Polls predicted election outcomes within margin of error, experts breakdown results

Election 2022
Published: Nov. 9, 2022 at 7:17 PM CST
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(WSAW) - Many statewide races were tight on Election Day, showing how purple Wisconsin is and how every vote counts. It was predicted in polling and many of the results did not surprise political scientists in Wisconsin.

In the words of UW-Stevens Point Political Science Prof. John Blakeman, no political party really “won” the election. Generally across the country and in Wisconsin, there was not a red tsunami like Republicans had hoped for, and Blakeman and other experts said they believe Democrats were even surprised with the number of seats in different races they were able to keep or gain.

Typically, midterm elections are a check on the party in power, which did not entirely happen this election. While issues highlighted throughout the campaign trail seemed to have an impact, they did not necessarily reach impact levels the party favoring whichever topic wanted. Depending on which political scientist you ask, which topic had more influence could be different.

Blakeman said he saw the economy as a bigger factor for voters than abortion because while nearly two-thirds of Wisconsinites think abortion should be legal in some form in exit polls, nearly a third of those voters cast ballots for Sen. Ron Johnson who ran on an anti-abortion platform.

“To me, that indicates that abortion wasn’t the defining issue that Democrats thought it might be. And for Sen. Johnson, abortion and his pro-life stance was not necessarily driving voters away.”

“It’s interesting that the normal prediction based upon the economy and the President’s popularity didn’t occur,” Ed Miller Professor Emeritus of Political Science, UW-Stevens Point noted. “It had some effects, but it was certainly moderated.”

Miller believed abortion issues had more of an impact, especially for turning out younger voters. Essentially, all of the main campaign topics likely mattered in varying degrees depending on the voter.

Charles Franklin, the director of the Marquette Law School Poll said the tight races were what they predicted in their polling.

“Purely from the polling point of view, (it was) a good night for my poll. We were off on Tony Evers vote by 3.2 percentage points. We had him at 48. And he’s gotten 150 1.2. But we were off by just two-tenths of a point on Michels. We were off by one and a half points on Barnes, and by half a point on Johnson. So if you average across those, our error on average across candidates was 1.35 percentage points. The margin of error for a sample of the size we have was 4.8 percentage points, I’d say we beat the margin of error.”

He continued, “But more importantly, I think we told the story about right. We saw a close race, we called both races toss-ups. And Democrats did a little better than what we had them doing a one-point race in the Senate instead of a two-point margin that we had it, favoring Johnson. And while we had the governor’s race tied, the margin there is just a little over three. So I think we did fine. I think the broader point is that with all the conversation that’s gone on for the last several years about polling being broken, this was a pretty good night for our poll. But it was also a pretty decent night for polling here and in other states as well, at least for many pollsters, not quite all of them.”

Despite races being tight, candidates who lost the edge in the unofficial results graciously conceded, which Franklin says speaks to the candidates’ faith in the election process.

“Seeing candidates across the board, excepting this year’s results, makes it look much more like voters and candidates are treating 2020 as a special case, and not generalizing those claims to new elections.”

The only statewide race too close to call is the race for secretary of state, which the incumbent Doug La Follette seems to lead by a fraction of a percent. There is no automatic recount in Wisconsin, but if a candidate loses by 0.25%, that candidate can call for a recount at the state’s expense. Those losing candidates within a 1% of victory can request a recount, but they must pay for that recount.

Election 2022

The two biggest races in Wisconsin went to the incumbents, Gov. Tony Evers and Sen. Ron Johnson. Gov. Evers mentioned Wednesday his surprise that people would vote both for him and Sen. Johnson. Political experts, however, were not surprised saying there are a variety of factors at play with why candidates did not win down the party ticket.

As a general norm, incumbents have an advantage because they have better-known track records and name recognition. Even while Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes is a better-known opponent with a track record, it is not to the level of Sen. Johnson. Blakeman said Wisconsin also has a history of split-ticket voting to incumbents’ favors, but also for another reason.

“When all the dust settles, we will probably see voters are being motivated by having split control over a state government,” he explained. “So, one party controls the executive branch, the other party is in charge of the legislature. You know, we’ve seen that at the federal level for quite some time. It’s like, you know, voters feel comfortable when neither party has an outright majority to push through its policy agenda.”

“The other thing we saw a week ago, last Wednesday before the election, was that Democrats had a little bit of a lead and voter enthusiasm about a six-point margin of being more certain they were going to vote or to have already voted than Republicans,” Franklin noted. “And I think that seems to have carried through on election night with Democrats a little bit overperforming what our poll thought they would do.”

The poll was also pretty accurate with the likelihood that voters who said they would vote for a particular candidate would show up at the polls, with those saying they were going to vote for Gov. Evers and Sen. Johnson more likely to cast ballots than those who said they were voting for their opponents.

Miller said how aggressive the campaign ads were in each race likely mattered too, saying Lt. Gov. Barnes did not match Sen. Johnson’s attack and often did not answer them.

“Now, he’s making a sandwich,” Miller said about one Barnes ad. “On the other side, Johnson showing, you know, riots, saying he wants to defund the police and all these things. And so it really wasn’t even in terms of the advertisement. And a number of people in the Democratic Party were saying, what what is he doing?”

In the ads for governor, Gov. Evers and opponent Tim Michels matched each other better, but Miller said the Evers ads against Michels talking about sexual harassment at his business and his plans for schools and abortion access may have scared some people into voting against him.

In addition, the Associated Press noted in its reasoning for calling the race for governor that turnout did not go toward Michel’s favor in the suburbs outside Milwaukee; the WOW counties of Waukesha, Ozaukee, and Washington. In the past those counties favored Republicans, but over the last few years they have not been as much of a stronghold as Blakeman says demographics shift. He said it is not at a point where it is necessarily a changing trend towards Democrats, but could be after the 2024 election season.