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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