A shift in independent voters toward Democrats took away the consistent, comfortable margins of victory Republican Gov. Scott Walker enjoyed in his prior elections and gave Tony Evers the narrow win last week, according to a polling expert.

With voters from both political parties becoming increasingly galvanized behind their candidates, Marquette Law School Poll director Charles Franklin pointed to independents switching from Walker to Evers as the decisive factor in the Nov. 6 Wisconsin governor’s race.

Compared to Walker’s wins in 2010 and 2014 elections and a 2012 recall, the electorate shifted by about 7 percent more toward Democrats this month, giving Evers the win by 1.15 percent.

However, Franklin noted the shift was not universal across the state based on geography or population.

“The shift in elections between 2014 and 2018 wasn’t statewide,” he said to a crowd of about 70 local business and community leaders gathered Friday morning at the Green Mill, 2703 Craig Road.

Counties that had the biggest shifts that favored Democrat Evers are generally below a diagonal line that goes from Green Bay to the southwest corner of the state.

“Every county that cast more than 50,000 votes shifted Democrat,” Franklin said.

Included among those is Dane County, which is not only the fastest growing county in Wisconsin by overall population, but it also cast 40,000 more ballots in this year’s gubernatorial races than the previous one.

It’s the most prominent example of a long-term trend Franklin illustrated on a map that showed counties with or near a bigger city gaining in population while rural counties, especially those in northern Wisconsin, are losing people. With metro areas leaning Democrat and rural ones typically Republican, Franklin indicated that overall population trend is expected to play a role in future elections.

Last week’s midterm election broke records for voter turnout when there’s no presidential race on ballots.

In Wisconsin, about 2.67 million votes were cast. That meant 58.4 percent of Wisconsin adults voted, including more than 80 percent of registered voters, Franklin noted.

The polling expert delivered a breakdown of the midterm election and factors that affected it during a Friday morning presentation sponsored by the Eau Claire Area Chamber of Commerce.

While introducing Franklin, Scott Biederman, chairman of the chamber’s government affairs committee, attested to the accuracy of Marquette’s prediction for the governor’s race.

“I (saw) a poll about one week before the election, and it was pretty close. It turned out to be right. And it was the Marquette poll,” Biederman said.

Though the Marquette poll is well regarded as a good predictor of election outcomes, even Franklin admitted he was skeptical of the 10 to 11 percent margin of victory it had predicted for U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., over Republican challenger Leah Vukmir. But he said this is an example of why one should trust polling data over gut instinct as Baldwin beat Vukmir by 10.9 percent.

Double-digit margins are rarer as politics have become increasingly partisan, he said, but there are exceptions like this year’s Wisconsin Senate race.

“It’s possible to have a pretty significant win under the right circumstances,” he said.

Midterms when there’s a Republican in the White House are historically good to Democrats. National issues also can play a role in state races as well, he said.

For example, Republicans Walker and Vukmir got caught in a public opinion shift on the Affordable Care Act. Though “Obamacare” was maligned by Republicans for years, public opinion shifted toward it after a mandate requiring individuals to have health insurance was dropped but more popular requirements to cover pre-existing conditions and allow children to stay on parents’ health care plans longer remained.

In polling about the issues, health care and education were the top two concerns, which favored Evers. Jobs and the economy came in third, which favored Walker, and roads was the fourth highest issue for voters.

“In the end roads was a wash — 50 percent to 47 percent — just not a deciding issue for people,” Franklin said.

Contact: 715-833-9204, andrew.dowd@ecpc.com, @ADowd_LT on Twitter