But exit poll results from yesterday’s recall election suggest it will be a climb for Governor Romney. Voters in Wisconsin said if the election were held today, they would vote for Obama over Romney by 51 to 44 percent. Wisconsinites supported Obama over John McCain in 2008 by 56 to 43 percent.
More worrying for the Democrats in the fall were some of the results from other questions in the exit poll. Only 20 percent of Wisconsin voters said they were better off financially than two years ago. Thirty-six percent described their situation as worse, and 44 percent about the same. Voters did say they thought Obama would do a better job handling the economy than Romney (43 to 37 percent).
But let’s look at what Wisconsin voters said about the issue that prompted the recall election. A narrow 52 percent said they favored recent changes in state law limiting ability of government workers to bargain collectively over pay and benefits, while 47 percent disapproved.
A third, up from 26 percent in 2010, described themselves as union households. Walker’s percentage among this group was a single point higher than his 2010 race (38 to 37 percent). As Craig Gilbert, one of Wisconsin’s best political reporters, wrote for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel last week, union households aren’t monolithically Democratic. A large chunk of them are Republicans and Walker got their votes.
As for some other familiar demographic indicators, voters were 50 percent male and 50 percent female. The gender gap emerged once again, with women voting for Barrett and men for Walker. Young people, the most Democratic leaning group in the electorate, voted for Barrett, but all other age groups voted for Walker. This season, Republicans have been doing better with voters with less formal education. In Wisconsin, Walker won the votes of the 60 percent of the electorate without a college degree (56 to 43 percent). College grads split their votes, 50 percent for Barrett, 49 percent for Walker. Walker handily won moderates, the largest grouping (44 percent of the electorate) on the ideological spectrum in Wisconsin, by 54 to 46 percent. Conservatives outnumbered liberals (36 to 21 percent). Their votes were mirror opposites, with 86 percent of conservatives voting for Walker and 86 percent of liberals voting for Barrett. “Independents/other” were 31 percent of Wisconsin voters. They supported Walker over Barrett (54 to 45 percent). Republicans and Democrats were roughly identical in terms of electorate share (35 and 34 percent, respectively). Supporters of the Tea Party made up 36 percent of the Wisconsin electorate and 93 percent of them backed Walker. The 35 percent of Wisconsin voters who opposed the Tea Party overwhelmingly backed Barrett as well. Small city/rural and suburban voters pulled the proverbial lever for Walker; those in cities of 50,000 or more voted for Barrett. The adage that density equals Democrats holds true.
Wisconsinites know the recall was expensive and bitter. That may be why only 27 percent of voters told the exit pollsters that recalls were appropriate for any reason. Sixty percent said they are appropriate for official misconduct only, and 10 percent never.