Sunday, October 18, 2020

Weekend reading: "Wisconsin was never a safe blue state"

Wanted to direct you this recent article from from Nathaniel Rakich, which helps to explain why Wisconsin went from being a "blue wall" state for Democrats in presidential years to being one of the biggest reasons that Donald Trump ended up in the White House after the 2016 elections.

Rakich begins the article by mentioning that Wisconsin was never that Dem-leaning to begin with, as evidenced by the razor-thin margins in 2000 and 2004. But Barack Obama overperformed in these parts, so it fooled people into thinking there had been a blue shift in the state.
Wisconsin is proof that politicos have short memories. In 2004, Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry carried Wisconsin by just 0.4 percentage points — making it the closest state in the country. Four years earlier, it had been even closer — Democrat Al Gore won the Badger State by just 5,708 votes, or 0.2 points.

But Democrat Barack Obama really connected with Wisconsin voters, winning the state by 14 points in 2008 and 7 points in 2012. Going into 2016, that contributed to a sense that Wisconsin was a safe bet for Hillary Clinton — part of the mythical “blue wall.” It had, after all, voted Democratic in seven consecutive presidential elections by that point.
Rakich goes onto note that the loss of Hillary Clinton and other Dems in Wisconsin was similar to losses Dems had in other parts of the country in places that had a lot of white people with low educations.
Conventional wisdom says that Clinton lost Wisconsin because she infamously did not visit the state at all during the final seven months of the 2016 campaign. But that’s probably not true; Clinton devoted a lot of effort to winning Pennsylvania and still lost there, for instance. Instead, Wisconsin probably got redder in 2016 for the same reason that Pennsylvania and other Midwestern states did: demographics. The one-time home of progressive stalwarts like Robert “Fighting Bob” La Follette and Victor Berger could not escape the modern reality that white people without a bachelor’s degree — who make up 59 percent of Wisconsin’s population age 25 and older — have become more and more Republican, especially in the Trump era. According to an analysis by the Center for American Progress, white voters without a college degree in Wisconsin went from supporting Mitt Romney 52 percent to 47 percent in 2012 to supporting Trump 56 percent to 38 percent in 2016. And as you can see in the map below, counties with the highest shares of white residents without a college degree veered the sharpest to the right:
Wisconsin's vote totals for president ended up being about 2.8% to the right of the nation (Clinton won nationwide by 2.1%, Trump won the state by less than 0.8%). And if Biden's 10-point lead (as shown by the 538 averages) holds, that would mean Biden would win here by a little more than 7, everything else being equal.

But how can Biden and othert candidates get to the point that Wisconsin is back in line with the rest of America? Rakich sees a couple of ways that involve different groups of Wisconsinites.
First, they could keep improving among suburban voters. As the map above shows, the Milwaukee suburbs were pretty much the only part of Wisconsin that actually moved toward Democrats in 2016. The problem is that, unlike, say, the Philadelphia suburbs, Milwaukee’s are still deeply Republican. The so-called “WOW counties” — Waukesha, Ozaukee and Washington — have historically been the center of Republican power in the state, powering such politicians as former Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus and former Gov. Scott Walker. And all the Trump era has done is turn them from maroon to crimson: Even as Republicans bombed in other suburban areas around the country, Trump still carried the WOW counties in 2016 by 28 percentage points, and Walker carried them by 35 points in Wisconsin’s 2018 gubernatorial race. It will be very interesting to see if Biden can continue to eat into that margin, though — if so, it could have long-term implications for Wisconsin politics.

Second, Democrats could fix their turnout problem among Black voters. According to the CAP analysis, 74 percent of eligible Black voters turned out to vote in Wisconsin in 2012, but only 55 percent did in 2016. Given that Black Wisconsinites voted for Clinton 92 percent to 4 percent, that was a huge blow to Democrats: According to CAP’s calculations, Clinton would have won Wisconsin if Black voters had turned out at 2012 levels but everything else had stayed the same.
But while Rakich points out that the WOW Counties were redder in 2018 than 2016, what's not mentioned is that Tony Evers did much better in those places than Mary Burke did, and it's a big reason why Scott Walker won't get the chance to screw up our elections in 2020.

Election results, 2018 vs 2014
Waukesha Co
2014 Walker +40.7%
2018 Walker +33.6% (-7.1%)

Ozaukee Co
2014 Walker +40.6%
2018 Walker +26.7% (-13.9%)

Washington Co
2014 Walker +52.5%
2018 Walker +45.7% (-6.8%)

On the turnout side, Dems got to the polls in 2018, which led to the end of Scott Walker's reign as Governor despite Walker getting more votes that year than in his prior 3 elections. On the flip side, both Mitt Romney in 2012 and George W Bush in 2004 got more votes from Wisconsinites than Trump did in 2016.
Now put those two trends from 2018 together (WOW Counties not being as red, and more Dems turning out), and that means big trouble for GOP hopes in the state. Can Trump do even better in the low-educated red counties than he did in 2020 as an incumbent with a record (which takes out some of the "shake things up" voters of 2016)? And if Biden gets 1.6 million votes like Obama did in 2008 and 2012, would Trump's performance in rural Wisconsin even matter, because he'd lose by 100,000-200,000 votes anyway?

Seems worth keeping an eye on going forward, especially as hundreds of thousands of Wisconsinites have already voted, with the most votes coming from areas that Trump did worse than Romney in.

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