Recall vote in Wisconsin as harbinger for the 2012 general election? Not so fast

Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin survived yesterday's recall vote despite the passion, hard work, and money poured into the recall efforts. Many news organizations are using the vote to discuss the future of organized labor. Others wonder whether the vote sends a signal about improving Republican chances in the November presidential elections.

Nate Silver posted a very good column yesterday analyzing his suggestion that races for governor can sometimes give contrary indicators for presidential elections. Here's what he says:
But one thing that the recall is unlikely to do is tell us much about how the presidential contest in Wisconsin is likely to evolve in November. The politics for a governor’s campaign are often subject to different currents than presidential ones, and historically the party identification of a state’s governor has said little about how presidential candidates will fare there.
Over the past 40 years, in fact, the relationship has run in the reverse direction than you might expect. The Democratic presidential candidate has typically done a little better when the state’s governor is a Republican, and vice versa.
Why is this so? As usual, Silver is clear in his explanations, providing two tables, one showing presidential vote margins by party of state governor, and the other, slightly more refined, showing presidential vote shift by party of state governor. But correlation is not causation, and Silver is always careful to remind readers of that fact. He offers two hypotheses and one caution. One hypothesis is that voters like balance in their elected officials; the other is that some voters tend to vote for the incumbent. The caution is that the aggregated data may hide some factors. This counterintuitive suggestion, backed up by numbers, is an interesting addition to the discussion. Do you agree?

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