Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) could be in a serious fight in the upcoming recall election, according to the new survey from Public Policy Polling (D), with Walker in some tight races against his potential Democratic opponents.
Walker starts out in trouble on a key number: His approval rating is 47%, to disapproval of 52%.
Recalls in Wisconsin do not feature any direct up-or-down vote on the incumbent, but instead effectively take the form of a special election with the incumbent and a challenger fighting it out to serve the rest of the term.
But for the most part in this poll, the Dem candidates themselves perform almost identically — as in, Walker himself is the issue for now, with his support in each match-up hovering around the same 47% approval figure.
“These are the most encouraging numbers we’ve found for Democrats in Wisconsin related to the Walker recall since last August,” writes PPP president Dean Debnam. “Walker’s numbers had been seeing some recovery, but now it appears they’ve turned back in the wrong direction. The big question now is whether Democrats can find a candidate to take advantage of Walker’s vulnerability.”
Against the two declared Democratic candidates, former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk edges Walker by 48%-47%, while the lesser-known state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout trails Walker by 46%-44%.
Among Dems who are very actively considering the race is Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, who was the Democratic nominee in 2010 and lost to Walker by a five-point margin in the Republican wave year. He leads Walker in this poll by 49%-46%. Secretary of State Doug La Follette, who recently began exploring the race, trails Walker 46%-45%.
Among other Dems who have not shut the door, Walker edges state House Minority Leader Peter Barca by 48%-46%, leads state Sen. Jon Erpenbach by 47%-44%, and leads former longtime Congressman David Obey by 47%-45%. In addition, Congressman Ron Kind edges Walker by 46%-45%.
Finally, there is former U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold, who lost his seat in the 2010 GOP wave. Feingold would have very likely swept the Dem nomination, and was widely viewed as the strongest possible candidate, but declared last year that he would not run in the potential recall. In this poll, he would lead Walker by a clear majority, at 52%-45%.
The survey of registered voters was conducted from February 23-26, and has a ±3.27% margin of error.
PPP’s Tom Jensen does sound a note of caution, though — pointing out that in last year’s state Senate recalls, the final movement of undecided voters actually went to the incumbents, due to a bias against a premature recall from office. He writes:
Recalling Scott Walker is still not going to be easy for Democrats. Based on what we saw last summer I’d say that a tie in the polls probably ultimately means a win for the incumbent. But Barrett and Falk’s chances are at least looking better than they did four months ago…and if Feingold could be coaxed to change his mind he’d be the clear favorite.
This poll also shows a possible deterioration in Walker’s position, as the recall gets closer. The last time PPP tested Wisconsin was in October — before the actual petition effort was even officially launched, let along completed as it is now — finding Walker’s approval similarly underwater at 47%-51%. But in that poll, he also did better against the Dems: Leading Barrett by 48%-46%, and leading Falk by 49%-41%, among others.
The new poll also tested the Democratic primary, finding that Barrett — who is opposed by many leaders of the public-employee unions, who have lined up behind Kathleen Falk — is nevertheless the current favorite for the nomination. In a four-way race, he leads with a very strong plurality of 45%, followed by Falk at 18%, La Follette at 14%, and Vinehout 6%.
If Barrett were to not run, Falk would lead with 41%, La Follette 23%, and Vinehout 13%.