It’s looking grim for Wisconsin Dems

A tough new poll undermines Democrats’ claim that they’re closing in on Scott Walker

Published May 30, 2012 7:59PM (EDT)

Scott Walker         (AP)
Scott Walker (AP)

The most telling sign about where the Wisconsin recall race stands is probably this: The only encouraging polling news for Democrats these past few weeks has come from Democratic polls.

Last week, a Greenberg Quinlan Rosner survey purported to show Democrat Tom Barrett breathing down Gov. Scott Walker’s neck, trailing by just three points, while today Democratic pollster Celinda Lake is claiming the race is tied at 49 percent. Generally, there’s good reason to be skeptical about partisan and internal polls. Sure enough, just hours after Lake’s numbers leaked came a new independent poll – this one from Marquette Law School -- showing a very different result: Walker 52, Barrett 45.

This is consistent with the previous Marquette poll from a few weeks ago, which showed Walker ahead by six points, and a Wisconsin Public Radio survey last week, which put Walker up five. Is it possible that these findings are all outliers or that they were produced by flawed methodology? Are the numbers being pushed by the pro-recall side actually accurate? I guess so, but it’s a lot easier to see the incentive that Democrats have to come up with encouraging data to counter the conventional wisdom that Walker has opened a clear lead.

That said, it remains true that there’s no reliable precedent for predicting what turnout will look like next Tuesday. The expectation is that it will be significantly higher than it was in 2010, when Walker first beat Barrett, but there’s never been a gubernatorial recall in Wisconsin before, and there’ve barely been any across the country. There’s a wide range of possibilities in terms of how many people will show up, what their partisan breakdown will be, and what effect mobilization efforts by both parties and outside groups will have.

So yes, Walker still could be recalled. But for that to happen at this point, some reputable independent pollsters in Wisconsin will have to be wrong about what the voting universe will look like.

By Steve Kornacki

Steve Kornacki is an MSNBC host and political correspondent. Previously, he hosted “Up with Steve Kornacki” on Saturday and Sunday 8-10 a.m. ET and was a co-host on MSNBC’s ensemble show “The Cycle.” He has written for the New York Observer, covered Congress for Roll Call, and was the politics editor for Salon. His book, which focuses on the political history of the 1990s, is due out in 2017.

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