The liberal group We Are Wisconsin released an internal poll on Tuesday showing Wisconsin governor Scott Walker leading his Democratic opponent Tom Barrett 50 percent to 47 percent. The poll, conducted May 19-21 by the Democratic firm Greenberg, Quinlan & Rosner, was released to buck up dispirited Democrats and show that the race is a dead heat.
But the poll actually seems to be more good news for Scott Walker. First, the same Democratic firm showed Walker trailing Barrett 47 percent to 48 percent in the last poll it released on the Wisconsin recall in March. So even Democrats are conceding that their own internal polling shows movement toward Walker. (And this is the same Democratic firm that showed Chris Christie losing on election day 2009 to Jon Corzine by 5 points, so there's just a chance that it's biased in the Democrats' favor.)
More importantly, the new poll tracks neatly with three other polls in the past two weeks that showed Walker clocking in at 50 percent (Marquette: 50-44, PPP: 50-45, Rasmussen: 50-45). The fact that the incumbent is sitting at 50 percent matters much more than whether the challenger is getting 45 percent or 47 percent. Even if all the undecided voters break for Barrett (which is unlikely), these polls point to a Walker victory (50 percent plus 1 vote guarantees a Walker win).
Since the fight over government unions erupted in the spring of 2011, Wisconsin has had two rounds of elections, both of which indicated support for Walker was resting above 50 percent. In April 2011, Democrats fought hard to take down conservative state supreme court justice David Prosser in an election and ran ads saying that a "Vote for Prosser is a Vote for Walker." Prosser/Walker ended up winning the election with 50.24 percent of the vote. Then in August 2011, there was a round of state senate recall races. Crunching the numbers from those races suggested that support for Walker was just under 51 percent statewide.
What has changed since the 2011 elections that might hurt Walker among the electorate? Not much. Jobs numbers from BLS last month indicated that Wisconsin had lost more non-farm jobs than any other state in the country, but those numbers were obviously inaccurate. The state's unemployment rate has dropped from 7.7 percent to 6.7 percent, even as more people have entered the workforce.
As for the controversial union reforms that were the reason Democrats are trying to recall? They've been a smashing success. They allowed school districts to balance their budgets without painful cuts and caused property taxes to drop for the first time in over a decade. Ask Wisconsin Democrats which school districts have suffered because of Walker, and they're speechless (because the only districts really hurting are ones where collective bargaining agreements are still in effect). As mayor of Milwaukee, Tom Barrett used Walker's reforms to save the city millions of dollars.
So election results from the past year and current polling suggest that Walker will win. Democrats argue that they're just now getting to parity with Walker in terms of TV ads, and the race will tighten in the final two weeks. That's certainly plausible. Walker doesn't have much room for error, and he'll need to avoid serious missteps in two upcoming debates. But it's equally plausible that Walker will get close to, or even exceed, his share of the vote (52.3 percent) in the historic Republican wave of 2010.