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April 01, 2014

Deep Dive: AOSHQDD First Look at #WIGov 2014

(with a few potshots to take at Team Romney along the way, because why not?)

When we last really focused on Wisconsin, Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney halved President Obama's 2008 landslide win, leaving Republicans who had just witnessed Governor Walker's wallop of Barrett during the recall apoplectic and questioning everything they could. How could this have happened? Was Gov. Walker just lucky with the recall? Is there a way for any Republican to win statewide in a Presidential year? How can we possibly beat the turnout in Milwaukee? Most important, is Walker favored to win re-election?

First, we'll examine the November 2012 failure, and let's look at the most obvious parts of the state many (wrongly) assumed delivered President Obama a win where it failed to “come through” for candidate Tom Barrett: Milwaukee City and Dane County.

Milwaukee City, located within the limits of Milwaukee County, cast roughly 227,800 ballots for President Obama, and 56,700 for Romney, giving the President a sizable 171,000 vote edge. While this sounds formidable, Milwaukee City only accounted for 9% of the statewide vote in 2012- the exact same share it had in the recall five months earlier (see regional chart below). Considering Tom Barrett's 121,000 vote edge in the recall here, this Democrat-favoring margin jumped only by 50,000- hardly enough to unseat Walker if, say, Barrett had managed to score the President's totals out of the city.

Dane County, home of the City of Madison, cast roughly 83,600 votes for Romney, and 216,000 votes for President Obama, giving the President a 132,400 vote cushion. While sizable, consider that Tom Barrett scored a 98,800 vote edge in the recall, so this was just an improvement of about 34,600 votes.

Using the 2012 recall as a baseline, and giving Tom Barrett ALL of Obama's margins in the City of Milwaukee and Dane County, he would have still fallen tens of thousands of votes short of knocking Walker off. The Democrats had very impressive turnout for a non-Presidential race, but all of the votes they could find in their two largest pockets wasn't enough to unseat the Governor, and wouldn't have been even given Presidential-level turnout there. If the only improvement for President Obama over candidate Tom Barrett had been in these two often-cited areas, he would have lost to Mitt Romney.

Why Walker ultimately won and Mitt Romney lost boils down to two far less mentioned and far more important regions in the state: the Green Bay/ Appleton media market of NE Wisconsin, and even more crucial, the mish-mash of “other” markets (Duluth, Twin Cities, Wausau, and Eau Claire/La Crosse) that make up the northwest portion of the state. The former region went to Walker by a massive margin, nearly as large as his win in the blood red Milwaukee suburbs: 62%-38%. The latter region went to the Governor by a respectable 56% to 44%, and has been far less favorable to Republican Presidential candidates.


Map generated using election data from GAB

In the Presidential race, Romney lost this large “other” region of the state, and enjoyed but a fraction of the margin Governor Walker had in the Green Bay area (just 4% compared to Walker's 24%). The notion that Democratic turnout operations in Dane and Milwaukee actually block Republican victories is false: as I have shown above, if the only change had been in these two mega-Democratic regions, and you gave Tom Barrett ALL of President Obama's margins there, he would have come up short; instead, Republican Presidential candidates have a problem with winning the state because of failures in the oft-ignored regions. Team Romney repeated Team Barrett's mistake and emphasized their turnout and media efforts in the wrong places.

The Milwaukee 'burbs have been blood red for some time now, while the city of Milwaukee and the Madison area deep blue for an equally long time, so ad spending and GOTV efforts in these places reach saturation rather rapidly. Team Romney and various Republican groups spent almost $12 million of the $27 million dumped into the state in the Madison and Milwaukee media markets- the two markets least likely to see any shift substantial enough to change the race. The northern areas of the state require you to actively criss-cross and campaign if you want their vote, and this simply wasn't done. Team Romney (barely) got involved in Green Bay, and the campaign utterly dropped the ball in the northwest. The stark contrast in results is damning, particularly when you look at the county-by-county changes:



But enough about beating up on our failure in late 2012. What are Governor Walker's chances this go-around? Is Mary Burke really a more formidable candidate than Mayor Barrett? What does the polling say?


Despite fund-raising emails hyping Burke as an intimidating challenger (by both sides!), there is no evidence so far in the polling that the Governor faces a bigger fight than in 2010 or 2012. In fact, her share of the vote is marginally worse than Barrett's at roughly the same point in 2010 and 2012. But don't take my word for it: look at the data.

Consider the three polls released in March 2010: WPRI found Walker with a 4% lead, Rasmussen 6%, and PPP just 3% over Barrett. Also consider the polling released between October 2011 and February 2012: Walker led Barrett by 2% per PPP in October, trailed him by 3% in February, and held a somewhat more comfortable 6% edge per Marquette in January. Now consider Burke's current performance: a 45% tie per Rasmussen (her best), trailing Walker 41% to 48% per Marquette (her worst), and trailing him 44%-49% per Gravis. While very old, Public Policy Polling's latest release of this current race gives Walker a 6% edge- a greater margin than anything they found for him during the entirety of his recall battle.


Her approval rating is up in the air: most residents of the state are still unfamiliar with her (and the Governor, war chest at the ready, will be more than happy to inform Wisconsinites who she “really” is), and she's looking at around 84% of Democrats per the latest Marquette Law Poll. Considering Barrett polled in the mid-40s and won between 46% and 47% in both of his battles with the Governor, and Burke has been at 41%, 45%, and 44% in the latest samplings (MuLaw, Rasmussen and Gravis Marketing), there is no evidence in the data we have to suggest she's stronger than Tom Barrett. As for that approval rating, being "undefined" has the potential upside of growing your numbers as the public notices you, but that is not what we have seen so far:



Contrast her performance with the Governor, who presides over a bitterly divided state, yet who maintains a consistent approval rating in the high forties (and occasionally over 50%):


Yes, his approval number has down-ticked a bit over two years, but his disapproval rating has dropped by roughly the same. There has, is, and always will be a hardened core of Wisconsin residents who hate the Governor, and there has, is, and always will be a hardened core of residents who love him. The simple truth is that the core who adore the guy is bigger, and these blocs frame the election to give the Governor a low ceiling (the mid-50s at best) and a very high floor (around 47-48%). Walker is NO Jim Doyle, who polled anywhere from -2 to -29 in his approval ratings during the final year of his last term.

One of the central issues for Wisconsin since before Walker was even elected was the economy, and the perception of its recent performance has changed in the Governor's favor since the heat of the recall:


While "jobs" will be touted by Burke as a big issue, Wisconsin voters' perception of the economic conditions in Wisconsin won't give her much of a cudgel, barring another downturn. It also doesn't help that two of her biggest claims in ads about wages and the unemployment rate have been duds, per Politifact's analysis. Perhaps the most obvious item on the "jobs" cry though is that the Democrats have been shouting it since 2011, and already tried to use it to rev up support for Barrett in the recall- and yet the Governor's lead hasn't budged.

Democrats nationally have been talking up the need to increase turnout, targeting the Presidential-year-only voters, in particular minority and youth votes to avoid losing control of the Senate and to make a few gains here and their in what otherwise looks like a Republican year; but when it comes to Wisconsin, we have already seen what top-notch turnout efforts look like in a non-Presidential election. It delivers the Democratic candidate a combined 205,000 vote margin out of Dane and Milwaukee Counties, which would be extremely impressive if the much smaller but much more Republican WOW (Waukesha Ozaukee & Washington) hadn't delivered a >150,000 vote rebuttal. With the recall as their high-water mark, and no sign yet that this fight will see turnout even approaching that, we are really, really giving Burke the benefit of the doubt in expecting roughly identical margins in the bluest areas.

The Marquette Law Poll won my respect in 2012 with it's excellent final result, nailing not only the topline number, but coming very close to Walker and Barrett's shares in the major regions of the state. Their final polls for the Presidential and Senate races were also only 2 points off. Their prolific polling and consistent methodology gives us an excellent source of data to draw long-term conclusions on the attitude of the state.

Looking at their latest release, we fail to find any good news for candidate Burke- she wins Milwaukee City by 66%-21% (Democrat Barrett won it 77-23 in 2012), the Madison media market by a substantial 53%-33% (Barrett win this by 61-39), and loses everywhere else: 38%-55% in the Milwaukee media market (Walker won it 63-37), 34%-56% in the Green Bay area (Walker won this 62-38 ), and in the usually more fickle “other”, is getting absolutely destroyed 31%-54% (Walker beat Barrett in the swingiest region by 54%-46%). Even averaging this and the last MuLaw cross-tabs, Walker is enjoying double-digit advantages over Burke in Green Bay and the northwest, crushing her (as expected) in the Milwaukee burbs, and trailing her only in Milwaukee-proper and the Madison area. When you look at how much of the statewide vote each of these regions made up during the recall (and, in nearly identical percentages, the Presidential race five months later), Walker's regional strengths can't be ignored. He's running nearly identical margins to his performance in 2012, which broke down as such:


Since the recall, little has really changed for Governor Walker in terms of his approval rating- he has seemed to bounce around a few points shy of or over fifty percent, with his disapproval rating ranging from the mid to high forties. Little has changed too in his regional performance since the recall, as the Marquette Law Polls have shown. Dave Weigel's report from Wisconsin during the height of the recall contest, Welcome to Walkerland, highlighted a campaign that utilized data and volunteers to a degree unmatched by any Democrat in the state save for the President. His team plans to build off of that GOTV that successfully gave him a larger majority in the recall than his initial gubernatorial election, so “catching his ground game off guard” is off the table for Burke and Wisconsin Democrats.

The loyalty of the Walker base is not to be underestimated. During the recall, a primary was held, mainly for the Democrats to decide who they would pick to rid themselves of the Great Conservative Menace. Beyond just showing their support, there was really no reason for Republicans to turn out in the token Republican primary. Considering Kathleen Falk was thought to be the weaker candidate at the time, many conservatives considered playing around in the Democratic primary, which would have augmented what was already expected to be very high turnout (over 900,000 people signed a recall, so it was implied in the days leading up to May 8th that a sizable Democratic showing would materialize). On May 8th, over 670,000 ballots were cast in the Democratic primary....and over 625,000 were cast for Scott Walker in his virtually uncontested one. A map comparing counties where Walker received more votes (again, this was merely a show of support from Republicans, because there was no contest on the Republican side) than all of the Democrats combined went viral, and indicated just how wide a swath of territory “Walkerland” had extended:

Blue WisconsinPurple WisconsinAnd Walkerland.png

Conservatives, establishment Republicans and libertarians got on a rare unity kick and put everything they hand into “saving” Walker on June 5th , 2012, and their success looks even grander when you consider the size of the Governor's wins in his biggest counties versus what the Democrats backing Barrett achieved:



The ten largest counties breaking for Scott Walker bested those backing Tom Barrett: Waukesha came around 3000 votes shy of matching nearby Dane's, despite having 108,000 fewer residents. Critical, indeed. No less impressive, Ozaukee, Washington, Dodge, Walworth and Sheboygan came within 14,000 votes of matching the Democratic margin out of Milwaukee, despite having a combined population just over half the size. While Barrett's % margins were enormous out of the Duluth-area counties, none approached the raw votes of the red Milwaukee suburbs. (All county level data is pulled from gab.wi.gov)

With few exceptions (Kenosha, La Crosse, and possibly Columbia), all of these will almost certainly side with the same party this time around, which just further adds to Burke's problem: how does she top the blood-red Milwaukee suburbs? If Green Bay and counties in, say, the Twin Cities and Eau Claire media markets were a coin-toss, or at least had substantial undecideds, she would have an “in”, but that hasn't materialized. Burke's easiest path is to force Walker to a draw in the NW to even have a chance. Pumping out votes in the Madison area and the city of Milwaukee is important- that's her base. But to actually win, she needs these “other” votes, as can be illustrated in the chart below, which compares the results of every major statewide race decided by less than eight points from 2006 through today:


Ultimately, nothing has substantially changed in the nearly two-year interval since the recall in the Wisconsin Democrats' favor, and there's scant chance it will in the next seven months: unemployment is down (though it looks like Walker's quarter-million jobs pledge won't come to fruition by November, so expect most of Burke's focus on it), taxes are being cut, the budget is perceived as far more balanced by voters than it was in 2010, the initial John Doe investigation failed to lead to the Walker indictment predicated by MSNBC sage Ed Schultz, candidate Burke has candidly admitted she won't be the self-funding juggernaut many Democrats hoped she would be, the unions are a shell of their former selves, the Governor's initial election polling is better than it was in 2010 or 2012, Burke hasn't materialized as an improvement over twice-loser Barrett, and looking at perhaps the most important metric for a midterm race, base support, the Governor's approval among members of his own party has been in the low to mid 90s for two years running.

Can things change for the Wisconsin Democrats trying to oust their most loathed foe? Of course. We're talking a race that is seven months out from conclusion.

But they haven't in two years, and nothing we can measure indicates otherwise.

{added by CAC July 24th) For caution, here's the thing I would warn of, and could be happening: an attack on Walker's jobs pledge and the "less wild" option. If Burke can bland her way around and succeed in making Walker look more radical than herself, attack him on jobs, and get her foot in the door in the more contested regions of the state, problems will arise for Governor Walker. He won't see his own numbers shrink, but he'll see Burke's rise, and the state is very, very divided. This may be happening based on the May and now July release by MuLaw. As successful as his team has been in the past, a loss this year would go further than ruin his chances at the Presidency- it would mean Republicans are doomed in the Upper Midwest, a region they need to improve in for any shot at the White House.

AOSHQDD Initial Forecast:


Governor Scott Walker holds a six-point edge over Democrat Mary Burke, 52% to 46%, with 2% scattered and undecided. Considering his potential Presidential aspirations, while I consider this race moderately Republican, it will be at the back of my mind and will make a few appearances here on the HQ throughout the campaign.

All of the data for all of the Marquette Law Poll releases can be found here
All charts created by @conartcritic

The Ace of Spades HQ Decision Desk is now on twitter @AOSHQDD If you have a race of interest you'd like to see analyzed, shoot me a tweet @ConArtCritic

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posted by CAC at 06:56 PM

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