Wisconsin voters divided on bargaining
Those participating in Tuesday's election to recall Gov. Scott Walker were evenly split on the Republican-backed law that ended collective bargaining for state government workers — about half approved and half disapproved — and passionately divided on the GOP governor's handling of the issue.
About half also said they had a favorable opinion of unions for government workers, while just over 4 in 10 viewed them unfavorably.
Those were the key findings of preliminary exit polls conducted Tuesday for The Associated Press. The political world closely watched the recall election for signs of the electorate's mindset just five months before this presidential battleground weighs in on the White House race between President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney.
Elected governor in 2010, Walker angered Democrats and union members last year when, shortly after taking office, he signed legislation that effectively ended collective bargaining for public employees in Wisconsin. The Republican governor presented the measure as necessary to avoid wholesale layoffs, although opponents said it was simply a way of dividing public-sector unions from private unions to weaken labor's political clout in the traditionally strong union state.
Walker's push for the law prompted huge demonstrations on Madison's capital square as well as a successful petition drive last fall to recall Walker.
Yet, on Tuesday, most Wisconsin voters suggested the criteria for recalls should be tougher. There have only been three such elections in the nation's history, the most recent in 2003, when voters recalled Democratic California Gov. Gray Davis.
The vast majority of voters said recall elections should be allowed in at least some cases, though most feel they are appropriate only in cases of official misconduct.
"I just think the whole recall election was uncalled for and it was just a big waste of taxpayers' money," said Jeff Naunheim, 48, a warranty analyst from St. Francis who voted for Walker in the recall. "I don't think he did anything illegal. And if this is going to set the standard on how things are going to go in the future, it's going to be an ugly, divided mess."
Despite tens of millions of dollars in advertising, most voters decided on a candidate before the final ballots were even set. About 9 in 10 in early exit polling said they decided who to vote for before May, raising questions about the impact — if any — all that money for TV advertising had on the electorate.
The local union issue dominated the race, but the contest also provided clues about the presidential contest in an important battleground state.
Obama carried Wisconsin by a comfortable margin in 2008 en route to the White House. But a Walker victory would make the state more attractive to Romney as he seeks to do what no Republican has done since 1984 — carry the state in a presidential election.
The exit poll of 1,555 Wisconsin voters was conducted for The Associated Press by Edison Research in a random sample of 35 precincts statewide. Results for the full sample have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4 percentage points; it is higher for subgroups.