06 June, 2012

Walker Survives Recall: What Does It Mean?

I have a slightly different take on the WI Governor race than most of my conservative brethren. Last night, Governor Scott Walker (R-WI) survived his recall election against Mayor Tom Barrett (D-Milwaukee). The margin of victory was about 7 points (53%-46%). This exceeds his victory margin from 2010 (also against Barrett) slightly.

Exit polls showed the race a dead heat, at 50/50. These same polls also gave President Barack Obama (D-USA) a 7-9 point edge over former Governor Mitt Romney (R-MA) in the race for the White House. Conservatives are saying that the exit polls were about 7 points off, so WI is now a battleground state, and is essentially tied.

Maybe. My guess is likely not, but I won’t say that’s certain. I will say that’s the wrong lesson to be taking from last night’s election.

My guess is that Obama still wins WI in November, by about 3-4 points. Now, that’s certainly close enough that it’s worthwhile for Romney to invest some money there and see if he can gain any traction. But, I think it’s unlikely to be a deciding state. If Romney wins WI, look for him to cruise to victory nationally in November, with probably something approaching 350 electoral votes.

That may happen, but few people are betting that way just yet.

I think looking at WI and wondering whether Romney can win it is taking the small view. I’m looking at the big picture. The last 3 elections have all been “wave” elections, with Republicans winning big in 2010, but Democrats winning big in 2008 and 2006. Even 2004 was a small wave for the GOP, in that President George W. Bush (R-USA) expanded his win over 2000 and got expanded majorities in both chambers of Congress, which is exceptionally rare for a 2nd term.

More importantly, the D/R/I breakdowns of the electorate shifted dramatically between 2004 and 2006, and again between 2008 and 2010. We have a very frustrated and volatile electorate right now, which makes prognostication exceedingly difficult. If you’re a pollster and you’re using a model that projects 37% of the electorate will be D, but it turns out to be only 33%, your whole forecast is going to be wrong.

So, the challenge for all the pollsters, and for anyone else who wants to take a stab at projecting 2012 results, is predicting where that D/R/I breakdown is going to land. So far, no one is predicting that 2012 will be a wave election. But, the question in everyone’s mind is whether it will more closely resemble 2008, or 2010.

Walker exceeded his victory margin from 2010 over the same opponent.

That means, in WI at least, 2012 looks like it may be much closer to 2010 than 2008. Perhaps even better than 2010. Will that translate nationally? That’s the billion dollar question. If the answer is yes, Romney can start thinking about who’s going to be in his Cabinet. Obama can not win in a 2010 environment.

Yes, there are some caveats here. Recall elections are oddballs. Also, it’s very possible that WI may be getting sick of elections, so they may not be quite as enthusiastic in November. And, it’s hard to say whether Romney can generate the same kind of enthusiasm in November anywhere that Walker did in WI yesterday.

In other words, it’s just one data point. Don’t read too much into it. But, if you think they’re not smiling in Romney HQ today and panicked in Obama HQ, then you’re not paying attention.

My personal opinion? Lately this feels like a re-run of the summer of 2010. That makes me very happy.

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