A note while biting my nails over the Wisconsin results

Where’s the comparison between tonight’s results and the results of the Supreme Court race in the precincts that have come in?

Somehow political reporters have lost the simplest technique of deciphering early election results. Instead of maundering on about whether the precincts in so far lean one way or the other, all you need to do is take precinct-level results from a recent similar race and compare them with the results from whatever precincts have come in. In Wisconsin, we’ve got the results of the recent Supreme Court election to work from. Which candidate carried each Senate district then, and by how much? How do the results so far tonight compare with the results then? Given five precincts in any district, you ought to be able to get pretty close to the right answer.

I was doing this stuff on blackboards forty years ago. But with all their fancy graphics and computer support, reporters don’t seem to know how to do it now. Puzzling. Are they actually doing it, and think it’s too hard to explain?

Update I’m reluctant to jinx things, but being superstitious is bad luck, so I’m actually getting hopeful.

Democrats needed to take three of six races. So far, they’ve taken one (Shilling over Kapanke in the 32nd). Three are lost.

The Democrats in the remaining two races (King-Hopper in the 18th and Pasch-Darling in the 8th) have leads of 1100 and 1700 votes, or about 2%. But in the 18th, only 3% of the precincts are still out. Unless those are humongous precincts with big Republican edges, it’s hard to make up a 2% gap with 3% out. So it may well come down to Pasch-Darling, where 33% of the precincts have yet to report.

Second update The AP has called the 8th for King. Keep your fingers (un-superstitiously) crossed. It would be fitting if control of the chamber flipped because the chair of the budget committee lost her seat, given that the budget bill was the vehicle for the union-busting law.

Third update Darling is now back in the lead by 2600, but what’s left (21% of the precincts) seems to be mostly Milwaukee, which is mostly Democratic. Josh Marshall says the people doing the sort of figuring I asked for say it’s a toss-up.

Fourth update
It’s now an eight-point gap, with only 16% of the precincts out. That’s a high hill to climb.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

17 thoughts on “A note while biting my nails over the Wisconsin results”

  1. I get the impression they don’t view this as a real election, and didn’t bother firing up their election analysis machinery.

  2. The same is true of Presidential elections. They may be doing it behind the scenes to make projections, but I’ve never heard a reporter explain it on the air.

  3. It would be helpful to hear an informed person talk about the differences between recall and general elections; if Republicans do well tonight in Wisconsin, does that mean anything with respect to the way voters will vote in a national election? The GOP is unpopular right now in national polling, but does that mean that Wisconsin voters are likely to be expressing that unpopularity in a special recall election?

  4. Talking heads pretending to analyze things fills airtime better than, you know, trying to provide useful information, and maybe having folks go to bed early, maybe?

    Just a guess.

  5. @Ed…

    This Nate Silver comment is slightly apropos:

    On the other hand, Mr. Walker carried the six districts on Tuesday’s recall ballot by an average of 13 percentage points in 2010 — better than his statewide margin of 6 percentage points. If Democrats were to split the vote across these districts about evenly, that would be a reasonably troubling sign for Mr. Walker, however many of the seats Democrats actually win.

  6. I think Mark can take his fingers out of his mouth and go to sleep. Politico is reporting three wins for the GOP, two others where GOP is leading, and one Dem win. What a waste of money. This procedure trivializes the general elections by the way.

  7. Three for the GOP, two for Dems, and one contested recall election in Waukesha with claims of vote tampering.

  8. MobiusKlein says:

    “Redwave, democracy and accountability are not a waste of money.”

    The “accountability” part of “democracy” has always been understood to mean that if a legislator did things that the public didn’t like he would be at danger of defeat in the next general election. But Wisconsin Democrats can’t be bothered with that nonsense. Things like “political stability” and “precedent” cannot be allowed to stand in the way of The Cause. Only when every single day of every single year has been turned into a campaign will we truly be able to say that we have a sane and productive government.

  9. sd, while I’m not a great fan of recall elections myself, you’ll have to blame the people who put them in the Wisconsin state constitution in 1926. To assume that a political party would not avail itself of constitutionally permissible means to have their members elected instead of a party they oppose is kinda naïve. It’s not like Republicans had any particular qualms about the Gray Davis recall, either, financed, as you may remember, with $2 millions out of a certain Darrell Issa’s funds.

    Also: “The “accountability” part of “democracy” has always been understood to mean that if a legislator did things that the public didn’t like he would be at danger of defeat in the next general election.”

    This is nonsense. Historically, removal of elected officials (executive and legislative) by the electorate has existed for centuries (in the case of the executive, the Athenian Assembly a couple millennia ago could in principle remove elected officials anytime it met). Several cantons in Switzerland had provisions for recall elections dating back to the mid 19th century. In general, recall elections tend to be more commonplace in democracies with strong elements of direct democracy (e.g., Switzerland, United States at the state level). That they are not a common feature of representative democracies has probably other reasons (the practical problems with constant campaigning interfering with policymaking, the difficulty of implementing them in countries that have proportional representation, etc.). But accountability in a democracy is not limited to being up for review only during general elections; it’s one possible implementation, not the only one.

  10. There you go: You spent a not insignificant fraction of the national Democratic party’s resources on 6 races in one state, and the Republicans still control the Wisconsin Senate. While they certainly should be quaking in their boots come next fall, it won’t be out of fear of offending public employee unions…

    I agree with Katja’s defense of recall elections. Great institution, generally under-used. A pity it doesn’t exist at the national level.

  11. Brett Bellmore: “I agree with Katja’s defense of recall elections.”

    Umm, what defense?

  12. I hope the republicans ignore the loss of two seats Brett (God, you’re a party hack.) That’s sort of like the Democrats ignoring the loss of the Senate seat in Massachusetts – because, after all, they kept a majority in the Senate! Or Democrats being happy because they only lost a few Senate seats in 2010 (but kept a majority).

    I’d place better than even money on Walker losing a recall in 2012 and on multiple senate republicans getting recalled in 2012 (from competitive seats they won in 2010.) The odds of this happening are higher if the republicans are arrogant and delusional…so let’s hope for that.

  13. “This procedure trivializes the general elections by the way.”

    Yup – when the GOP loses, it’s meaningless. When they win (MA after Kennedy dies), it’s a mandate.

  14. “But Wisconsin Democrats can’t be bothered with that nonsense. Things like “political stability” and “precedent” cannot be allowed to stand in the way of The Cause. Only when every single day of every single year has been turned into a campaign will we truly be able to say that we have a sane and productive government.”

    And you feel the same about California Republicans and their recall election some years ago? And you’ve said this publicly?
    If not, then don’t waste our time and treat us like idiots by pretending that your partisan objections are principled.

  15. Catch a clue: The Wisconsin Republicans have already got their public employee reforms, which largely stripped you of the capacity to extort campaign funds from public workers. Passed, signed, and stamped “OK” by the courts. That’s what this was all about, your effort to undo that before it ever kicked in. You failed. Now we go into another round of recalls, where you just might lose the minor gains you made in this round, when no Democrats were at risk, and the Republicans were limited to defense.

    So you just wasted 30-40 million dollars on an off-year election, and DIDN’T get the playing field tilted back your way. So the Wisconsin reforms will have been in place for a year and more before the 2012 elections, when you won’t be able to flood Wisconsin with out of state money because you’ll have a whole country of elections to deal with.

    Yeah, you imposed a couple of casualties on the foe, but you lost this engagement, and as a result go into the next much weaker. I know you have to try, but there’s no way to paint this as a victory. It was a very expensive loss.

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