Now that the dust has settled following last Tuesday’s Wisconsin recall election, the most remarkable line of spin to have gained traction is the notion that Scott Walker won in large part because Wisconsinites did not like direct democracy.
Pundits and polls seized on exit poll numbers that suggested that voters were fundamentally opposed to recall elections. Only 27 percent of voters who participated in the June 5 election between Walker, the state’s controversial anti-labor governor, and Democratic challenger Tom Barrett, told exit pollsters that they thought recall elections were appropriate for any reason. Sixty percent said recall elections should only be held in cases of official misconduct, while 10 percent said recall elections should never be held.
So it sounds like the big mistake was forcing Wisconsinites to vote in a type of election that offended their sense of sense of political propriety and fairness.
That’s an easy spin, especially for political insiders on both sides of the partisan aisle who have no taste for direct democracy.
Unfortunately for those who seek actual answers, it is wrong.
Or to be more precise, the anti-recall sentiment was manufactured by a very smart, very effective and very expensive campaign by Governor Walker and his allies.
When the Wisconsin fight started, polls suggest, recalls were popular. In fact, the recall process polled significantly better than any of Walker’s prospective opponents—including his eventual challenger, Barrett, and the preferred challenger of many Democrats, former US Senator Russ Feingold.
A St. Norbert College/Wisconsin Public Radio poll of Wisconsin voters, conducted in early November as United Wisconsin’s people-powered petition drive to force the recall elections was being launched, asked if voters supported using the recall to remove Walker from office. Fifty-eight percent of those surveyed said “yes,” while 38 percent rejected the use of the recall to remove the governor. (Notably, President Obama’s re-elect number in that polls was exactly the same as it was in June 5 exit polling—51 percent—suggesting that this was not an anomalous group of electors.)
In January of 2012, when the recall petitions were filed, the Marquette University Law School Poll asked Wisconsin voters: “Regardless of how you would vote if a recall election were held, do you think the recall process should be changed to allow recalls only in cases of criminal wrongdoing, or should it be kept as it is currently with no such restrictions?”