The recall fight began more than a year ago after Walker pushed a bill through the Wisconsin Legislature that severely curtailed collective bargaining rights for teachers and most other state workers. Ever since, the state has been locked in a bitter and polarizing political battle. Many Wisconsin residents have talked of the stress of that divisiveness, but it clearly energized voters on both sides. Voter turnout of about 2.5 million was far above normal for an election for governor, although still far short of the almost 3 million votes cast in the state in the 2008 presidential election.
The polarization of voters around the issue of the role of unions in the public sector appeared to have worked to the advantage of Republicans. In 2008, Obama won a majority among Wisconsinites whose households included a union member — and among those without. In Tuesday's election, Walker lost union households, but more than made up for that with a huge 61%-39% majority among nonunion households.