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Turnout Key to Wisconsin Recall Results

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An examination of the voting patterns and exit poll results in Tuesday's Wisconsin recall election indicates that turnout was a key factor in incumbent Republican Scott Walker's victory over his Democratic challenger, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. While there was a heavy turnout for a special election, the final total of just over 2.5 million votes fell well short of the nearly 3 million votes cast in the 2008 presidential election. And Republicans appear to have done a better job of getting their voters to the polls. Turnout for the recall election was 91 percent of 2008 turnout in heavily Republican Waukesha County, the largest GOP county in the state, but only 83 percent of 2008 turnout in Milwaukee County, the largest Democratic county in the state.

The same pattern was evident in the exit poll results. The 2012 recall electorate was noticeably older, whiter, more conservative and more Republican than the 2008 electorate. Voters age 65 and older outnumbered those under the age of 30 by 18 percent to 16 percent on Tuesday. In contrast, four years ago, 18- to 29-year-old voters outnumbered those 65 and older by 22 percent to 14 percent. Most significantly, on Tuesday Republicans outnumbered Democrats by 35 percent to 34 percent according to the exit poll. Four years ago, Democrats outnumbered Republicans by 39 percent to 33 percent.

Despite Scott Walker's fairly easy win on Tuesday, Democrats apparently were able to retake control of the state senate by defeating one GOP senator. And Democrats can take heart from one result from the exit poll. Even with a Republican-leaning electorate, Barack Obama led Mitt Romney by 51 percent to 44 percent when exit poll respondents were asked how they would vote in the presidential election. These results suggest that, Obama should be considered a solid favorite to carry the state again, especially if Democrats turn out in larger numbers in November.

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