Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker successfully beat back a Democratic recall effort Tuesday night by assembling a coalition that closely resembled the electorate that propelled the Republican to victory 19 months ago. Though voters were split on Walker's signature achievement -- sharply reducing the ability of public employee unions to collectively bargain with the state -- Walker defeated Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett for the second time in as many years as voters said that elected officials should only be recalled for official misconduct.
The voters who chose to stick with Walker narrowly support President Obama, according to exit polls conducted Tuesday as Wisconsin voters turned out heavily in the third recall election of a sitting governor in U.S. history. Obama leads his Republican rival, Mitt Romney, 51 percent to 44 percent, exit polls show.
Similarities abound between the 2010 general election and Tuesday's recall for Walker. He won 59 percent of the male vote (compared to 57 percent in 2010) and 47 percent of the female vote (compared to 48 percent). Walker also won 57 percent of white voters, up from 55 percent in 2010.
Republicans outnumbered Democrats among the electorate by a single percentage point, not a statistically-significant difference and virtually unchanged from 2010. Each candidate won at least 90 percent of his own partisans. The percentage of voters who identified as independents grew slightly -- mirroring national trends -- from 27 percent to 31 percent. Walker carried these unaffiliated voters by 9 percentage points, down slightly from his 14-point advantage among this group in 2010.
Barrett hoped that an influx of young voters would aid his candidacy, but voters aged 18-29 made up only 16 percent of the electorate on Tuesday, virtually equal to their 15 percent in 2010, and well under their 22 percent representation in 2008. Moreover, Walker only lost these young voters by 4 percentage points, 51 percent to 47 percent. In 2010, Barrett carried voters aged 18-29 by 10 points. In 2008, Obama bested Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., among young voters by a staggering 29 points. Meanwhile, Walker carried all other age groups, including an 10-point advantage among seniors.
Walker lost ground among low-income voters, according to exit polls, trailing Barrett among those with a household income below $50,000 a year by 12 percentage points. He ran only 3 points behind in 2010. But the percentage of low-income voters declined, and Walker maintained his edge among wealthier voters, beating Barrett by 26 points among those making $100,000 a year or more, 63 percent to 37 percent, up slightly from the 22-point margin he racked up in 2010.
The education gap that propelled Walker in 2010 was also evident on Tuesday. In both 2010 and 2012, Barrett won voters with a college degree by a single point, but Walker won those without a degree -- the majority of Wisconsin voters -- by 13 percentage points.
Looking at only white voters, Walker won whites without a college degree by 23 percentage points, 63 percent to 38 percent, according to an ABC News analysis updated on Wednesday. In 2010, Walker won non-college whites by a slightly narrower margin, 58 percent to 40 percent. Walker's dominance among these voters is even more apparent looking at white men without college degrees, two-thirds of whom favored Walker (67 percent to 33 percent).
As he improved his performance among non-college whites, Walker held serve among white voters with college degrees. Half of these voters supported Walker, compared to 49 percent for Barrett, identical to their performances among this group in 2010. There was a gender gap among this subgroup as well: White men with college degrees went for Walker by 11 percentage points, but white college females voted for Barrett by a 10-point margin.
Some observers expected the collective bargaining issue to strike a chord with union members, and while union households voted in greater numbers than they did in 2010, Walker's 38-percent performance among these voters was virtually identical to the 37 percent he won two years ago. Among non-union voters, Walker ticked up, from 56 percent in 2010 to 61 percent on Tuesday.
Voters remain evenly divided on the state's controversial law curbing collective bargaining rights. Fifty-two percent approved of the changes in the law, compared to 47percent who disapproved. Each candidate won by a roughly nine-to-one margin (Walker won those who approved, Barrett those who disapproved).
Despite the state's seemingly intense polarization, exit polls revealed that there are voters who support both Obama and Walker. Eighteen percent of those voters who said they would vote for Obama over Romney in November voted for Walker on Tuesday. Walker added a commanding 93 percent of Romney supporters to his total.
Yet the Walker success in defeating Barrett and Democrats' attempt to unseat him may be rooted in voters' unwillingness to remove a sitting officeholder for political reasons. Just 27 percent of voters said recall elections are appropriate for any reason; Barrett won this bloc 9-to-1. But the vast majority -- 60 percent -- said recall elections are only appropriate for "official misconduct," and more than two-thirds of these voters supported Walker.
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