Tag Archives: walker

Walker and Obama

Back in June, before the recall election, I argued against the view that a Walker victory spelled trouble for Obama’s re-election campaign in Wisconsin:

“if Walker actually wins by 7, it means there’s no massive shift to the GOP going on in this state, and you’re a broadly popular incumbent President whose hometown is within a half-day’s drive of most of Wisconsin’s population, your prospects here are pretty good…..

In 2010, Walker won as a non-incumbent in a regular election. If he gets the same margin against the same opponent, as a sitting governor, in a recall that not all Democrats think should have happened, I take that as a signal that the state of the electorate has shifted back to something like normal,, from the abnormally Democratic year of 2008 and the abnormally Republican year of 2010.”

In fact, Walker did win by 7.  And I think my assessment of what that meant for the November electorate is looking pretty good!





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It’s a recall, not an omen

Already time to take back, or at least complicate, the nice things I said about the Times’s Wisconsin coverage.  Today above the fold:

Broadly, the results will be held up as an omen for the presidential race in the fall, specifically for President Obama’s chances of capturing this Midwestern battleground — one that he easily won in 2008 but that Republicans nearly swept in the midterm elections of 2010…

A Marquette Law School telephone poll of 600 likely voters, conducted last week, found Mr. Walker leading 52 percent to 45 percent; the poll’s margin of sampling error was plus or minus 4 percentage points for each candidate.

I suppose I can’t deny that the results “will be held up as” an omen for November’s election by some people.  But those people will be wrong, and the Times should say so.  At the very least they should avoid giving the impression that the recall vote is likely to be predictive of the presidential vote, an assertion for which they give no evidence, not even a quote in support.

I’m just going to repeat what I said in the last post.  Wisconsin is split half and half between Republicans and Democrats.  In nationally favorable Democratic environments (2008) the state votes Democratic.  In nationally favorable Republican environments (2010) the state votes Republican.  At this moment, there’s no national partisan wave, and you can expect Wisconsin elections to be close.  But incumbency is an advantage.  So Walker is winning, and so is Obama. As the Times reports, the Marquette poll has him up 7.  What the Times doesn’t report is that the very same poll has Obama beating Romney by 8.

I guess the recall might be an omen after all — if Walker actually wins by 7, it means there’s no massive shift to the GOP going on in this state, and you’re a broadly popular incumbent President whose hometown is within a half-day’s drive of most of Wisconsin’s population, your prospects here are pretty good.

Arguing against myself:  2006 was also a great year for Democrats nationally, and incumbent Democratic governor Jim Doyle beat Mark Green by only 7.

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Why Walker is winning

I tend to agree with Nate Silver, who thinks a victory by Tom Barrett in Tuesday’s recall election is fairly unlikely.  The Times’s coverage of Wisconsin politics has gotten a lot better since last February’s Capitol protests.  The NYTimes Mag feature from last Sunday is well-reported and well-written and told me some things I didn’t know.  But throughout there’s an air of puzzlement about the governor’s continued political viability that doesn’t seem warranted to me.

The feature is heavy on interviews with experienced Wisconsin political hands, both Democrats and Republicans, who are dejected about the Walker style of government and what it’s done to the state’s political culture.  I can easily imagine that it’s a depressing time to be a state legislator (and a downright dangerous time to be a Supreme Court justice) whatever party you belong to.

But I think the average Republican voter here likes Scott Walker just fine.  They like stripping collective bargaining rights just fine, and they like voter ID just fine.   And Republican voters make up half the population of Wisconsin.  Normal politics here is 5o-50; throw in the advantages of incumbency and whatever proportion of the voters disapprove of recalls on principle, and Barrett has a built-in disadvantage to overcome.  (That’s not even to mention the massive spending disparity in Walker’s favor.)  A Walker victory wouldn’t be very notable; what’s notable is the fact that a million recall petitions were signed in the first place, or that an unknown Madison judge came within a hairsbreadth of unseating an incumbent Supreme Court Justice.

That being said, the error bar here is pretty wide; not the sampling error in the polls, but the intrinsic uncertainty about who’s going to show up and vote in an election with no historic precedent.  Wisconsin Democrats surprised me and everybody else by getting a million recall petitions signed; maybe they’ll surprise me and everybody else by organizing a massive turnout on June 5.

And Barrett fans can take some comfort in the fact that I’ve been consistently wrong in every prediction I’ve made about Wisconsin politics.

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Gay marriage and the null hypothesis

Two controversial topics in one post!

Orin Kerr this week on Perry vs. Schwarzenegger:

Several of the key factual findings in Judge Walker’s opinion are in the form of predictions, not facts. For example, Judge Walker finds that “permitting same-sex couples to marry will not . . . otherwise affect the stability of opposite-sex marriages.” But real predictions have confidence levels. You might think you’re going to get an “A” on an exam next week, but that’s not a fact. It’s just a prediction, and there’s a hidden confidence level: Maybe there’s an 80% chance you’ll get that grade, or a 60% chance. Judge Walker’s prediction-facts have no confidence levels, however. He doesn’t say that there is an 87% chance that permitting same-sex marriage will not affect the stability of opposite-sex marriages. He says that it is now a fact — with 100% certainty — that that will happen.

I think Kerr is incorrect about Walker’s meaning.  When we say, for instance, that a clinical trial shows that a treatment “has no effect” on a disease, we are certainly not saying that, with 100% certainty, the treatment will not change a patient’s condition in any way.  How could we be?  We’re saying, instead, that the evidence before us gives us no compelling reason to rule out “the null hypothesis” that the drug has no effect.  Elliott Sober writes well about this in Evidence and Evolution.  It’s unsettling at first — the meat and potatoes of statistical analysis is deciding whether or not to rule out the null hypothesis, which as a literal assertion is certainly false!  It’s not the case that not a single opposite-sex marriage, potential or actual, will be affected by the legality of same-sex marriage; Walker is making the more modest claim that the evidence we have doesn’t provide us any ability to meaningfully predict the size of that effect, or whether it will on the whole be positive or negative.

This doesn’t speak to Kerr’s larger point, which is that Walker’s finding of fact might not be relevant to the case — California can outlaw whatever it wants without any evidence that the outlawed thing causes any harm, as long as it has a “rational basis” for doing so.  The key ruling here seems to be Justice Kennedy’s in Heller v. Doe, which says:

A State, moreover, has no obligation to produce evidence to sustain the rationality of a statutory classification. “[A] legislative choice is not subject to courtroom factfinding and may be based on rational speculation unsupported by evidence or empirical data.”

and later:

True, even the standard of rationality as we so often have defined it must find some footing in the realities of the subject addressed by the legislation.

I’m in the dark about what Kennedy can mean here.  If speculation is unsupported by evidence, in what sense is it rational?  And what “footing in the realities of the subject” can it be said to have?

More confusing still:   in the present case, the legislation at issue comes from a referendum, not the legislature.  So we have no record to tell us what kind of speculation, rational or not, lies behind it — or, for that matter, whether the law is intended to serve a legitimate government interest at all.  Maybe there is no choice under the circumstances but for the “rational basis” test to be no test at all, and for the courts to defer completely to referenda, however irrational they may seem to the judge?

(Good, long discussion of related points, esp. “to what extend should judges try to read voters’ minds,” at Crooked Timber.)

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