Swing State Series - Wisconsin

Swing State Series - Wisconsin

Election forecasters continue to undervalue concrete data on actual voter registrations in competitive states such as Michigan and Pennsylvania. Wisconsin appears to be a story of lost Democrat support, much more so than gained Republican support. President Trump garnered essentially the same vote total as Senator Romney did in 2012. Nearly 120k more voters opted for Independent candidates, 83% of them residing in counties that voted Democrat in 2016. As is being repeated across the Midwest, since 2016, Republicans have a clear new voter registration advantage, +43k v. -19k for Democrats. Despite this advantage, the presence of large numbers of Independents in Democrat-leaning counties favors Wisconsin going Blue.

Fewer People Voted in 2016

Surprising to many, Wisconsin holds the dubious mantle of the largest drop in voting from 2012 to 2016 among the major Upper Midwest states. This despite a 1% increase in the state’s population over that time. This is the first clue that a permanent Republican shift is not in the cards in Wisconsin.

Total Votes Cast in Presidential Election20122016% Change
Pennsylvania5,596,4995,970,107+7%
Michigan4,717,7284,789,450+2%
Ohio5,379,0905,325,395-1%
Wisconsin3,056,6132,944,620-4%

Independents in Wisconsin

Compared to 2012, note that the Republican candidate received essentially the same number of votes. Instead, Independents were the big story here in 2016.

Voted For20122016% Change
Democrat1,613,9501,382,210-14%
Republican1,408,7461,409,467+0%
Other33,917152,943+351%

Beyond polls, what else can we glean about independent voting? Did independent voting drive the 22 counties that flipped to Red in 2016?

Country Outcome in 2016Change in Independent Votes 2016 v. 2012% of Total Change
Democrat99,19683%
Republican19,83017%
Total119,026

This is fascinating and potentially positive news for Joe Biden. A slight shift back to Joe Biden by Independents in already Democrat-leaning counties could swing Wisconsin back to Blue.

Voter Registrations in Wisconsin

Voter registrations remain an important factor. We have less to go on, as the State of Wisconsin does not collect information on political party affiliation. Let’s look at voter registrations by county.

County Outcome in 2016NumberVoter Registrations Since 2016 Election
Republican59+43,519
Democrat13-18,592

Milwaukee County Sets the Tone

The voter registration numbers would be more worrisome to Democrats, were it not for the significant presence of independents in Democrat-leaning counties. Nonetheless, Biden’s task is no easier. Let’s consider the state’s largest county. Biden’s simply got a smaller pool to work with. Assume that the President’s support is level in Milwaukee County and he can garner 1.45M votes in Wisconsin. Across the state, the Vice President would need ~75k votes above the 2016 Democratic vote to win. A snap back to 2012 levels here would deliver about 40k more votes for Biden. But that will need to occur in a county that has LOST 19.5k registered voters. Energy and get out the vote will be crucial.

Presidential Election Vote20122016% ChangeChange in Registered Voters Since 2016
Democrat328,090288,986-12%n/a
Republican158,430126,091-20%n/a
Independent4,42419,893+350%n/a
Total490,944434,970-11%-19.5k

All data for this post was sourced from the Wisconsin Elections Commission.


Any opinions or forecasts contained herein reflect the personal and subjective judgments and assumptions of the author only. There can be no assurance that developments will transpire as forecasted and actual results will be different. The accuracy of data is not guaranteed but represents the author’s best judgment and can be derived from a variety of sources. The information is subject to change at any time without notice.