On the eve of the election, I wanted to see if there are certain places that give the state's "tea leaves" more than others. This is different than the heavily partisan, large population counties in the state, which consistently vote for Democrats (Dane and Milwaukee Counties) or Republicans (the suburban Milwaukee "WOW Counties"). So I checked the final results of the last 4 November elections, and used the "topline" contests of the presidency and governorship, as those alternate every 2 years here, and drew my analysis out of that.
What I found is that exactly ¼ of the counties in Wisconsin voted for Democrat Barack Obama in the November presidential elections of 2008 and 2012, and voted for Republican Scott Walker in the Governor’s elections of 2010 and 2014. Here are those 18 counties.
Counties that voted for winner Nov 08, 10, 12, 14
These are mostly small-population rural counties in the western and northern parts of the state, with the clear exception of Kenosha, Racine, and Winnebago. Those three counties do have large rural areas as well, but also have medium-size cities making up much of their populations (Kenosha, Racine and Oshkosh, respectively).
What I wanted to do from there is figure out which places had results that were closest to the statewide results (Obama +13.9 in 2008 and +6.9 in 2012, and Walker +5.8 in 2010 and +5.7 in 2014). When you put those figures together and average them, here is the “bellweather” counties in Wisconsin over the last 8 years.
Counties closest to Wisconsin statewide Nov election
Adams 1.9% avg. away from statewide
Even more interesting is that Adams County is the not only the closest to the winning totals, but it has also gone for the winner by a higher margin than the rest of the state in all 4 of these elections. Looks like a county to keep your eye on for Tuesday.
And there’s Winnebago and Kenosha showing up again on the list, which makes the fact that both counties had heavy early voting an interesting signal for what we might see tomorrow night.
There’s one other interesting trend that’s worthy to investigate as part of this group of 18 bellweather counties. While all of these counties have voted for the winner of those 4 November races, many of them have cast more votes for the Republican or Democratic candidate than the rest of the state in all of those races- it just wasn’t enough of a difference to give more of their votes for that party in the races that party lost (GOP in 2008 and 2012, Dems in 2010 and 2014).
What this means is if you see any of these counties trending a certain direction, it seems likely that the candidate from the other party won’t win statewide. So let’s take a look at that list.
Clinton unlikely to win if these counties vote Trump
Trump unlikely to win if these counties vote Clinton
Maybe those trends don’t hold as much tomorrow with such a divisive candidate like Trump at the top of the ticket, who is likely to lose educated people and minorities in higher levels than past GOP candidates, but may well win a higher rate of lower-educated whites. But I still think it could be handy guide to keep around as the returns come in, and see if we can get an early indication on where things are heading in Wisconsin before the numbers from big-population counties start rolling in.