Wisconsin exit poll numbers will begin to be released in fewer than two hours, giving poll watchers a mountain of data with which to begin parsing the recall election for Gov. Scott Walker (R).
While we all wait for the numbers, here are five key factors to keep an eye on in the exit poll data.
1. Collective bargaining blowback
Almost all of the controversy surrounding Walker has focused on a law he signed in 2011 that greatly limited the ability of public sector unions to negotiate for higher wages and benefits. The squabble over collective bargaining carries greater weight in Wisconsin, where one in four voters was either a union member or lived with someone who was, according to 2008 exit polls.
A Marquette Law School poll last month found a 55 percent majority of Wisconsin registered voters said they favor limiting collective bargaining rights for most public employees, while 41 percent were opposed. Today’s exit poll results will shed light on how the battle over public sector unions has defined Walker's supporters and detractors.
2. What about the economy?
Aside from collective bargaining, Walker made big promises to improve the economy during his 2010 campaign, touting a plan to bring 250,000 jobs to Wisconsin by 2015. So far in his term, the state has gained a net of fewer than 10,000 private sector jobs, according to the Wisconsin Journal Sentinel. Still, the state’s unemployment rate of 6.7 percent in April is below the national average, and down from 7.5 percent a year ago.
Walker has campaigned hard on his economic successes and tried to draw a contrast between the overall economic health of the state and how the city of Milwaukee, where his opponent Tom Barrett serves as mayor, has fared. How much better voters feel about the economy could help explain how they see the governor as well as how they feel heading into November’s general election.
3. Is this an '08 or '10 electorate?
Wisconsin's electorate shifted sharply to the ideological right in the 2010 midterm elections, with the percent of voters calling themselves “conservative” spiking to 37 percent — up from 31 percent in 2008. The 2010 midterm election also saw a slight uptick in the percent of Republicans and a seven-point drop in the portion of voters under age 30, the only age group Walker lost that year. Turnout among Wisconsin voter groups will not only affect the outcome of tonight’s impact, but also may determine whether the special election can be seen as an accurate harbinger for November.
4. Split ticket voting
Unlike in a general election, Wisconsin recall voters cast separate votes for the governor and lieutenant governor. As the Fix’s Rachel Weiner noted Monday, this opens the door to split-ticket voting, where Walker and Barrett supporters could switch and vote for the opposite party's candidate for the No. 2 spot. Walker’s central position in the recall battle as well as general fatigue with a series of seemingly never-ending elections in the state could push voters to split their support.
5. President Obama and the general election
The prospect of Wisconsin swinging for Romney in a general election has big implications for the electoral college map. Obama won the state by 14 points over Arizona Sen. John McCain although polls this year show him with a slimmer edge. Tonight’s results could provide clues to how voters are looking at the general election, particularly those voters who are motivated enough to participate in a non-traditional election of this sort. Projections to the general should be taken with a big grain of salt — especially if turnout is far below the nearly 3 million votes cast in 2008.