Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Wisconsin: Key thoughts on the primaries

Here's a round-up of my thoughts on the primary results.

1) Was the turnout a bad sign for Democrats? I know we were told to expect 1.3-1.5 million -- which appears to be what we got -- but I'm not sure that I saw Walker getting such a high percentage of that vote. Many Walker voters might have stayed away, as his race was not well publicized (and it was a blow-out). Yet, he got nearly as many votes as all of the Democratic Gubernatorial candidates combined. Gray Davis' recall saw a much higher voter turnout than in his original election victory in 2002. Is this something that will be cause for concern for Democrats?

2) In three of the six Democratic primary votes in the 2011 recalls, turnout topped 30,000. Despite the fact that a big Gubernatorial primary was headlining the ticket, none of the four races yesterday saw that type of turnout. This may be a function of the shape and size of the districts, or perhaps it is just lack of down ballot voting (undervoting), but that is not a great sign for the 4 recalls.

3) The Democrats owe a debt of thanks to Arthur Kohl-Riggs, the Fake Democrat/Placeholder who made sure that Walker faced a primary. While Walker looked good racking up big numbers 626K, the larger issue may be what those voters would have done if Walker wasn't running. Would those voters have all stayed home, or would they have caused some headaches with strategic voting in the Democratic primary?

4) Why was there such a huge undervote for the LG race? Could the Republicans have taken advantage with tactical voting to protect Kleefisch? The total vote for Governor was 1,316,736. The vote for LG was 758,070. That's a large drop-off -- only 57.5% of the voters who cast a ballot in Gov race went down an tried to vote in the LG race. It is clear that a large part of Walker's 626K voters must have ignored the LG race. I don't think tactical voting occurs that often-- it's more of a what if then anything else. But there was ever a time to use it, the LG race was clearly it.

5) Do voters understand the open primary system? This is not a knock on anyone. I just think that the undervote is extreme. One possible explanation: Did Republican voters not realize that they could vote on the Walker race and then switch to the Democratic races later (Wisconsin primary law allows voters to jump around from party to party in the vote for each separate office). It is a huge disparity between the Gov and LG positions.


  1. 1) I imagine there are a lot of non-right-wing voters who didn't have strong feelings for or against any of the democratic candidates, and perhaps chose not to vote for that reason. I voted for Art because he's awesome and I couldn't pick between the democrats anyway.

    4)The LG race wasn't well publicized, nor was there much of a campaign against Kleefisch. I actually had a relatively hard time finding info on the candidates for LG.

    5) I imagine the recall version open primary system confused a lot of people. My roommate had to explain it twice, and I'm more politically informed and engaged than a lot of voters.

  2. I think you've made a mistake on the LG analysis; vote total is Reps and Dems, and the LG race was a Dem primary only; there was no Republican primary for LG, therefore there IS no "vote drop off". If anything, it shows that a bunch of Republicans must have voted in the Democratic primary for Democratic LG. Most likely, they voted for the "fake" guy, Weix, who got an astonishing 197,052 votes.

    Don't you agree?

    PS I found your blog in trying to figure out why LG Democratic primary race had more votes than the Democratic primary votes for Gov. and how that might be significant. All I think it shows is that Republicans voted for LG. Maybe they didn't notice it said "democratic" primary, or maybe they all decided to vote for the fake guy. But again, no vote "drop off".

    1. Link that shows my point:

  3. Thanks for your informed comments -- I'd say that link may prove the point. Did voters simply not realize they could jump between parties? The law for the primary was that you could vote for in the Republican Primary for Governor and in the Democratic one for LG and Senate. That bunch of Republican voters had every opportunity to cast votes against Mitchell (with almost no effort). Why didn't they? I think the first comment points to some of the reasons.

  4. Most of the time you can't vote for different parties for different offices. The only reason you could this time was because the recalls were considered separate election events under the law.

    This is drilled in pretty hard for primary voters so they don't accidentally spoil their ballots, but a lot of people may not have gotten the memo that the rules were different for the recall. And anecdotally, I heard that some voters complained that Kleefisch wasn't on the ballot at all.

  5. I think were putting too much thought into the LG totals. If you are a partisan, you are not really interested in the other sides primary. Some will cross over to try to mess with the outcome, but if you are a Republican, most will vote for the Republicans and most Democrats will vote for Democrats, particularly in a primary which draws mostly partisans.

  6. That is undoubtedly the case. I'm not sure that anyone but me is putting any emphasis on those LG numbers. I don't think it has that much bearing on the final vote (though not a good sign for Mitchell, I would say). More of an interesting academic exercise in how a temporary change in election law might affect voter behavior and a question of whether voters care enough to vote tactically on down ballot races.