Why Scott Walker's victory in Wisconsin isn't bad news for Obama's re-election
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s resounding win against a Democratic effort to remove him from office no doubt represents a victory for Republicans in that state and a major defeat for labor unions, both there and nationally, who had turned a recall of Walker into one of their primary political goals.
But Walker’s victory in a key swing state in June does not mean his fellow Republican Mitt Romney will win there or nationally in November. Here’s why:
1. Different elections, different issues
President Obama, unlike the Democratic candidate in Wisconsin, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, is not running in an election largely about the collective bargaining rights of public sector workers. While the differences between Barrett and Walker on other issues no doubt mirror that of Obama and Romney, the presidential election is not occurring solely because of a dispute on labor issues, which Obama rarely speaks about.
In fact, one factor that helped Walker is the improving Wisconsin economy. Unemployment there has dropped to 6.7 percent, more than a point lower than the national average. In November, this will help Obama, not Romney.
Nearly every poll released in Wisconsin before Tuesday showed Walker and Obama both leading, suggesting some in the state didn’t want to recall Walker but still will back Obama in November. (The exit polls from Tuesday’s race showed Wisconsin voters favored Obama 51 percent to 44 percent over Romney: Walker won 18 percent of Obama supporters)
In addition, about 60 percent of Wisconsin voters said recalls should be reserved for official misconduct, suggesting they opposed Democrats’ use of the process because they did not like Walker’s policies.
“There’s a slice of those Obama-Walker voters who think the recall is wrong, improper, a waste of money and an overreaction,” Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, a Republican, told the New York Times earlier this week.
2. Obama voters do not necessarily back other Democratic candidates
The exit polls suggest that one of the strongest parts of the president’s base, voters behind the ages of 18-29, were not behind Barrett with nearly as much enthusiasm. In 2008, young voters were 22 percent of the Wisconsin electorate, and Obama won them by 29 points. In the recall, young voters were only 16 percent of voters, and Barrett won them by only 4 points. (African-Americans strongly backed Barrett; he earned more than 90 percent of the black vote, like Obama in 2008. Blacks were about 5 percent of the vote in both races)
Obama will spend millions to turn out his core supporters in the fall. And the president could persuade some voters for himself, while he opted against campaigning for Barrett. But this remains an open question: the Obama coalition of voters didn’t show up in droves to back congressional Democrats in 2010, and it’s not clear they will return for the presidency.
The voter turnout in Wisconsin was more than 2.4 million, very high for a mid-year election, but about half a million fewer than in 2008.
3. The power of incumbency
Voters effectively decide to fire an incumbent when he or she loses reelection. That’s why pollsters closely watch an incumbent’s approval rating; one that dips below 50 percent is a sure sign of trouble.
In a recent poll of Wisconsin voters by Marquette University, 55 percent of the voters in the state had a favorable view of President Obama, 51 percent of Walker, but only 40 percent for Romney and 41 percent for Barrett.
Follow Perry Bacon Jr. on Twitter at @perrybaconjr