The two top candidates in the race for governor say today’s election will all come down to voter turnout, although whose supporters will have a stronger showing at the polls remains difficult to predict.
UW-Madison political scientist Barry Burden says midterm elections can be a little odd when it comes to who shows up at the polls. You have some highly engaged voters, but others who tend to only tune-in during presidential years. There’s also less buzz around a race for governor. Burden says “there are, believe it or not, fewer ads and there are actually fewer ads this time than in the last midterm election. There’s also less of the phone calls and door knocking that go along with a presidential year.”
The numbers largely hold up. The state Government Accountability Board predicts voter turnout will be around 57 percent statewide for today’s election in the race for governor. It was about 70 percent during the 2012 presidential election.
Burden says the drop largely comes from it being harder to engage voters in an off-year, even with a hotly contested race between Republican incumbent Governor Scott Walker and Democrat Mary Burke on the ballot. Several polls have shown the two candidates locked in an extremely close race, and Burden says that “it’s true that people have polarized and have pretty strong opinions one way or the other about the governor, but for a variety of reasons there are just some groups that opt out of midterm elections.”
Burden says the groups less likely to get involved in an election include college students, who may not be from Wisconsin and therefore have little attachment to the state. African Americans turned out strong in 2008 and 2012 to vote for President Barack Obama, but “may need an extra nudge to get out to the polls” this November.
AUDIO: Barry Burden on “maybe” voters (1:02)
Democrats have attempted to give those groups an extra push, with high profile visits from President Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, and former President Bill Clinton. If those efforts fall short and Mary Burke loses, he expects there will be a lot of “Monday morning quarterbacking” as Democrats try to figure out where their efforts fell short.
Burden adds that there is a difference between a presidential and midterm election that may not be repeatable anyway. “There clearly is something different happening at the presidential level. There’s just a kind of interest or stimulation or structure in place that is really able to turn out those Democratic votes in a way they’re simply not in a midterm election.”
The polls are open statewide from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. today.