A Trump Surge in Wisconsin?
Well, maybe. The latest WI survey from the widely-respected Marquette Law School poll has Trump ahead of Biden by 3 in a trial heat matchup. It is just one poll, but it does serve as a fair reminder that Trump will likely be very competitive in this area of the country.
More broadly, here is my take on the poll and related issues around WI and 2020.
I think it’s fair to say that WI will be tough for the Dems, relative to MI and PA. The polling data, including this latest Marquette poll, are consistent with that. That said, I wouldn’t get too bent out of shape about the new poll; in August, the Marquette poll had Biden ahead by 9; it’s somewhat hard to believe things have changed that much in WI since then. The RCP rolling average still has Biden ahead by 3 in the matchup–worse for sure than MI and PA but still ahead. I’d need to see a few more surveys before I conclude Trump really is running ahead in the state. Of course, if we do see confirmation from several more polls, feel free to turn up the worry knob!
Contextual information for thinking about WI and 2020:
In 2016, Trump carried Wisconsin by 0.8 percentage points and just 23,000 votes. Prior to 2016, Democratic presidential candidates carried Wisconsin for seven straight elections from 1988 to 2012. But two of those victories were razor-thin, won by less than half a percentage point.
Democrats fared better in 2018. They carried the House popular vote by slightly less than 9 points. However, Republicans held all of their House seats and, on net, kept the same number of state legislative seats. But Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin easily won reelection by 11 points, and Tony Evers narrowly defeated incumbent Scott Walker by a point to recover the governor’s mansion for the Democrats and, in the process, break the Republican trifecta hold on state government.
The Democratic candidate will hope to continue the trends that manifested themselves in 2018, while Trump will try to build on his winning coalition from 2016. Trump has a -5 negative net approval rating in the state, which is slightly better than his approval rating in Michigan and Pennsylvania.
Nonwhites made up just 10 percent of Wisconsin voters in 2016, distributed roughly as 4-3-3 between Blacks, Hispanics, and Asians/other races and favoring Clinton by 85, 37, and 17 points, respectively. Clinton also had a strong advantage among white college graduates of 15 points (54 percent to 39 percent), which is better than her performance among this demographic group in either Michigan or Pennsylvania.
But there were also more white noncollege voters, 58 percent, in Wisconsin than in either Michigan or Pennsylvania. These voters favored Trump by 19 points.
In 2020, Blacks’ share of eligible voters should remain about the same, while Hispanics should go up by 0.7 points and Asians/other races by 0.4 points. White college-educated voters should also go up a full point, while white noncollege voters should drop by 2.3 points. These changes, favorable for the Democrats, would be enough to just barely move the state into the Democratic column if turnout and partisan voting preferences by group remained the same as in 2016.
To carry the state again, Trump likely needs to increase his support among white noncollege voters from his 19-point advantage in 2016 and/or increase this group’s relative turnout. Alternatively, he could try to increase his support among the considerably less-friendly white college demographic. But the voting patterns from 2016 will likely not suffice for a Trump victory in 2020.
As noted previously, demographic changes in the underlying eligible electorate would be enough for the Democratic candidate to barely carry the state in 2020, if voting patterns from 2016 remain the same. A safer strategy would be to change some key voting patterns from 2016 in Democrats’ favor. One obvious goal would be to increase Black turnout—which declined a massive 19 points in 2016—back to its 2012 levels. Doing so would add about a point and half to the Democratic margin in 2020.
Widening the Democrats’ already-healthy margin among white college graduates by 10 points would be more effective, adding 3 points to potential Democratic 2020 performance. But moving the Democrats’ white noncollege deficit back to 2012 levels would add 7 points to Democrats’ projected 2020 margin. White noncollege women are the clear target group here, since Clinton’s deficit among these voters (-16 points) was much less than her deficit among their male counterparts (-43 points).