Political Animal


June 01, 2012 5:44 PM Early Polls = Early Special Elections

By Ed Kilgore

This does seem to be the day for challenging Big Dubious Theories published at Buzzfeed. If you missed it, I pitched a mild fit earlier over McKay Coppins’ channelling of the Romney campaign’s claim that its anti-Obama aggressiveness of late is some sort of inside straight that will placate “the base” and attract swing voters. Now let’s look at a John Ellis piece that expresses great confidence in projecting next Tuesday’s Wisconsin Recall vote into the national presidential results, and indeed, the future of American governance.

I won’t go into Ellis’ ruminations (based on one of Walter Russell Mead’s cranky, apocalyptic claims that the New Deal is kaput) that what he calls the Blue Social Model is directly at stake on Tuesday. Yes, Scott Walker is a nightmare who if left to his own devices would like to turn his state into a wintry, beer-soaked version of South Carolina. But I hardly think a Walker victory on June 5 means we might as well all learn to love the Ryan Budget.

But it’s Ellis’ specific projections from June 5 to November 6 that will get quoted a lot, for the simple reason that they are quotable:

The crude calculation is this: Walker defeat equals certain Obama win in November. Walker win by 1-5 percentage points equals very close presidential general election (nationally). A Walker win by 6 points or more equals Mitt Romney is the favorite to win in November.

That’s “crude” all right. Is a special election (always a dubious model) with extensive special rules, including the suspension of the state’s campaign spending limits, in one state really going to determine all our fates? Money alone makes this recall strange: Walker has spent close to $30 million on this race, and along with his out-of-state Super-PAC friends, he probably enjoys a 2-1, 3-1, or even greater financial advantage. The Barrett-Falk primary, held so recently, was a major distraction for the recall forces—particularly the unions who were less than enchanted with the Milwaukee mayor. And while partisan polarization (and in Wisconsin, high turnout) makes state and national campaigns more congruent than has often been the case, the recall fight is over a narrower set of issues than the presidential contest. And all those reasons for being cautious about the predictive value of Tuesday’s results are in addition to the lessons losers as well as winners might learn.

Early special elections are a lot like early polls: interesting, informative, but hardly dispositive. So anyone following the returns Tuesday night who thinks he or she infallibly knows what will happen five months from now could be in for a nasty surprise or three before we get to November.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • Bleh on June 01, 2012 6:08 PM:

    Okay, this probably is just the Friday talking, but this is truly major-league inside baseball.

    If this is a harbinger of the summer, I wouldn't bet the farm on filling the stands...

  • DisgustedWithItAll on June 01, 2012 6:29 PM:

    We might as well learn to love the Ryan budget because that is what is going to happen.

    Open your eyes, Kilgore. Democrats are just too fucking stupid to fight it the way they have to. Is there any other explanation when Democrats have the population on their side issue-wise and yet continue to lose.

    Democrats are going to lose in November. Because they refuse to do what they have to do to win.

  • Mimikatz on June 01, 2012 6:38 PM:

    Granted there were other issues, but Arnold Schwarzenegger's victory in the California recall election did not predict anything. On the advice of Steve Schmidt (in his more conservative days) Arnold backed a number of ballot measures against unions and a parental consent measure. All were defeated, the Dems continued their huge margin in presidential races and continued to hold all statewide offices not held by Arnold.

    I do think that if the pro-Walker forces win they will be emboldened to try divide-and-conquer elsewhere and will just pour more money into the fall races.

  • FlipYrWhig on June 01, 2012 7:06 PM:

    Isn't Obama up in all actual polling of the presidential race in Wisconsin? Why would there be a counterintuitive ricochet effect like this?

  • DisgustedWithItAll on June 01, 2012 7:21 PM:

    He's going down in Ohio, Nevada, Colorado, and Iowa. While the Democrats play prissy, Republicans go alpha male and it works. It doesn't matter that it's obnoxious and nauseating; it works. For whatever reason, maybe it has to do with our prehistoric brains and the amygdala and all that, it works.

    Democrats are too damned stupid to learn. Obama's getting ready to piss this election away and the entire 20th century goes with it.

  • Doug on June 01, 2012 9:29 PM:

    DWIA, could you please tell me what main points will determine the outcome of the November election?
    Other than the voters' knee-jerk submission to the "alpha-ness" of Republicans, of course...

  • grandpa john on June 02, 2012 3:38 PM:

    According to RCP there has been 21 polls taken in WI since Dec. Obama was the leader in 20 of them, the other was a tie. His current RCP ave is 4.7. All of this leads me to believe that the recall election will have little effect on Obama's outlook in WI

  • Sean Scallon on June 02, 2012 11:46 PM:

    It should be pointed out in one of the polls which give Walker the lead also favors Obama by eight points. What does contradictatory result this tell us? It tells us, that there are many Wisconsin voters who don't like Walker but don't like the use of the recall process to get rid of him. They fear, perhaps rightly, that if Barrett succeeds it will set a precedent that recalls are a okay to use to get rid of someone right away if you don't like their policies rather than for malfeasance in office or criminality. It's these voters which may well save Walker's bacon Tuesday but not because they're giving him a ringing endorsement.