The Voter That Will Decide Wisconsin

Wisconsin has been among my Battlegrounds States since the inception of this blog in late-May — ahead of the national news organizations (thankyouverymuch). This was predicated on the belief that its Governor, Scott Walker, would decisively beat-back the recall attempt and that win would demonstrate the tectonic changes on the ground to flip the state for Romney. The first part came true as expected and the state remains a Battleground but the second part (the political ground shift) remains elusive. This is due to the Wisconsin voter who will decide the state’s fate next month: the Walker-Obama voter. Craig Gilbert, of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, continues to do incredible work this cycle on these important 10 electoral votes and drills down on the Wisconsin phenomenon of split party support between polarizing Governor Scott Walker and equally polarizing President Barack Obama:

One intriguing surprise from last June’s recall election was the exit poll finding that one in six Scott Walker voters planned to vote for President Obama this November. It wasn’t just a polling blip. Surveys throughout the year have identified a small but steady fraction of Wisconsin voters who seemingly defy both the pessimism and polarization of the times in approving of two lightning-rod incumbents from opposing parties, Republican Gov. Walker and Democrat Obama.

Who are these people?

In Marquette’s surveys, pro-Walker, pro-Obama voters comprise about one tenth of registered voters in the state. Compared to the rest of the electorate, they are a bit younger. They are more moderate and independent and less Republican. They are a little more likely to live outside the state’s big media markets. They are less likely to have suffered economic setbacks in the last two years. They are more optimistic about the direction of the economy. And just as they are softer in their partisan leanings, they express less certainty about their intention to vote. “These are folks who have not been terribly hurt by the economy, are fairly positive about the economy and at the same time are somewhat less partisan and ideological and a bit removed from the center of political conflict,” says political scientist Charles Franklin, who polls for Marquette…By definition, they’re favorable toward Obama, but “soft” in their party attachments and open to a Republican. Yet they’re less unhappy than other voters with current conditions, so it’s a challenge for Romney to win them over. “They’re not howling mad about the economy,” Franklin says of this group.

Polling output

All of Marquette’s 2012 polling – almost 10,000 registered Wisconsin voters across 12 surveys – was combined for this analysis. Of those nearly 10,000 voters, 9.7% said they approved of how both Walker and Obama are handling their jobs. That leaves us with a sizeable sample of 945 “Obama-Walker approvers.” The share of registered voters who fall into this category hasn’t changed a whole lot over the course of the year: it was 11% back in January, dropped to 7% in April and May, peaked at 12% in June after the recall election, and has ranged since then from 9% to 11%. These percentages are also consistent with the exit poll done by Edison Research in the June 5 recall election, in which about 9% of voters were both pro-Walker and pro-Obama. (Walker got 53% of the vote; of the 53% that voted for Walker, 17% said they supported Obama for president; 17% of 53% equals 9% of the electorate).

The Obama-Walker voter

  • Age: They skew young: 22% are under 30, compared to 14% of all other voters; 24% are 60 and over, compared to 31% of all other voters. But while disproportionately young, they are not predominantly young; 78% are 30 and over.
  • Income: They are comparatively less wealthy, which is consistent with being younger: 39% report family income of under $40,000, compared to 30% of all other voters.
  • Partisanship: They’re less partisan: 51% describe themselves as independents, compared to 36% of all other voters. They are no more or less Democratic in their party affiliation than other voters. But they are a lot less Republican: only 14% of Obama-Walker approvers are Republican, compared to 29% of all other voters.
  • Ideology: They’re bunched toward the political center: 47% are moderates, compared to 31% of all other voters; only 28% are conservatives, compared to 43% of all other voters; and 18% are liberal, compared to 22% of all other voters.
  • Region: They are disproportionately from outstate Wisconsin. Only 36% come from the state’s biggest media market, Milwaukee, compared to 43% of all other voters; 26% come from the state’s four smallest media markets (Wausau, La Crosse, and the parts of Wisconsin served by Twin Cities and Duluth TV), compared to 20% of all other voters. This may reflect the less partisan character of these voters. The Milwaukee media market is highly polarized between Democrats in Milwaukee County and Republicans in the counties west and north of Milwaukee. The state’s smaller media markets contain areas that often swing from one party to the other.
  • Economic attitudes: They’re less negative about the economy: 52% said the recession had a major effect on their finances, compared to 60% of all other voters; only 12% said the economy has gotten worse over the past year, compared to 35% of all other voters; and 55% said they expect the economy to get better in the next year, compared to 42% of all other voters. This makes sense – that people who approve of both an incumbent Republican governor and an incumbent Democratic president have a more positive view of economic conditions. That confidence appears to be more a function of outlook than wealth, since these voters are less likely to have higher incomes than other voters.
  • Political engagement: They are softer in their propensity to vote: 67% said they are absolutely certain to vote, compared to 86% of all other voters. They are also a little less likely to be every-day newspaper readers or watchers of the local news, according to the polling. This is consistent with political research that suggests less partisan voters are typically less politically engaged. In short, the people who approve of both Obama and Walker may be less reliable voters. But Franklin says it would be going too far to regard them as politically tuned out or apathetic, since these are registered voters who have political opinions to express and have taken the time to respond to an opinion survey.

How Obama-Walker supporters swing

Obama has enjoyed a small-to-modest lead in the vast majority of Wisconsin polls. He has been around or above 50% in most recent polls. There has been very little polling since the first debate, widely seen as a win for Romney. But Public Policy Polling reported Saturday night that in its latest Wisconsin poll, Obama’s lead had shrunk from seven points to two points. These Obama-Walker approvers aren’t the only swing voters in this state. But if Romney has ground to make up in Wisconsin, this group would seem to be an attractive target of opportunity – voters favorable to Obama, but who aren’t down-the-line Democrats (almost 70% are independents and Republicans), and who’ve expressed support for a GOP governor running on a message of fiscal conservatism.

Resistant to Romney

Taking the more recent polling by Marquette – since the June recall election – only 19% of Obama-Walker approvers have a favorable image of Romney, 56% have an unfavorable view, and 21% haven’t heard enough about him. That hints at the problems Romney has had appealing to more persuadable and centrist voters in Wisconsin. Here’s a group of swing voters outside the GOP base that Gov. Walker has won over but Romney is struggling with. The good news: at least some of these voters (about a fifth) view Romney favorably and another fifth don’t know much about him and might be reachable. The bad news: a majority don’t like him. “With them you take away the primary argument against Obama, which is the economy,” says Franklin … Nor can Romney count on ideology to win them over, since they’re not very Republican and not very conservative. The more moderate image Romney projected in the first debate could be helpful with these voters. But Romney first has to persuade this group of Obama-approvers that it’s time for a change.


  1. housebroken dad
    Posted October 7, 2012 at 11:59 am | Permalink | Reply

    As a Wisconsinite, I appreciate this writeup and wholeheartedly agree with it. I personally know a few Walker/Obama voters and they all fit into most of the subsets you list. They voted for Walker because they thought he was doing a good job, didn’t believe in the recall because it was a waste of time and money and he did not commit any crimes or egregious act. They thought he should be allowed to serve out his term as the electorate voted in 2010. At the same time, they are living fairly comfortably with decent jobs and pay and for the most part, believe the country isn’t in a recession and have a semi-positive outlook. BUT, they are not completely sold on voting for O. And the reason for this is that they haven’t been sold on Romney yet. They don’t think he’d take any steps to rectify the problems we face. They just haven’t been educated on who Romney is and what he will do if elected. I think the first debate really was the first step in confirming to these voters that yes, it is okay to vote for him. He demonstrates leadership, poise, stature and knowledge. He understands the issues and he was the governor of a blue state who had to work with D’s to tackle issues that MA faced. I believe the door is open to seal the deal with these voters if Romney performs well over the next 4 weeks. They will be looking for reassurances that what they saw on Wed night is what they will see for the next four years.

    • housebroken dad
      Posted October 7, 2012 at 12:09 pm | Permalink | Reply

      One more point I forgot to add…
      Just to give me one more indication of how improbable WI voters are, in two years short time, WI voters potentially could go from ousting one of the more progressive members of the senate in Feingold and replacing him with a staunch conservative to voting in one of the most liberal members of congress (representing liberal bastion Madison) over a former, liked, multiple-term governor. Makes sense, right?

  2. ed
    Posted October 7, 2012 at 12:37 pm | Permalink | Reply

    The more I recall the post debate in studio polling from the cross-section of members represented in this write up, the more I think Romney’s ability to work with the other side will be the salient issue in the remaining days. I’m a conservative, more red meat, is always welcome. But Romney had folks like me sold and energized after that first debate. Now, your right, he has to go after these less partisan types. He has to use his demonstrated record of working with both sides to find solutions to bring the fence sitters in. This is also a terrific contrast point with Obama’s record. Obama does not work with people across the isle and its in the record.

    I think another advantage for Romney is that the next debate will focus on foreign policy. While this may seem counter intuitive, the elements of tranquility in Obama’s foreign policy is due to the extent he maintained and adopted George W. Bush’s policies. I cant think of one departure or correction from W’s foreign policy that has resulted in a Obama success. Russian “reset”, selling out Iranian opposition party, China, destroying the relationship with Israel, losing the middle east, it goes on and on and on…. Romney can shred the “smart diplomacy” appellation now in tatters all over the world. From fast and furious to Obama’s attempted cover-up regarding the 9/11 coordinated attack on our embassies (exacerbated by his 55% non-attendance at intelligence briefings). Also, I read Obama has only conducted 3 trade agreements in his entire presidency whereas other administrations, Republican and Democratic, have had 20 or 30 by now. lazy, lazy, lazy….

    There is a lot of excellent material here in the foreign policy context to link and reinforce the growing perception that Obama is a hapless lazy incompetent. I agree with a profound thinker from another website who argues that the enormous 9/3/2012 67-70 million debate viewers were attracted because they really want to “fire” this president, but they just need to be sure the country will be in good hands. This, it is argued, was the same reason the Regan Carter debate pulled the record number of viewers: 80 Million.

    • Medicine Men
      Posted October 7, 2012 at 1:05 pm | Permalink | Reply

      I believe the next debate is combo of FB and domestic.

    • anonBrian
      Posted October 7, 2012 at 4:19 pm | Permalink | Reply

      If you’re talking about the 3 trade negotiations I think you are (Panama, Colombia, and South Korea) they were negotiated by the W. Bush administrations and only had a few minor details to be ironed out when he left office. Every time trade came up Obama would say “The Republican house is dragging it’s feet on these treaties” but by law the President has to send the treaties to the house before they can be ratified and he hadn’t sent them. The damning thing is that Obama has actually conducted NO negotiations for new treaties, that I know of, in the last 4 years, while China and others have been working on dozens.

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