Walker’s political argument is accurate at face value, but it comes with a major caveat: All three of his successful campaigns took place during non-presidential years, when turnout among many of the Democratic party’s core constituencies dropped off precipitously. Wisconsin has one of the most polarized electorates in the country, and there’s a significantly lower midterm turnout in the state’s most-liberal counties (most dramatically, in Milwaukee County) compared to the state’s conservative base (Waukesha County). The more a county supported Walker, the more likely it was to see strong turnout in an off-year election.
Walker’s success has as much to do with the political calendar and the state’s polarized electorate as it did with crossover appeal. He only won six percent of Democratic voters in his 2014 reelection. Many African-American voters simply stayed home during Walker’s gubernatorial campaigns, while a disproportionate number of college students sat out the contentious June 2013 recall election—which took place after campuses’ spring semester concluded. That’s not likely to repeat itself if he’s the GOP presidential nominee.
To wit: According to exit polling, young adults under the age of 30 made up 20% of the 2012 presidential electorate, but that number dropped to 16% during the recall election. White voters made up 91% of the recall vote, but only 86% in the last presidential campaign. The African-American percentage of the electorate was nearly twice as high in 2012 (7 percent) as it was two years prior in 2010 (4 percent). In the Democratic bastion of Milwaukee County, turnout for the 2014 midterm election was only 74% of the vote total for the 2012 presidential election. In deeply conservative Waukesha County, that number was much higher: 83%.