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Michael P. McDonald Headshot

Is Wisconsin Now a Purple State?

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Does Scott Walker's victory in the Wisconsin recall election mean that Wisconsin is now in play in the November presidential election?

Short answer is no, for two reasons.

The first reason is that the exit polls show that if Obama was on the ballot, he would have won by a comfortable 51 percent to 44 percent margin.

What the exit polls do reveal for the Romney campaign is that 18 percent of Obama supporters voted for Walker. These persons represent potential persuadable voters that the Romney campaign will target if they decide to invest heavily in Wisconsin. What we do not know from the exit polls is why these voters would have split their vote between Obama and Walker. That mystery would have to be unraveled by additional polling to see if there is an opportunity to change these folks' votes. It very well could be that these voters' attitudes cannot be changed if, for example, they simply dislike recall elections. Still, even as Romney targets these voters, so too will Obama, so it will not be easy to changes these voters' support for Obama.

The second reason is that the recall electorate is different than what will likely be the November general election.

The total number of votes cast in the recall election was about 2.5 million, while about 3.0 million voters were present in 2008. Among those that chose to sit out the recall election are strong Democratic constituencies. In comparison to the 2008 exit polls, persons age 18-29 composed 16 percent of the recall electorate, while in 2008 they were 22 percent. Minorities constituted 9 percent of the recall electorate, and 11 percent of the 2008 electorate.

The presence of these Obama supporters in November will further tilt the balance evident in the exit polls in an Obama direction.

Additional polling would need to be done to determine why these key Democratic groups sat out the recall election, but it comes as no surprise. Like clockwork, young people and minorities vote at lower rates in state and local elections.

Certainly, these state and local elections affect all peoples' lives more directly, but for various reasons these groups do not perceive these elections as being as important as the presidential election. When the hand on the clock ticks to the general election, turnout among these groups will likely rise.

Of course, all of this is a snapshot of the Wisconsin recall electorate as of June 5, 2012. There is still a long way to go in the election. But, if Wisconsin is in play in November, it will likely be because the national mood has shifted towards Romney and there will be major problems for Obama in other battleground states. Wisconsin will perhaps be the least of Obama's worries if that comes to pass.