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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Teixeira: On Wisconsin

The following article by Ruy Teixeira, author of The Optimistic Leftist and other works of political analysis, is cross-posted from his blog:

There is a reasonable case that Wisconsin could be the tipping point for a Democratic victory in 2020. That is, of the “Rustbelt three” target states of Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, Wisconsin is the toughest challenge for the Democrats Therefore, if Democrats take Wisconsin, they are also likely to take Michigan and Pennsylvania and, through that, the Presidency.

The latest poll out of Wisconsin, the highly respected Marquette Law School poll run by Charles Franklin, has some encouraging news for Democrats. Biden runs ahead of Trump by 9 points, 51-42, while Sanders bests Trump by 4 points and Warren and Harris run even with the President.

It’s worth looking at these results a bit more closely, especially why Biden is running so far ahead of Warren (folks may disagree but I consider these two the two likeliest candidates to get the nomination at this point). Biden runs significantly stronger among both white voters (he actually carries them by 5 points) and noncollege-educated voters than Warren, suggesting he is a more appealing candidate to white noncollege voters (the poll does not provide a separate white noncollege break) than Warren.

To get a sense of the significance of this consider the following. If a Democratic candidate could simply replicate Obama’s 2012 performance among white noncollege voters in 2020, that candidate, all else equal, would win the state by six-and-a-half points. By comparison, if the Democratic candidate could match 2012 Obama election black turnout, the candidate would win the state, but only by half a percentage point. This gives you a sense of the relative magnitude of two demographic forces in Wisconsin.

Of course, the standard reply to the Biden vs. Warren numbers is that it’s too early, it’s all name recognition, any Democratic candidate can match Biden’s pull with these groups once the electorate gets to know them, etc., etc.

I’m not so sure. I think Josh Marshall has the right of it here:

“Biden’s stronger numbers in general election horse race polls have been open to differing interpretations. One is simply that he’s better known and credentialed by Barack Obama. So name recognition and trust allows a few more millions of voters to opt for him. But presumably that level of familiarity and trust is one less well known Democrats will be able to build up over time.

That theory is certainly right to a degree. The question is how much.

This poll along with other polls has the other, perhaps greater part of the explanation. In a handful of critical Midwestern states (Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, et al.) he simply runs better against Trump. Why that is we can debate – more ideologically conventional policy positions, Obama, race, gender, Senate experience. But that it is the case doesn’t seem open to much doubt. Those margins in a number of key states are what translates into that relative advantage in the national polls.

Whether this will persist we can’t know. But for now, polls suggest Biden is well positioned to beat Trump in Wisconsin. If he does, if any Democrat does, they are likely the next President.”

Marshall stresses–as do I–that he does not speak as a “Biden supporter” but rather as someone who thinks these patterns are important and should not be dismissed. I agree.

3 comments on “Teixeira: On Wisconsin

  1. paul waterhouse on

    focus groups can’t answer that kind of question. the only thing they’re useful for is raising questions you want to ask in a benchmark poll. if you ever observed a focus group, you’d quickly discover that most of the participants are all over the place, but they will help you figure out what to ask next

    • Victor on

      But usually when you are proving the views of a small segment of the population then focus groups are the only way to go.

      Also, because they would be experimental with them being exposed to a certain line of attack there would need to be more control on their exposure to arguments.

      Polling doesn’t work as well in telling us how people will react to stimuli.

  2. Victor on

    Can’t there be some focus groups to settle these questions?

    I would like to know if Biden’s numbers hold up after telling voters he support more of the same when it comes to free trade.


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