How Scott Walker won the Wisconsin recall election

WAUKESHA, WI - JUNE 05: Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker greets supporters at an election-night rally June 5, 2012 in Waukesha, Wisconsin. Walker, only the third governor in history to face a recall election, defeated his Democrat contender Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. Opponents of Walker forced the recall election after the governor pushed to change the collective bargaining process for public employees in the state. Scott Olson/Getty Images

(CBS News) Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker retained his seat in the election that sought to recall him from office, defeating his challenger Tom Barrett in this election (as he did in the 2010 governor's race). Walker won with strong support from Republicans, conservatives, Tea Party supporters and a majority of votes from independents.

Walker is the first governor in U.S. history to survive a recall election. Gov. Gray Davis of California was recalled in 2003, and in 1921, North Dakota's Governor Lynn Frazier of was ousted due to a recall.

The heated recall race began amid the controversy created when Walker released a state budget proposal that included limiting the collective bargaining rights for public union workers. In response, large demonstrations protesting Walker's plan took place at the state capital building which eventually led to a recall effort. Voters who turned out for this election narrowly supported Walker's handling of the collective bargaining issue: 52 percent approved, and 47 percent disapproved.

Scott Walker wins Wisconsin recall election

Voters were similarly divided when asked about the state law that limited the collective bargaining rights of government workers: 52 percent approved, and 47 percent disapproved.

As expected, those voters who approved of Walker's policies voted overwhelmingly for the governor. Opponents of his policies backed Barrett, the Democrat.

Wisconsin voters were also split in their views of unions for government workers. According to exit polls, 51 percent said they viewed these unions favorably; slightly fewer - 45 percent - held unfavorable opinions.

Walker promised to create 250,000 private-sector jobs in Wisconsin by 2015. According to an April analysis by Politifact, 5,900 jobs have been created since Walker took office. Still, 54 percent of those who voted in the recall election approved of how Walker has handled job creation, while 45 percent disapproved.

Wisconsin voters had strong opinions on the merit of recall elections. Sixty percent told exit pollsters that recall elections are only appropriate when there has been official misconduct, and another 10 percent think such elections are never appropriate. Just 27 percent of Wisconsin voters supported holding recall elections for any reason.

Minds were made up about this race long ago. Remarkably, just 8 percent of Wisconsin voters decided on their candidate in the last few days; more than nine in 10 made up their minds before that.

Can Romney capitalize on Scott Walker's win?

Looking Ahead to November

Both presidential candidates will be targeting the battleground state of Wisconsin this year. Among Wisconsin voters who went to the polls in the recall election, 51 percent said if the presidential election were held today they would vote for President Obama, while 44 percent would back Republican Mitt Romney. Still, with five months to go until the presidential election, it's hard to say what the November electorate in Wisconsin will look like this far out. Mr. Obama beat John McCain by 14 points in Wisconsin in 2008.

At this point, nearly all Barrett voters (92 percent) would support President Obama in the fall, while fewer - 76 percent- of Walker voters plan to back the Republican, Mitt Romney. Seventeen percent of Walker's supporters said if the presidential election were held today they would vote for President Obama.

Voters in Wisconsin also give President Obama the edge on improving the economy -- 42 percent said he would do a better job on that issue, compared to 38 percent who picked Romney. By a wider margin, voters said the president would do a better job helping the middle class (46 percent), while fewer (37 percent) gave Romney the upper hand on that.

The economy will surely be on the minds of Wisconsin voters come November. Thirty-six percent of voters in the recall election said their family's financial situation is worse compared to two years ago - nearly twice as many as said better. Forty-four percent said their family finances are the same.

Demographic Groups

Both candidates received support from similar types of voters as they did in 2010, when they first ran against each other. Women and lower income voters supported Barrett, while men and those with higher incomes voted for Walker.

Votes also fell along partisan lines: 94 percent of Republicans backed Walker, as did 86 percent of conservatives. Barrett received similarly strong support from Democrats (91 percent) and liberals (86 percent).

But independents gave an edge to Walker, giving him 54 percent of their votes compared to 45 percent for Barrett. That is similar to 2010, when Walker received the votes of 56 percent of independents, and Barrett 42 percent.

Thirty-six percent of voters said they are supporters of the Tea Party movement; and 93 percent of them also cast their ballot for Walker.

Turnout was up among one group of voters. Households with a union member comprised 33 percent of voters - up from 2010 and 2008, when 26 percent of voters said there was a union member in their household. Majorities of voters living in a union household (62 percent), and most union members themselves (71 percent), voted for Barrett.

Barrett also took most of the moderate vote: 44 percent of Wisconsin's voters described themselves as moderate, and Barrett received 54 percent of their support.

Both candidates retained most of their support from the 2010 governor's race. Ninety-four percent of those who said they voted for Barrett in 2010 voted for him again this year, and 94 percent of those who said they supported Walker two years ago voted for him this year as well.

Barrett's support was as much an anti-Walker vote it was a vote for Barrett himself. Fifty percent of Barrett's voters said they were voting for Barrett, but another 47 percent characterized their vote as against his opponent Scott Walker.

Among Walker's backers, 88 percent said they were voting for their candidate, not against his opponent.

  • Sarah Dutton On Twitter»

    Sarah Dutton is the CBS News director of surveys.

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