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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Wisconsin Recall Polling Analyzed

GUEST POST by Matthew Knee:

Professor Jacobson asked me to comment on the DKos/PPP poll regarding big labor's recall efforts in Wisconsin. The questions are mostly fine, but I have a few thoughts on the results that might be helpful.

Wisconsin recalls do not work like the famous California recall that replaced Gray Davis with Arnold Schwarzenegger. A recall in Wisconsin is just a new election, rather than a referendum on whether the officeholder should be recalled with a new election bolted on. David Nir, who presents these polls on behalf of DKos, seems to think the Wisconsin situation is worse for the Democrats, because a successful recall also might require good Democratic candidates.

Unfortunately, I'm not so sure. There are many ways to slice the data, but by almost any measure the DKos/PPP poll shows less support for recalling Republican incumbents than support for electing Democrats or general disapproval of the Republican incumbents.

Why? Recalls are NOT regular elections. There is a sense among some that they are an extreme measure in response to serious derelictions of duty or other crimes. While big labor considers it a heinous crime to take away their hard-bought privileges, there are people out there who, whether or not they agree, consider the legislature’s actions to be within the bounds of normal political activity. There is a small but potentially pivotal number of people who will oppose any given politician in an ordinary election, but also oppose a recall. Thus, if there was a separate recall question, which renders the election question moot if not passed, there would be a risk of the recall failing even if the Democrat could win a regular election question. It would also require big labor to win two campaigns per recall instead of just one.

Nir correctly implies that it is less challenging to garner support for generic candidates than actual people, but at best that could make the difference between the California and Wisconsin systems a wash. Either way, more likely than not, these polls slightly overstate Democratic support.

DKos find three Republicans trailing generic Democrats: Olsen (47-49, recall support at 40-39), Hopper (44-49, recall at 44-33), and Kapanke (41-55, recall support at 52-44). Two Republicans (Cowles and Harsdorf) also lead generic Democrats and lead against the recall, but have negative (32-40) and even (43-43) approval, respectively.

Here is a chart which accompanied the DKos blog post:

Here is an alternative chart I prepared which provides additional context for the data:

Can the Dems steal 3 seats they need to take the Senate? Yes. This is probably going to be quite a battle. There can be little doubt that big labor will get enough signatures for recall elections in the areas they have a chance of winning – not only are they strong on the ground, but they will be willing and able to hire as many petition-gatherers as it takes.

Kapanke's numbers are extremely worrying. He and Walker are down double digits, and Obama up just as much. This might be a hard seat to hold.

Hopper is behind 5 to a generic Dem and 11 on the recall, which is almost as scary, although oddly enough his approval rating is 5 points higher than opposition to the recall, so there is an outside chance there is something seriously wrong with that poll. On the bright side, Walker is only down 4 in the district, Obama is down 7, the fugitive senators down 7, and Walker and the state Senate Democrats are tied when respondents’ are asked whom they back in the current conflict (I worry about these numbers, as this was asked right after the fugitive senators question. Also, calling the other side the Senate Democrats rather than the unions might exaggerate Walker's support).

The other races will be tight, but the Democrats need only to win 1 if they unseat Kapanke and Hopper. I am less worried about Cowles than his mere 2-point lead against a generic Democrat indicates. While Cowles' approval is 8 points negative, Walker's approval in the district is 6 points positive, Obama's 8 points negative, the fugitive senators 11 points negative, and in the Walker vs. the Senate Democrats question, Walker leads by 8.

Similarly, Olsen is less popular than the major issues and figures at stake in the recall. While Olsen’s popularity is 10 points negative and he is two points down on a generic Democrat, in his district Walker is even, Obama is 6 points negative, and Walker leads the Senate Democrats by 3 points.

Harsdorf's district is fairly split on both her and Walker, though she is up 4 on a generic Democrat, Walker is up 4 on the Senate Democrats, the fugitive senators are down 12, and Obama is down 10.

How will it all turn out? No one can be sure how this ball will bounce. Will the anger big labor has whipped up calm down between now and the recalls? Will the sky not falling make the budget more popular? Will recall opponents be able to match the intensity of union members who have tangible interests at stake? Will Republicans be able to compete with the Wisconsin unions' money, manpower, and out-of-state backing?

Only time will tell. One seat will be extremely hard to keep, and another quite challenging. I am very worried about Republicans’ ability to bring their supporters out to not only vote but to volunteer in these often low-turnout special elections, especially when they are motivated by general principles and the unions are motivated by personal gain. Concentrated interests are far easier to mobilize than diffuse ones.

Fortunately, the simplest, most accurate narrative favors the GOP. While they should focus-group and poll on their own, and specific qualities of the incumbent, the challenger, and the district must be considered, this data suggests that Republicans should go on the offensive. In most districts, the idea of a recall is itself unsettling compared to the general political landscape, Obama and the fugitive senators are underwater, and more voters side with Walker than the Democrats in the Senate. With union anger probably at its peak, it is unlikely that this will change much for the worse, so long as the GOP is not swamped by big labor’s big money or massive mobilization campaigns. Incumbents can portray themselves as loyal public servants making difficult but necessary calls, but beset by White House-based D.C special interests with massive war chests filled with government money diverted without consent from workers’ pay.

These recalls will pose a challenge, but if Republicans are aggressive and able to mobilize the necessary resources, big labor can be stopped from taking back the majority.

Related Post:
Polling 101 Recap

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  1. Let's say a worst case scenario occurs and the GOP loses 3-4 Senate seats. Wouldn't a new bill, presumably to roll back the one just passed, have to pass the Wisconsin house as well? I see no mention of recalling any Congress members.

  2. remember that there are recall petitions against many of the 14 chickens who ran away ...

    there is a good chance some of those Dems could be recalled as well ... they may need to win more than 2 GOP seats to win the majority ...

  3. The resistance to the notion of a recall over policy differences played out in Omaha this winter. The Mayor's budget policies are very unpopular. (Ironically it's the opposite of Wisconsin; the PEUs are supported by City Hall.) The recall election itself gained enough signatures, but the vote to recall the Mayor wasn't really close.

    I think he was retained because of a combination of 1) union energy and 2) reluctance on the part of many to vote him out over policy, since there's no question of illegality or corruption.

    In Omaha those two both worked in the Mayor's favor. In Wisconsin it sounds like 1) will favor the Democrats in the recall and 2) will favor the Republicans. It will be interesting to watch to see which turns out to be stronger.

  4. Great analysis. It's my understanding the unions have already started spending on advertising to support the recall efforts. Expect them to intensify the spending as time progresses.

    Our side needs to understand that the motivation of the unions to nationalize a Wisconsin state issue is more about energizing the Democrat national base to get them motivated to work for Obama's re-election prospects than it is about changing majority control of the Wisconsin senate. After all, Walker isn't eligible to be recalled until after Jan. 2012, so even if control of the senate flips to Democrat control after the recalls, Walker has veto power.

    This is about Obama. Remember how one of the very first reports after the fleebaggers bolted from Wisconsin was that Obama's Organizing for America quickly got involved. OFA took a low profile thereafter, but I have no doubt it remained heavily involved. Obama and his unions are working to effectively nullify the last election to motivate the Democrat base nationally.

    The national trade and public unions are flush with cash they have siphoned from the paychecks of the rank and file. They will spend heavily on distorted progaganda ("it's an assault on the middle class!!") from now until the recall elections. They will work to get people registered to vote. They will bus people in on weekends to protest to keep the emotional intensity elevated. And when the time comes, they will provide buses to get voters to the polls.

    The grassroots on our side need to get as motivated for these recalls as we were to get Scott Brown elected. If we can defeat these creeps given the mountain of resources they're going to spend on these recall elections, I have to believe it will go a long way toward de-moralizing the base nationally. The national Republican and conservative organizations and PACs need to be prepared to spend alot of dough because there's alot at stake.

    Wisconsin is the first battleground for control of the White House in 2012.

  5. If there was ever an example of a poll being just a current snapshot of public sentiment, this is it. The 14 fugitive senators only returned to Wisconsin a few days ago. Any elections are going to be at least a few months from now, I believe. It's hard for me to believe that the enthusiasm for recall would intensify as the events of the last few weeks recede into the past. I would naturally expect the opposite. There is also a serious backlash potential if these union thugs continue to harass and intimidate people attempting to participate in the political process.

  6. I think this recall effort is fraught with catastrophic risk for the unions. They are providing another pivot point for voters to "explain" to them to go away. The worst case for the unions would be for the Republicans to "re-win" their seats by larger margins than when they won the first time. They would, in effect, be losing the same fight twice with the more severe defeat being the second one.

    So the send them a message in the November elections which the unions/Dems lose ("No!), lose the battle in the WI legislature per the wishes of the voters ("We said NO!"), and then to seal the deal by losing the recalls ("Maybe we didn't make ourselves clear the first two times, "Hell NO!!!!")

    National tidal wave against public sector unions ensues.

  7. Another ominous indicator for unions: liberal Miami-Dade mayor recalled over raising taxes.


  8. I would like to see a poll of the possibilities for recall for the Wayward 14 Democrats. I can't help thinking that the fact that only 14.8% of Wisconsin workers are union that would have a heavy impact on those workers, and their families, who are not union and who do not have sympathy for teachers who seem no more mature than fit throwing kindergartners.

    I also keep going back to the Killer D's of Texas who fled the state because they didn't like proposed redistricting. The difference then was that the Dems were the majority (88-62) in the Texas Congress. Now, just less than a decade later, they are the minority (49-101) as Republicans replaced those D's that either retired or were defeated.

    Now, I fully understand that the greivances in Wisconsin are different than the greivances were in Texas, but the point is that average citizens didn't like the Killer D's running out on their sworn duty. Perhaps it was that whole "line in the sand" mentality, but basically it was that the Killer D's ran and did not stand their ground although they held a majority.

    We have heard little from the non-union workers in Wisconsin (I guess working prevents camping out at the State Capitol) but as businesses find their door locks superglued shut, as protesters camp out in front of Wisconsin Republicans homes, as they continue to protest and march, destroying public property, I like to think that most Wisconsinians would say "No" to any recall of a duly elected senator.

    There is now a "Boycott Walker" web site where the unions are listing companies that they think supported the Walker campaigns. Most of the companies are not the kind where the average citizen would shop (how much need do you have for pallets?) but the comment section IS interesting as a number of people thanked the webmaster for providing the names of companies where they WERE GOING TO SHOP. As shown in Arizona, boycotts never work. It is soooo 60's and most people have moved on from that decade and the tactics used then.

    One thing beneficial about the unions spending so much money in Wisconsin; it empties their coffers of money that would be used in the re-elect Obama 2012 campaign. Union members will have to be paid to take off work and protest, advertising is not cheap, and it is difficult to keep momentum going for a recall. Busing people in from other states requires the cost of putting them up in hotels, paying their salaries and feeding them.

    Maggot is correct in thinking this is all about 2012 and the reelection of Obama. The thumping the Dems took last November was a wakeup call to the left that their power was dwindling and they were facing loosing what power they have left. ACORN has become moot, citizen groups are forming all across the nation to purge voter registration rolls of those illegally registered and to provide poll watchers at every city and small town in the nation. More states are looking at right-to-work laws as they see their businesses move to more business friendly southern states.

    And people vote with their feet. The exodus from high tax states cannot be denied. States that Obama took in 2008 now have lower populations and are losing representation whereas states that are heavily red are gaining representation (Texas scheduled to gain four seats in the Congress).

    Wisconsin may pull off recalls (being the bastion of socialist thought that it is) but it is a Dem tactic that I think will have little impact in the national scene.

  9. I would suggest that Republicans take the example of Obama vs Alice Palmer in the 1996 election, and check the signatures of the recall signers very carefully. My guess is that a great many of them will be illegal. Democrats/Unions just can't help themselves. They lie/steal every time.

  10. Christopher A Burns said...Let's say a worst case scenario occurs and the GOP loses 3-4 Senate seats. Wouldn't a new bill, presumably to roll back the one just passed, have to pass the Wisconsin house as well? I see no mention of recalling any Congress members.

    This is why the Supreme Court election is important. Suppose that Democrat-controlled courts throw out the bill after the Democrats regain a Senate majority. (Remember, constitutions are not meant to be taken literally. They are living, breathing documents.) A reworked bill would not pass.

  11. The Tea Party and the GOP should make it their job to provide whatever resources these Republicans need to defend themselves. I think there is widespread support that could be tapped for donations.

  12. 8 of the fleebaggers subject to recall and Tea Party groups are already getting signatures.