Governor Scott Walker is no stranger to criticism or controversy over the last two years. Elected with 52% of the vote in 2010 along with fresh Republican majorities in the state senate and assembly Walker proceeded to launch an ambitious political agenda. This agenda, including CBA rights and drastically cutting spending has made him a hero of the right. And a top target of the left. The bullseye on his back is the reason why he is just the third sitting Governor in US history to face a recall.
Walker has many advantages heading into the recall. He has millions in campaign cash, dozens of high-profile conservative endorsements and an active WI GOP base anchored in the conservative suburbs of Milwaukee standing with him. While the top two Democrats, Barrett and Falk, have been hitting each other in a contentious primary to face Walker he has been able to sit pretty and await the winner. His campaign is already up with TV ads and identifying key areas he needs to win in a close election.
But all Walker’s advantages may be for not for two very reasons. The electorate is deeply polarized in their views on Walker and is highly engaged.
The University of Marquette has conducted four polls on Walker’s approval from January to April. In each poll Walker’s approval has been between 46% and 51%. His disapproval has been between 46% and 51%. Walker’s favorable and unfavorable numbers were also inline with these numbers. But don’t just take one survey’s word for it. Public Policy Polling surveyed the race in mid April. They surveyed 1136 respondents and out of all 1136 only 13 had no opinion of Walker. And no that is not 13% of the sample but 13 people.
This polarization is deeply rooted in the partisan divide. Republicans and conservatives overwhelmingly approve of Walker. Democrats and liberals overwhelmingly disapprove. It is the independents and moderates who are split in their views of Walker. This means Walker’s floor appears to be no lower than slightly below 50% but it also means his ceiling is not much higher than 50% either. A double-edged sword if there ever was one.
Walker also seems to be impervious to new political events changing how voters feel about him. Consider the following information of the Marquette survey in April about voter’s feelings about jobs from a year ago. In March 34% said there were more, 24% said the same and 39% said the same. In the April survey the numbers flipped and 21% said more jobs, 38% said less and 38% said about the same. Yet Walker’s approval numbers barely moved up or down. This as voters mood about the economy sour closer to election day.
In fact, they had not just no impact on his approval rating but also his general election chances. In March he led Barrett 47%-45% and Falk 49%-45%. In the latest survey he trails Barrett 47%-46% and leads Falk 49%-42%. Both those results do not show a trend against or for Walker and are well within the survey’s margin of error.
The latest Marquette University poll also illustrates how active the public is. A full sixth of voters have attended a rally in the last year and a fifth has given money to a candidate. Those who report they have a public worker in their household have been the most engaged with 36% attending rallies compared to only 13% of the rest of the electorate. College voters have been slightly more active, in donations and attending rallies, than non-college educated voters. And those on the farthest extremes of the political spectrum have donated the most money to the candidates. Men are more interested in the recall than women.
In a way this election in WI is shaping up to be reminiscent of the 2004 presidential election. President Bush was a lightning rod of criticism from the left but he had god-like support from the right. The ads run during the 2004 election were nasty and campaign staffers and volunteers on both sides were harassed, spat on and in a few cases physically assaulted. The end result was an extremely close election where over 76% of the VEP showed up to vote and John Kerry won by a little less than 10,000 votes.
All this points to the glaringly obvious. The recall election this June will be a narrow win or defeat for Walker. Walker’s strengths and weaknesses seem to cancel each other out. He has strong support from the very active right. Yet he also has ardent opposition from an active left. And the undecided are few and far between. Walker and the Democratic nominee’s campaign will spend heavily in the four weeks leading up to June 5th not just on the undecided but on turning out every supporter they can find. And in this race it could totally, literally and completely come down to turnout and turnout alone.
The GOP can take hope from a PPP survey in April however in the 4 state senate recalls. In all four races the GOP led and only one seat looked competitive. A one seat flip would swing the senate to the Democrats at least until November 2012. However Walker’s numbers were strong in all the districts and he defeated all Democrats in each district. Despite Walker’s solid opposition his solid support might ensure the GOP continues to control the state senate no matter what the result is in his contest.