I stand by my comments yesterday that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s victory in his recall election does not necessarily translate to Mitt Romney’s campaign in the state against President Obama. That said, there are some lessons to take away from last night’s results:
1.The political momentum is firmly against public-sector unions. That is the biggest takeaway message from the 18-month saga in Wisconsin. The public is tired of paying for this arrangement of better pay and benefits for people who are supposed to work for the public, but who are ready to hold the public hostage though strikes and collective bargaining. Once upon a time, those on the left understood the distinction between organizing private labor and organizing public labor, and why the latter goes against the public’s interest. Slowly, the public is re-teaching them.
2. Money still matters in politics, but it reflects popular sentiment rather than driving it. Yes, Walker outspent Barrett by tens of millions of dollars. Why? Because there is more money to be raised for curbing public-sector unions’ largesse than for defending it. Large numbers of people felt that well before Walker came onto the scene, and their numbers have only grown as they’ve watched events in Madison unfold over the past 18 months; the fund-raising totals merely reflect that reality.
Liberals are trying to cast this as the consequence of the Citizens United decision, claiming that Supreme Court ruling opened the floodgates for businesses to “buy” elections. What Citizens United did, in fact, was to level the playing field between businesses and the special-interest groups — specifically, in this case, organized labor — that have been likewise “buying” elections for years. I don’t remember liberals complaining about campaign-finance rules back when Obama ditched public financing during his 2008 campaign and greatly outspent John McCain. Or back when they were crowing that Obama would raise $1 billion for his re-election campaign this year. Now he appears likely to fall short of that absurd target — which, again, is a reflection of public sentiment — and the complaints are cranking back up.
3. Speaking of double-talk, the calls for “new civility” apparently were no different. As if the sincerity of those preaching civility hadn’t already been thoroughly discredited: Note just this one compilation of tweets — be forewarned that the language is far more foul than we allow on ajc.com blogs — calling for someone to kill Walker, or claiming they’ve “already payed for the hit.” (”Payed” — a student of one of Wisconsin’s fine union teachers, perhaps?) And to think, conservatives were accused of far worse merely for using cliche words and symbols for targeting certain incumbents and elections. In the end, each side should spend more time policing its own than grasping for ways to be offended.
4. The Wisconsin GOP’s ground game is impressive. Ground game, get-out-the-vote (GOTV) efforts — call it what you like. Walker won last night by a larger margin than in 2010, despite the labor-union/liberal anger against him, in part because he outperformed in the same precincts he won two years ago while his opponent ran pretty much even (Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett was Walker’s Democratic opponent both times). This graph from the Huffington Post tells the story much more quickly and clearly than the proverbial thousand words could (click “Compare to 2010″ if it doesn’t load initially). That’s how you increase your margin even as voter turnout increases.
5. Exit polls are about as useful for predicting the day’s outcome(s) as drawing numbers out of a hat. The initial predictions based on the exit polls were for a dead heat. Then, they were adjusted to predict a 52-48 outcome for Walker. In the end, he won by 6.9 percentage points. The final Real Clear Politics average of polls in the race showed Walker with a 6.7-point lead, almost dead-on. So, why are the exit polls so far off?
The simplest answer is that they’re not really designed to predict the outcome, but rather to tell us about the electorate who decided the outcome and to be used as a tool for calling an election once there are sufficient voting data to confirm the trends found in the exit polls. Yet, the same news organizations that commission the exit polls knowing this is what they’re useful for turn around on election night and use them to predict outcomes. You’d think my colleagues would have learned their lesson by now: As Nate Silver of the New York Times’ FiveThirtyEight blog noted on Twitter last night, “Exit polls have been highly accurate in every recent election except 1992, 1994, 1996, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008 and 2010.”
6. Wisconsin is in play in November. While I won’t promote Romney’s chances in Wisconsin based on the recall election’s results, the problems with the exit polls mean I sure as heck would not be smug about Obama’s showing, either. Yes, the exit polls showed him with a 7-point lead over Romney as voters’ preferred candidate. But keep in mind that 4- to 7-point discrepancy between what the exit polls showed for Walker and what he wound up with. Keep in mind, too, that Obama won the state by 14 points in 2008. As far as November goes, the exit polls only confirm the suspicion that Wisconsin will be competitive.
– By Kyle Wingfield