Dawidziak: Look at polls, not headlines
The hyperventilating has finally slowed after last week's failed recall vote of Wisconsin's Gov. Scott Walker. No sooner had the results come in than political observers started speculating about what effect the outcome might have on November's general election.
But parsing the poll numbers is more valuable than reading too much into the headlines.
Nervous campaign consultants from the White House on down to the congressional and statehouse levels have wondered what the "Wisconsin effect" will be on their races. Allow me to take the mystery out of the it: Not much.
Last week's result was probably more a referendum on the recall process itself rather than on the policies of the Republican Gov. Walker. In exit polls, only 27 percent of the voters stated they believed recall elections were appropriate for any reason. The Democrats blew it by even attempting the recall.
But it will be ancient history come November.
Nevertheless, Republicans would love to believe that Walker's victory signifies a shift to the right and a general dissatisfaction with President Barack Obama. They want to believe this puts the state of Wisconsin -- which no Republican presidential candidate has won since Ronald Reagan in 1984 -- in play in November.
But there is simply no hard data to back up these hopes.
In the wake of the Walker victory -- and after a week that contained a string of bad news for the president -- Obama still enjoys a 5 percent lead over Romney in the Badger State; he has consistently led Romney in polls here. Also, according to the recall exit polls, 18 percent of those who said they voted for Walker indicated they would vote to re-elect the president.
And that's where the rubber meets the road. The ultimate winners in November will be the candidates who capture the swing voters, the middle, the moderates, the ticket-splitters, the . . . well, you get the idea.
In a poll late last week of Long Islanders likely to vote this year -- done by my company, Strategic Planning -- 51 percent of those surveyed said they were open generally to voting for either a Republican or a Democrat. In past years, that number has ranged from 34 percent to 40 percent. Contrary to the thinking that voters are growing more polarized, these numbers indicate that the middle continues to grow.
And how do candidates win those moderate voters? This year, it's all the economy. When asked what issues would decide whom they would vote for this year, respondents to our poll overwhelmingly named fiscal concerns: 84 percent said they'd be more likely to vote for a candidate who could show a successful record of economic development.
Health care and education came in the middle of the pack. Social issues such as abortion, gay marriage, immigration reform and environmental protection didn't exceed single digits.
And when asked how the results in Wisconsin would affect their vote in November, more than 90 percent said, "Not at all."
Regardless of office, a wise candidate will pay attention to his or her own race and not count on some nonexistent shift in voter attitudes. With more voters willing to split their tickets, campaign tactics like "NOBAMA" bumper stickers might energize a party's base, but do nothing to convince the moderates.
A good lesson from Wisconsin, learned by the Democrats, is that you insult the voters' intelligence at your own peril.
Michael Dawidziak is a political consultant and pollster.