Whitewater Educational Referendum Post 1: Overall Politics

This is the first of three posts on the Whitewater Educational Referendum. In this post, I’ll look at the overall political climate for the referendum, one week out from the election. There are three key considerations for the referendum, but only two of them are commonly discussed.

1. The gubernatorial election looks to be close. In this gubernatorial election year, Walker-Burke is polling as a close election. That’s not what most people expected at the beginning of the year. Both polling and conventional opinion would have placed the race somewhere between Scott Walker’s first win over Tom Barrett in ’10 and his recall win over Barrett in ’12. (I thought the same in a January prediction on the race; mine was a garden-variety assessment common at the year’s beginning. No particular data were involved; it was just a hunch that Walker would do fairly well based on his last two statewide races.)

That’s not what this race look like now: most polls, and so most poll aggregators, show this to be a very close race. As of this morning, the Huffington Post aggregator has the race Walker 46.6, Burke 45.8, RealClear Politics has it Walker 47, Burke 46.8, with only the newer Cap Times aggregator showing the race farther apart, at Burke 51.9, Walker 48.1 (of the two-party vote).

If you’re reading that Team Walker is testy about the race, you’re reading solid reporting, and you’re probably reading that news because the race is closer than the WISGOP had hoped or expected. Those stories don’t mean Gov. Walker expects to lose; they reveal that he’d hoped for an easier time of it.

The school district goes into a statewide race with a closer margin between the parties statewide. It’s reasonable to assume (1) that the vote locally will be closer than Walker-Barrett 2010, and that (2) Walker will win the towns outside Whitewater, and Burke will carry the city proper.

2. The last referendum was close. In the spring (4.3.12) rather than the fall, the last operational referendum passed in a close vote, 1,817-1,750. (I’m using the online election results from Walworth, Jefferson, and Rock counties, not considering absentee ballots.)

The April 2012 election was mostly a GOP affair, with a contested presidential primary; Pres. Obama was assured his renomination and so his supporters had less reason for concern about the Wisconsin primary’s outcome. Easily more people cast votes in the contested GOP race than the uncontested Democratic one.

3. Undervotes. Everyone in the district knows the gubernatorial race looks to be close, and that there are differences between a spring primary’s electorate and a fall electorate. But you may not have heard about the number of undervotes between the top of the ticket and a referendum question. Undervotes are simply a voter’s legitimate and lawful choice not to make a selection in a given contest. There might be a hundred ballots cast on election day, but a referendum question, for example, might get only ninety votes for or against. Those voters not making a selection for the referendum either way would be called undervotes.

In the last referendum vote, there were more undervotes than the margin between support and opposition on the question.

Perhaps some voters only wanted to vote in the presidential primary, perhaps some voters didn’t see the referendum question, etc.: there were more votes cast for the candidates at the top of the ballot than for candidates or questions lower down.

But voters will have to find and select the referendum. In the last referendum vote, for example, even in an area as small as the Rock County portion of the district, there were 285 votes cast for or against the referendum, but 39 undervotes, too. Although only Rock County lists undervotes in its publicly-posted results, one can discern a similar if smaller pattern in wards for Walworth or Jefferson counties.

The referendum question will be on the back of the ballot, and it will not be the only referendum question (there’s a statewide transportation question). Voters on the school referendum question will have to follow to the back of the ballot, and want to vote on the referendum when they do. The first step is remedied by information, but the second only by persuasive information.

Some voters will be interested almost exclusively in the gubernatorial race: after years of wrangling between the parties, and now millions in campaign ads, that’s understandable.

Of the three topics I’ve listed, the first two have received political notice in town. The third, on undervotes, not as much. Yet, undervotes may be greater than the deciding margin of votes cast if this should be a close vote.

Next: Whitewater Educational Referendum Post 2: Local Campaign

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