With the Presidential election now complete and Obama's margin of victory in Wisconsin nearly the same as Walker's recall victory just 5 months earlier, I began to wonder. How could a state that voted back one of the most regressive, reactionary governors just 5 months earlier switch around and re-elect Barack Obama? Although, truth be told, the exit polls of the recall race noted that those same voters supported Obama over Romney as well.
So, was this generally the same electorate that voted during the recall race? Yes and no. It was in the respect that the exit polls from the recall election in June had Obama favored over Romney by seven points (51-44). It turned out that was roughly the same margin that Obama prevailed over Romney last Tuesday (53-46).
But alternatively it wasn't the same electorate. The turnout in the presidential election was significantly higher than the recall election, from just about 2.5 million to 3+ million, over a 20% increase. Additionally, the increase in turnout was almost exclusively with Democratic voters. Over 80% of the over 500,000 additional voters were increases between Barrett's vote and Obama's vote. Think about that, 4 out of every 5 new voter in Wisconsin was an Obama voter.
Follow me below the orange squiggly for a more in depth look at the numbers.
If you'd like to look at the individual numbers more closely, a detailed breakdown of the two election results by county is in the link below.
While the numbers on a spreadsheet may excite the "Nate Silver's" in us all, I also like to see a visual representation before it starts to make sense to me. If we look below, we'll see a map of Wisconsin representing the Walker vs. Barrett recall results.
As we can see that is a lot of red and not only red but dark red. First a little background on how I marked each county its shade of red or blue. The dark reds and dark blues were counties that voted for either Walker or Barrett by 55% or more. The light reds or blues are counties that voted for either Walker or Barrett between 50 and 54%. Think about that. The deep reds that you see covering at least two thirds of this map represent a 10% point or more difference in that county for Walker.
That is 50 out of the 72 Wisconsin counties that were deep red along with 10 more additional counties that were simple majorities for Walker. So, only 12 out of the 72 counties had a majority vote for Barrett, 7 of which were deep blue (over 55%) and 5 of which were light blue (50-54%). Of course, the only reason that it was only a 7 point loss for Barrett is due to large majorities he got in the two largest counties in the state, Milwaukee and Dane. Just in those two counties alone, Barrett amassed over 200,000 more votes than Walker.
The next largest county, unfortunately, is Waukesha County outside Milwaukee, one of the reddest counties in Wisconsin. Its nearly 100,000 vote difference in favor of Walker basically cancelled half of Barrett's advantage. Even with the other light blue or dark blue counties, they only added less than 20,000 additional votes for Barrett on top of that roughly 100,000 vote cushion in Milwaukee County. Walker, therefore, had 61 other counties to make up those votes, about a 2,000 vote average per county. Those 61 counties gave him way more than the 120,000 need, a nearly 300,000 vote advantage.
Enough for the bad news, what did the Obama 2012 map look like?
As you can see, there's a lot less dark red covering the upper 2/3 of Wisconsin unlike the recall map. While most of the northern counties are still red, the vast majority are a light pink instead of that blood red. The other striking feature of this map is the large swath of dark blue counties, 22 in all compared to the 7 in the recall map. I also couldn't help noticing that the entire southwestern portion of Wisconsin was deep blue instead of the light red and light blue of the recall election.
Another thing that popped out at me in these maps was I could also more clearly see the dark red spine of Wisconsin. From Walworth county by the Illinois border through Waukesha, Washington and Ozaukee counties outside Milwaukee into the Fox Valley of Fond du Lac and Calumet counties was an area of large Republican majorities no matter the election including even Obama's 2008 blowout election. These were counties that were never going to turn, but ones that you at least wanted to get as close to 40% of the vote as possible so that you didn't have to use up all of your large majorities in Madison and Milwaukee to make up for it.
Just looking at the recall map above, it becomes clear that the swath of counties from Eau Claire in the northern part of southwest Wisconsin down to Rock County (Beloit and Janesville) in the south had the most potential to be converted away from Walker and the Republicans. The Obama campaign must have seen this too because all you need to do is look at the location of the 69 Obama field offices in Wisconsin. Discounting the 5 field offices in Madison, there were 14 other offices in this southwestern part of Wisconsin. Offices in towns like Dodgeville, Richland Center, Viroqua and Baraboo dotted the southwestern Wisconsin landscape. What did this bring in the election last week? Well, two of those counties, Trempeleau and Lafayette, went from deep red to deep blue. That's over a 20 point swing. Even the counties that switched from light red to deep blue swung from 12 to 18 points in Obama's favor.
Beyond the color changes seen between these two maps, however, is what happened within these counties that either remained deep red or deep blue in both maps. As I noted at the beginning of my diary, turnout was just over 20% higher in the presidential election compared to the recall. The question though was how was this nearly 21% increase distributed? Was it universal across all counties? We have to go back to my spreadsheet to find out.
Looking at the two biggest and bluest counties, Dane and Milwaukee, show that they both increased substantially with Milwaukee nearly exactly matching the average 20.83% increase with a 20.85% increase while Dane slightly underperformed at 18.57%. That translated into over 47,000 and 82,000 additional voters in Dane and Milwaukee Counties, respectively. Being deep blue counties, however, means that those nearly 130,000 additional voters were not divided evenly between Obama and Romney. In fact, it wasn't even close to half. Less than 6,000 of the 47,000 in Dane county were Romney voters and only about 10,000 of the additional 82,000 voters in Milwaukee county were Romney voters.
Well, what about the counties in that deep red spine of Wisconsin? Maybe they made up some of those votes. With the exception of Walworth County, all those deep red counties were vastly under the average 20.83% increased turnout. Many of these counties only increased turnout in the 13 to 14% range. And like the turnout in Dane and Milwaukee counties, the increased turnout, even in these dark red counties disproportionately helped Obama. In Walworth county, for example, where turnout increased over 11,000, only 3,000 more voted for Romney compared to Walker in the recall election. The same happened in Waukesha county, only 7,000 of the 27,000 additional voters voted for Romney beyond the amount that voted for Walker in the recall.
By the way, the 20.85% increase in turnout in Milwaukee county was largely in the city proper. Milwaukee's turnout last week was an astonishing 87%, up not only from the 73% from the recall, but also blowing by the 80.3% turnout in 2008. Suffice it to say that Obama's ground game was second to none in any election that I'm aware of.
9:24 PM PT: UPDATE: Thanks for the recs! Also, a big shout out to my fellow badgers who worked so hard not only in this election but during the recall as well.