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Can Walker's Recipe for Success in Wisconsin Go National?

Governor Scott Walker has won three statewide races in four years in Wisconsin but the broader American electorate might not be so friendly.

In a very crowded Republican presidential field, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has a simple explanation as to why he’s the man for the nomination: He’s won in an important swing state. In fact, since 2010 he’s won statewide three times.

But do those wins show Mr. Walker would be a formidable candidate in a national campaign? The numbers suggest his success in the Badger State may be more Wisconsin-specific, owing to that state’s particular demographic makeup. In a national presidential election he would be facing a very different electorate than he has in the past.

In the three gubernatorial elections Mr. Walker has won, his share of the white and African-American vote has looked remarkably stable.

  • In 2010, he won 56 percent of the white vote and 14 percent of the African-American vote.
  • In his 2012 recall election, he won 57 percent of the white vote and 5 percent of the African-American vote.
  • In 2014, he won 56 percent of the white vote and 10 percent of the African American vote.

(The vote from Hispanics and Asians is quite small and the exit polls did not determine percentages for each candidate.)

Those margins have been enough to win in Wisconsin, where the state population is 83 percent non-Hispanic white. But Wisconsin is not a good stand-in for the United States as a whole. Consider the differences on 2014 Wisconsin gubernatorial electorate and the 2012 national presidential electorate.

Those are some very big differences, particularly among the white voters, big enough to create a very different reality with a national electorate.

In fact, Mr. Walker’s percentages among white and African-American voters look a lot like those of Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. In 2012, Mr. Romney won 59 percent of the vote from whites and 6 percent from African-Americans nationally. And, of course, he lost to President Barack Obama.

None of this means Mr. Walker can’t win the GOP nomination or the White House, but these numbers suggest that his Wisconsin success may have more meaning in campaign literature and speeches than in a national general election.