The Forecast: Republican Gov. Scott Walker is an underdog

House forecast: Democrats will win 226 seats (and t...

Posted: Oct 23, 2018 5:51 AM
Updated: Oct 23, 2018 5:51 AM

House forecast: Democrats will win 226 seats (and the House majority) while Republicans will win just 209 seats. A Democratic win of 202 seats and 260 seats is within the margin of error.

Senate forecast: Republicans will hold 51 seats (and maintain control of the Senate) next Congress while Democrats will hold just 49. Anything between Republicans holding 47 seats and 56 seats is within the margin of error.

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Four years ago, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker was on his way to winning his second full-term as the state's governor. He had beaten back a recall attempt two years earlier and seemed destined to be a top tier candidate in the 2016 Republican presidential primary. Then Donald Trump came. Walker was one of the first to bow out of the presidential race in 2015.

Today, Walker is an underdog for re-election.

I re-ran my Senate model, but substituted in the recent polling from the Wisconsin governor's race. The forecast was for Walker to lose by 4 percentage points to Democrat Tony Evers.

Now, the margin of error (+/- 12 percentage points) in this forecast is certainly wide enough to give Walker a chance. Walker held a 1 point advantage in a poll conducted by the best pollster in the state (the Marquette University Law School poll) earlier this month.

Evers though has clearly led in the polling throughout the campaign. Of the nine non-partisan polls taken, Walker has only led in two of them (22%). Evers has led in six (67%). One of them was a tie (11%).

This is vastly different than any of Walker's previous campaigns. According to RealClearPolitics, Walker led in every single nonpartisan poll during his successful 2010 bid. Walker led in all but two nonpartisan polls in his 2012 recall campaign, and he led in every single poll within three months of the recall. Even in his 2014 re-election campaign, when Walker was polling his weakest, he still only trailed in five of 25 (25%) of polls taken.

Walker's weak position can be attributed to a number of forces.

First and foremost, he's running in a bad political environment for the first time in his political career. Republican President Donald Trump's net approval rating stands at -5 percentage points in the latest Marquette University Law School poll of Wisconsin likely voters. If you knew nothing else, you'd think a Republican in a purple state would be in trouble given where Trump stands.

Walker was either running in a pro-Republican or neutral political environment in his three previous campaigns. In 2010, Democratic President Barack Obama's net approval rating was at -7 percentage points. During the 2012 recall, Obama's net approval was even. Finally, in 2014, Obama's net approval rating was at -12 percentage points.

Second, Walker's opponent doesn't seem to have alienated voters like past opponents have. Evers had a slightly positive (+3) net favorable rating in the Marquette poll. It was highly positive (+11) percentage points in a Marist College poll. That's very different from when Democrat Tom Barrett had a negative net favorable rating at the end of both the 2010 gubernatorial campaign as well as the 2012 recall. The same goes for Mary Burke at the end of the 2014 campaign.

Third, Walker may have simply worn out his welcome. We know from presidential politics that when a party runs for a third term it's usually a much more difficult campaign than the election for a full second term. There's a reason why only one party has won a third presidential term since the 1950s.

Today, Walker's net approval favorable is negative for the first time in any of his campaigns. If you believe Marquette, it's at -1 percentage points. If you believe Marist, it's at -12 percentage points. Either way, it's worse than in any of his previous bids.

Indeed, Walker's poor position is emblematic of the GOP in the Upper Midwest overall. Republicans are underdogs in the Iowa, Illinois, Michigan and Minnesota gubernatorial races as well. That's quite a change from two years ago, when Trump rode the region to the White House. Now, it may end Walker's political career.

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