A look at the recall: The Wisconsin District Index

EDIT 5/19/2011: This data has been revised, for more information read this article on the changes made to the Wisconsin index.

First things first, the data:

Now, time for some explanation:

If there is one thing that Wisconsin's state legislative standoff has taught us, it is that state legislative politics don't receive nearly as much attention as they deserve.  In a very brief span of time, Wisconsin Republicans came close to completely wiping out important rights for a large expanse of Wisconsinites.  Since the news broke, I think it's fair to say that people have seemed a lot more interested in what is happening in state capitols - these are not trivial battlegrounds.

A few week back, I had the pleasure of listening to Rachel Maddow speak, and one of the things Ms. Maddow touched on was that it seems as though there is really a heightened interest in these issues that we used to consider "local" politics.  Not only did the significance of these stories merit their coverage, but frankly, there appears to be a growing audience for these types of political issues.

For the past two years now, I've been trying to build something that would give a framework to these conversations about state legislative politics.  While I'm a still in the midst of working on the data, there are a few pockets that are all ready complete, and given the interest in what's happening in Wisconsin, I wanted to share them with you guys as soon as possible.

It is called the Legislative District Index.  This ranking system functions as a more nuanced version of the Cook PVI, trying to account for differences between state and national parties, and in the hopes that I can create a common language to discuss state legislative seats.

The ranking is a weighted average of three presidential elections, two gubernatorial races, and then the most recent state legislative race, which I've found allows my system to capture some of the unique political pockets within states to a better degree than just simple Presidential numbers.  Furthermore, in using gubernatorial results to balance for state with strong state parties but weak national parties, when all is finished, the index should allow for cross-state comparison, but that is a few months away for now.  Instead, what I'll be up to, is continuing to churn out individual state indexes.  With redistricting underway, that means for some states, configuring their makeup for the current session, as well as what they're going to look like for the next decade.  It's a lot of number crunching, but I think it's going to be really valuable anytime you find yourself up late watching election turns for random state special elections.

So, now that I baited you with the numbers, lets go back to Wisconsin.

I've taken the same graph from before, and highlighted the Republican Senators who are facing recall attempts this summer.  I think from this data, there are a few things really worth looking at.

1) Dan Kapanke is going to lose.  Simply put, with the kind of swing that is being seen in Wisconsin, I just have a hard time imagining that this seat doesn't flip. For the state of Wisconsin, my model finds that Democrats have a 4 point advantage over Republicans (i.e., in a typical statewide election with generic candidates, the Democrat would win 52-48).  Of the 33 seats in the Wisconsin Senate, Mr. Kapanke's is the one that mirrors the politics of the state as a whole the most.

2) After Mr. Kapanke, it is REALLY unclear what will happen.  The huge bulk of Republican seats that could flip to Democrats aren't available for recall this year, as most of them were seats that the 2010 Republican wave carried.  We have no real measurement of the kind of ground shift that is happening in Wisconsin, as I'd hardly consider a state supreme court race related to this.  The closest thing we have is polling on re-doing the 2010 Governor's race.  At the end of February, PPP released a poll that found a 7% swing from Governor Scott Walker to his fall opponent Tom Barrett if the election was held again.

If 7% is the size of the anti-Walker swing, I'm not sure the special election is going to look good for Democrats. In 2010, the most conservative seat Democrats won had a WI-DI score of D+2.  A seven-point swing from there would only allow for Mr. Kapanke's seat to fall.  If you add those seven points onto the most conservative seat Democrats won in 2008, then you get into territory where Democrats would start winning seats, but that would be a huge political shift - outperforming President Obama's numbers in a special election seems like a really tall hill to climb.  There are special cases, like Sen. Randy Hopper, who appears to live full time in Madison, where addition factors might lead to a legislators demise, but without those personal factors, it's going to take a real uphill battle.

That being said, PPP found a much larger shift in election results when you looked at union households - I have no data on union membership in the Senate seats, but if there are union heavy pockets among the areas Democrats are targeting, Republicans might be in a little more trouble.

All this together, the recall process definitely seems like the right one, and I'd venture to guess that when Gov. Walker is the one on the ballot, flipping the Governor's office would certainly be within reach.  But pulling together the votes to overturn these state senate seats is an uphill battle - if successful, I don't think Democrats are going to have to worry too much about Wisconsin for a long while.

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