A significant number of Madison voters participated in Wisconsin’s unprecedented recall primary election Tuesday, providing a voter turnout substantially higher than primaries of previous years.
According to Madison City Clerk Maribeth Witzel-Behl, Madison turnout reached 41 percent in Tuesday’s recall primary, a significant jump from previous primary elections in the state. In 2010’s gubernatorial primary elections, turnout reached 20 percent, the same as the gubernatorial primary in 2006.
Congressional and state Legislature primary elections mobilized even fewer voters in past years, Witzel-Behl added, with a 6 percent voter turnout in 2008 and an 18 percent turnout in 2004.
“There is no precedent, because this was the first statewide primary for a recall,” Witzel-Behl said of Tuesday’s voter turnout. “There is no average to compare it to, really.”
Large numbers of voters turned out in support of Gov. Scott Walker in the primary, with votes totaling 626,538 across the state, according to the Associated Press. Votes in the Democratic primary added up to 670,278.
University of Wisconsin political science professor Kenneth Mayer expressed his surprise at the turnout for Walker and said the numbers may have implications for the June 5 general election, during which Walker will face Milwaukee Mayor and Democratic candidate Tom Barrett.
“I don’t think that’s something that people generally anticipated, and what that means is a little less clear,” Mayer said of the support for Walker. “It could suggest that Walker is in better shape for the general election than the polls are showing.”
Mayer added Walker’s numbers may indicate a failure in public opinion polls to accurately gauge which party provides more voters, something he said will make a big difference in the upcoming general election.
“This is an election that could easily turn on which side is able to get their people mobilized,” Mayer said.
UW political science professor Donald Downs, adviser to The Badger Herald’s board of directors, also said he was surprised with the high numbers Walker achieved in the recall primary.
He said the numbers may point to strong mobilization by Republican voters, something that may have been overshadowed by active recall campaigns taking place in the last several months.
“You’ve heard a lot about the Democratic side of it, the pro-recall side being so active, but there’s obviously a lot of motion on the other side, though maybe less organized,” Downs said.
Downs also cautioned that votes for Walker could be expected to be even higher in the recall general election, citing his suspicion that several Republican voters cast their ballots for former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk in hopes of electing a weaker candidate to run against Walker June 5.
“Republicans had the motivation or incentive to cross over and vote for Falk,” Downs said. “If they would’ve voted straight party ID yesterday, he would have had even more. It won’t happen next time (in the general election).”
Wisconsin voters were given the opportunity to vote across party lines in the recall primary, offering the choice to vote for a gubernatorial candidate and a lieutenant governor candidate of differing parties on the same ballot.
According to Mayer, this distinction may further cloud predictions for the general election.
“We don’t know how many Republicans may have crossed over to vote in the Democratic primary,” Mayer said. “That makes it a little tougher to figure out what the implications are.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.