Home – POLITICAL BATTLES IN WI NOT HURTING VOTER TURNOUT

POLITICAL BATTLES IN WI NOT HURTING VOTER TURNOUT

After all the protests and then all the recall elections and attendant attack ads sparked by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's (R) union-busting policies three years ago, you'd think Wisconsinites would be burnt out on politics. But in the last presidential election, Ozaukee County in southeastern Wisconsin had the highest voter turnout of any county with a population over 50,000 in the country, at 84 percent. The Democratic stronghold of Milwaukee had one of the highest voter turnouts of any large urban county in the nation, at 74 percent. And the more diminutive city of Brookfield — where Republican nominee Mitt Romney received two-thirds of the vote — managed a whopping 90-percent turnout, exceeding the nationwide rate by more than 30 points. 
 
So is it possible that polarization — instead of turning off voters — actually makes them more interested in politics? In Wisconsin, at least, the answer to that question appears to be yes. 
 
"To foster high rates of voter turnout, you need two things at opposite ends of the spectrum," said David Campbell, a professor of political science at the University of Notre Dame. Those two things, he said, are: "highly competitive places politically, where you feel compelled to vote to advance your interests, because your vote is going to matter" and places "where elections aren't competitive but that means everybody has kind of the same view and same values." 
 
Southeastern Wisconsin, in particular, evidently has an abundance of both types of places. 
 
"You have what you might call the perfect storm," Campbell said. "You've got both the consensus and the conflict. That just adds more fuel to the fire." 
 
But Wisconsin's experience also indicates there's a downside to the level of political engagement reached there. During the height of the state's recall battles, a third of voters reportedly stopped talking about politics with someone they knew because of the disagreements it led to. (MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL)