Don’t (Completely) Trust the Polls in the Wisconsin Recalls

<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/wispolitics/6008982391/sizes/m/in/photostream/">WisPolitics.com</a>/Flickr

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis and more, subscribe to Mother Jones' newsletters.


Mike Tate, chair of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, was positively sunny earlier this week in a call with reporters about the state of play in Wisconsin’s looming recall elections. Against a slate of six GOP state senators, Tate said, internal polling showed Democrats leading in three races and neck-and-neck in the other three. But there’s a big problem with any Wisconsin recall polling, Democratic or Republican: The Badger State is in uncharted territory.

The state has never before held nine recall elections in the middle of the summer. (Nor has so much money been showered on Wisconsin elections.) That means pollsters have no frame of reference to gauge what the turnout will be in the August 9 recalls, which target the six GOPers, or in the August 16 recalls, which target two Democratic senators. (One Democrat, Dave Hansen, already won his recall—more on that later.) That’s a big deal, because in summer elections like these, turnout is everything.

Here’s Greg Sargent quoting the Democratic Party of Wisconsin’s pollster:

“We don’t have a precedent for this,” Mark Mellman, the well respected Dem pollster who is conducting recall polling for the Wisconsin Democratic Party, acknowledged to me. “The nature of the turnout is so uncertain that it really will make a huge difference. We’re dealing with big uncertainties.”

Mellman said that three of the key races—though he wouldn’t specify which—are so close that if turnout doesn’t break the Dems’ way, it could throw them to Republicans. He described them as “all very close races that could go either way.”

Democrats understand this. At a Friday afternoon rally in the town of Waupun, Jessica King, a Democrat challenging GOP Sen. Randy Hopper in Wisconsin’s 18th district, repeatedly urged the lively three-dozen or so attendees to ask at least one more friend, one more family member, one more somebody, to get out and vote on Tuesday. King knows how crucial turnout is: In 2008, she lost to Hopper by 163 votes out of more than 80,000. “It really comes down to who gets out the vote,” she told the crowd.

One of the few available indicators of how the turnout will look next week was the re-election victory of Democrat Dave Hansen in mid-July, the first general recall election of the summer. Hansen cruised to victory, and the turnout neared 31,000—a figure suggesting an energized electorate in Hansen’s Green Bay-area district. So the big question is: Can Democrats replicate that energy in six districts scattered throughout the state? Their hopes of snatching back the majority in the Wisconsin senate depend on it.

Thank you!

We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

The months and years ahead won't be easy. Far from it. But there's no one we'd rather face the big challenges with than you, our committed and passionate readers, and our team of fearless reporters who show up every day.

Thank you!

We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

The months and years ahead won't be easy. Far from it. But there's no one we'd rather face the big challenges with than you, our committed and passionate readers, and our team of fearless reporters who show up every day.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.