Sunday, August 12, 2018

The vote totals to look for in Tuesday's primary

Ahead of Tuesday's Wisconsin primary elections, I wanted to look back at the last time this state had contested statewide primaries on both the GOP and Dem sides, to have a few benchmarks on what to look for in 2 days, and to give an indication of possible voter engagement for November.

Here's a look at the Dem vs. GOP totals in the 2016 presidential primary in the counties that cast the most votes in the state, and what it looked like in the smaller counties in the rest of the state. Over 2.1 million votes were cast in the April 2016 primaries, a number similar to what we see in midterm elections in Wisconsin.

As you can see, a little over 58% of the total votes were in 11 counties, and over 1/3 were in 3 counties - Milwaukee, Dane and Waukesha. But that doesn't mean the outstate vote is insignificant - about 900,000 votes in all.

Then you dig down within the 2 parties' primaries, and the distribution looks very different. As shown here, the WOW Counties and Racine County took up a disproportionate amount of the GOP primary electorate in April 2016, but so did the Appleton-Green Bay area, and outstate Wisconsin.

Given that Leah Vukmir is the "Eastern Wisconsin AM radio Bubble" candidate and Nicholson is running as the "independent Republican outsider" (HAH!) candidate, this is an interesting cross-current.

On the Dem side, not surprisingly, the counties that have Milwaukee and Madison in them are an even bigger part of the vote (more than 36%), but the 262 is a much less significant part of the electorate, and 2 of them are replaced by the Western Wisconsin counties of Eau Claire and La Crosse as counties with the most votes. (note that Milwaukee is in green on this chart)

A big thing to look at from the Dems side is if Milwaukee County turns out as strong as Dane County will (note that Dane County had more votes than Milwaukee County in April's Supreme Court race), and how that distribution of votes affects the outcome. It's also worth noting to see if Kathleen Vinehout and/or Mike McCabe will be helped or hurt by being the two candidates left from Western Wisconsin.

Lastly, given that Wisconsin has an open primary, voters decide on Election Day which party's primary they will take part in. In 2016, this breakdown seemed to portend what we'd see in November of that year, especially in the Fox Cities area, and in Racine and Kenosha. Those areas shifted toward Donald Trump and Ron Johnson to help put those two over the top, along with the GOP shift outstate.

That's why I think it's important to look at the turnout figures in Tuesday's primary in Wisconsin. That might have an even bigger indication which party wins and loses than the candidates themselves, because if Dem voters are coming out more than Republican ones in those swingier areas, it would be another indication of stronger engagement that would make it more likely that Scott Walker will lose in November, and that Tammy Baldwin might have an easier race.

Likewise, if we more Republican voters than Democratic voters, like we saw in April 2016 (by a 52-48 margin), then it shows Republicans are still engaged and/or Dems in some areas still are not (I'm looking at you, Milwaukee), and it may mean the recent momentum that Dems have seemed to have in Wisconsin may be fading.

Bottom line, VOTE ON TUESDAY, and make it count. Not only does it matter in selecting your candidates for these races, but it also will give plenty of tea leaves for those in the national news and donor class to read.

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