Supporters of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker watch election returns in Waukesha,… (Scott Olson / Getty Images )
As Wisconsin voting places were closing, exit polls showed the recall race in a dead heat between Gov. Scott Walker and challenger Tom Barrett.
Turnout in the state had been extremely heavy all day, appearing to match the predictions of state officials that 60%-65% of voting-age adults would turn out. The state allows same-day voter registration – a practice that encourages high turnout.
Although polls officially close at 8 p.m. local time (6 p.m. Pacific), Wisconsin allows voters in line by poll-closing time to vote. Local television stations were showing live shots of long lines of voters still waiting to cast ballots.
Walker, a Republican, had been ahead in many preelection surveys, but Democrats have been claiming for weeks that those polls understated the fervor of the anti-Walker vote and that the election would be closer than the polls had been projecting.
Walker’s move early in his tenure to sharply curtail collective bargaining rights for teachers and most other state workers prompted an outpouring of anger from public employee unions. According to the exit polls, which were conducted for the Associated Press and a consortium of television networks, about one-third of those voting said that at least one member of their household was a union member, a figure that was noticeably higher than in the last few elections in the state.
At the same time, the exit polls also showed that the number of people identifying themselves as conservative was near the high-water mark hit in the 2010 election. Taken together, the two findings indicated strong turnout by partisans of both sides in a state that has become deeply polarized.
If Walker ekes out a narrow victory over Barrett, the mayor of Milwaukee, state Democrats probably will criticize President Obama for not making an appearance here, which potentially could have boosted the Democratic turnout. But the exit polls also show that if the presidential election had been held today, Obama would have won the state easily, a finding greeted happily by Obama campaign officials.