this is that fifth in one Article series Investigation of the politics and demographics of the swing states expected for 2020.
Wisconsin is proof that politicians have brief memories. In 2004, Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry wore Wisconsin by just 0.4 percentage points, making it the closest state in the country. Four years earlier it was even closer – Democrat Al Gore won the Badger State with just 5,708 votes, or 0.2 points.
But Democrat Barack Obama was really connected to the Wisconsin electorate, winning the state with 14 points in 2008 and 7 points in 2012. When he joined in 2016, it helped make Wisconsin a safe bet for Hillary Clinton – part of the mythical “blue wall”. “After all, it had voted democratically seven consecutive presidential elections at this time.
We all know what happened next: Now President Trump has outperformed Wisconsin by 0.8 percentage points, reaffirming his status as a swing state. It was the third time in five presidential elections that Wisconsin was decided with less than one point. Fast forward to 2020 and both sides are right to treat it as a potential turning point. According to the FiveThirtyEight forecast, Wisconsin has a 13 percent chance of casting the decisive vote on the electoral college. Only Pennsylvania and Florida are more likely turning points.
Conventional wisdom has it that Clinton lost Wisconsin because she was infamous did not visit the state at all in the last seven months of the 2016 campaign. But that’s probably not true. Clinton devoted a lot of the effort like winning Pennsylvania and still losing there. Instead, Wisconsin went redder in 2016, likely for the same reason Pennsylvania and other Midwestern states: demographics. The unique home of progressive stalwarts like Robert “Fighting Bob” La Follette and Victor Berger couldn’t escape the modern reality that white people without a bachelor’s degree, who make up 59 percent of the population of Wisconsin age 25 and older, have become more and more Republicansespecially in the Trump era. After analyzing the Center for American ProgressWhite voters without a college degree in Wisconsin supported Mitt Romney with 52 to 47 percent in 2012 and Trump in 2016 with 56 to 38 percent. And as you can see on the map below, counties with the highest proportions of white residents without a college degree turned the sharpest to the right:
These trends have left Wisconsin a scarlet state; According to FiveThirtyEight’s Partisan Lean Metric (newly updated for the 2020 cycle!), The state is 2.8 points more republican than the entire nation. That said, Democrats could easily win it in 2020 if Biden has a double-digit lead over Trump at the national level and considering they have multiple (non-mutually exclusive) paths forward in the state.
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 to Democrats in 2016. Problem is, unlike the Philadelphia suburbs, Milwaukees are still deeply Republican. The so-called “WOW counties” – Waukesha, Ozaukee and Washington – have historically been the center of Republican power in the state, spawning politicians such as former Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus and former Governor Scott Walker. And all the Trump era has done is turn it from maroon to purple: even as Republicans bombed other suburbs in the country, Trump still carried WOW counties 28 percentage points in 2016 and Walker 35 in 2018 Points of the gubernatory race. However, it will be very interesting to see if Biden can continue to leverage this leeway – if so, it could have long-term implications for Wisconsin politics.
Second, Democrats could solve their turnout problem among black voters. According to the GAP analysis, 74 percent of eligible black voters in Wisconsin voted in 2012, but only 55 percent in 2016. Given that the black Wisconsinites voted 92 to 4 percent for Clinton, it was a big blow to the Democrats: According to the CAP calculations, if the black voters were at 2012 levels, Clinton Wisconsin would have won, but everything else would have stayed the same.
Third, of course, the Democrats could win back some white non-college voters. This could be the path of least resistance: In the 2018 gubernatorial race, Democrat Tony Evers won six mostly white working-class counties in southwestern Wisconsin that Trump wore in 2016 Siena College / New York Times poll As of early October in Wisconsin, Trump only led Biden 50 to 44 percent of white voters without a bachelor’s degree – much closer to the 2012 margin than 2016.
In fact, Biden appears to be on track to get much closer to the comfortable Democratic victories he and his old boss won in Wisconsin in 2008 and 2012 than Clinton’s 2016 performance. FiveThirtyEight’s forecast gives Biden an 88 chance 100 to win the state ;; The average projected vote rate is Biden 53.0 percent, Trump 46.1 percent. But Biden owes this command mostly to his national strength: we expect him to win the national referendum by 8.3 points – meaning Wisconsin is still more trump-friendly than average.
Even a Biden win at Obama level would not solve the underlying problems facing Democrats in the state. If Trump were to make a national comeback, or if there was a significant vote mistake, or if he was only looking to 2024, Republicans could be well positioned to win Wisconsin again. The combination of high support among white non-college voters, still dark red suburbs, and the determination of black voter turnout makes Wisconsin arguably the most likely brick in the Midwest’s “blue wall” to be painted red in the long run.