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Wisconsin Democrats Wrong to Avoid Campaigning on Labor Issues in Walker Recall

Walker knows that a recall election in a closely divided state is about maximizing appeal to the base, not softening messages and avoiding issues. Why don't Dems?

 With the release last week of the Marquette University Law School poll that had Scott Walker leading Tom Barrett by a 50-44 margin, Walker’s most naive enthusiasts expressed delight while Barrett’s supporters panicked.

Both were wrong.

In the latest Marquette Poll, almost half of the 600 likely voters surveyed identified as conservatives, while 30 percent identified as moderates and 20 percent identified as liberals.

But the pattern of exit polls conducted in major elections over the past decade suggests that the accurate breakdown is far different. One of Wisconsin’s savviest number crunchers, Jud Lounsbury, notes that “if we average the last three exit polls in Wisconsin (2006, 2008 and 2010), we find that the actual breakdown of the Wisconsin electorate is 22.7 percent liberal, 46.7 percent moderate, and 31 percent conservative.”

But there’s an even more significant divergence in the new Marquette poll.

The previous Marquette poll, which showed a dead heat between Walker and Barrett, found that 43 percent of those identified as conservatives, while 32 percent identified as moderates and 22 percent as liberals.

In other words, the new poll upped the number of conservatives interviewed — those most likely to support Walker — by five percentage points while it reduced the percentage of liberals polled — those most likely to vote for Barrett — by two points.

When we figure in the slight shift among moderates toward Barrett in the newer poll, the divergence in sample groups (upping the conservative percentage while reducing the liberal percentage) accounts for the entire boost in Walker’s number and the entire drop in Barrett’s number.

In other words, there is good reason to conclude that the race remains a dead heat — despite the fact that, in the period immediately prior to the latest round of Marquette polling, Walker outspent Barrett by roughly 25-1.

Republican and Democratic pollsters acknowledge that the governor has a “ceiling” on his approval ratings and his percentages in head-to-head races. He can’t get above 50 percent.

That fact excites Democrats, and it scares Republicans — which explains why the governor and his supporters continue to run scared, even going to the extreme position of peddling “revised” job numbers to counter bad news from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

But Republicans are right to note that Walker rarely falls more than three points below that 50 percent level.

The polls confirm that Wisconsin remains closely divided with regard to its governor and the question of whether to recall and remove him.

But anyone who has seen a yard with a “United Wisconsin to Recall Walker” sign next to a yard with an “I Stand With Governor Walker” sign knew that.

So what do the latest polls tell us that is important about the next two weeks?

Democrats wrong to downplay collective bargaining issues

When Walker launched his assault on labor rights, hundreds of thousands of Wisconsinites protested in communities across the state. The intense moment created a classic “Which Side Are You On?” demand on citizens. Walker had, according to exit polls from the previous November, won 37 percent of the vote from members of union households. After things blew up at the Capitol, polls showed support for the governor from union households fell to 20 percent.

Fourteen months later, with the recall approaching, a new Public Policy Polling survey has Walker with a 39 percent approval rating from union households. Even if that figure is somewhat inflated by over-polling of conservatives, it is reasonable to suggest that the governor has won back many private-sector union members. I asked friends whose workplaces are represented by the Teamsters and Sheet Metal Workers and they agreed that 25 percent to 30 percent of their fellow workers lean toward Walker.