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For all of the hyper-partisanship and divisiveness in Wisconsin politics these days, a small but significant number of voters say they support both Republican Gov. Scott Walker and Democratic President Barack Obama.

State Journal archives

For all of the hyper-partisanship and divisiveness in Wisconsin politics these days, a small group of people say they back both Republican Gov. Scott Walker and Democratic President Barack Obama.

"We have seen that consistent pattern for a modest group of people," said Charles Franklin, director of the Marquette University Law School poll.

Franklin said that at the peak of this summer's recall — or about a week before the June 5 election — pollsters found both Walker and Obama were ahead of their opponents by 7 percentage points. Walker won that race by roughly 7 percentage points.

And recent polls have shown that between 12 percent to 16 percent of those who say they approve of the job Walker is doing also say they plan to vote for Obama in November. For example, the Marquette poll released on August 22 found 12 percent of voters who said they approve of Walker planned to vote for Obama, Franklin said. That same poll found 8 percent of those who disapprove of Walker said they will vote for Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney.

These Obama-Walker backers tend to be young, about 20 to 35 years old, less politically involved, and more moderate, Franklin said.

"They're much more likely to call themselves independents, tend to be registered voters who pay less attention to politics, but say they are likely to vote," Franklin said. "These are people not driven by ideology."

Long Wisconsin tradition

Joe Heim, professor of political science at UW-La Crosse, said the presence of independent voters willing to back both Walker and Obama is "historically accurate" rather than inconsistent.

"It is a great Wisconsin tradition," he said. "It's the way voters are in Wisconsin."

Heim said it's "old history" for Wisconsin independents to back politicians from across the political spectrum, noting that conservative Republican Sen. Joe McCarthy was followed by Democratic Sen. Bill Proxmire — with about one-third of former McCarthy voters backing Proxmire.

Heim said in a sense Walker and Obama have been "on the same ticket," with both trying to assure voters that the economy is improving under their leadership and insisting they need more time for their policies to take effect. And he added that the message seems to resonate well here.

"I think people in Wisconsin are more patient than other parts of the country," Heim said.

Madison-based Democratic pollster Paul Maslin said that, while Walker's and Obama's circumstances are different, there are people willing to give both incumbents the benefit of the doubt.

"These are independent voters who say, 'I'm going to give the man a chance,'" he said. "It's not shocking at all to me. It happens all the time."

Maslin, who has been polling in Wisconsin's U.S. Senate race, added that he wouldn't be surprised if about 5 percent of those who vote for Obama in November also voted for Walker.

"It could be a crucial 5 percent," said Maslin.

Broad appeal or shrinking support?

Joe Zepecki, Wisconsin communications director for the Obama campaign, said Obama has wide support across the political spectrum.

"It comes as no surprise to us that the president has broad appeal among the electorate," Zepecki said.

But Ben Sparks, spokesman for the Romney campaign in Wisconsin, said the enthusiasm for Obama has dropped sharply since he was elected four years ago, and predicted the trend would continue.

"As the negative jobs reports continue to come out, President Obama's support in Wisconsin continues to decline," Sparks said.