With states starting their early in-person voting this month and the 2020 Presidential election fast approaching, key battleground states like Wisconsin – are being evaluated and measured with a laser-focus to determine if there are changes in the trajectory of this immensely stable election.
If any change has been indicated, it’s only that former Vice President Biden’s national lead is growing to almost double digits.
In particular, Wisconsin state polling has shown a consistent lead for Biden throughout the summer and into fall, and it seems there is little Trump has been able to do about it.
Recent Fox News polling puts Biden with a 5-point lead over Trump amongst likely Wisconsin voters. Even though Biden’s current lead in Wisconsin is almost half of Biden’s national lead, Trump has almost seemed to give up on Wisconsin, and Trump’s campaign manager, Bill Steipen, has not identified Wisconsin in any of their electoral college paths to victory.
This is particularly shocking since in the 2016 election, Wisconsin was “the tipping point” state in Trump’s path to victory in the electoral college. Trump won Wisconsin by less than a point in 2016, which made him the first Republican presidential nominee to win Wisconsin since 1984.
Trump campaigned Wisconsin ferociously in 2016, spending almost $7 million on ads in the state and making six campaign stops in Wisconsin during the last hundred days of the election. Compared to Hillary Clinton, who spent only $3 million and was famously the first major-party nominee to not visit Wisconsin since 1972. In fact, Wisconsin was one of the few battlegrounds in 2016 where Clinton ads were outnumbered by Trump ads.
Democrats are not making that same mistake in 2020 and remain vigilant, not taking for granted Biden’s consistent lead in Wisconsin. Especially since in 2016, Clinton enjoyed a similarly consistent lead at this point in the race. The Biden campaign continues to focus heavily on Wisconsin with Biden visiting Wisconsin twice in the midst of a pandemic, and the campaign and its allies spending $60.2 million on ads in Wisconsin. This dwarfs the $38.8 million spent by Trump and his allies in Wisconsin.
In fact, the Biden campaign continues to maintain an ad advantage of greater than 2,000 ads in the Green Bay media market, the WOW counties (Waukesha, Ozaukee, Washington), Milwaukee and Western Wisconsin. While Trump is left in the dust of Biden’s Wisconsin ad advantage, Trump and his allies are spending $24.5 million for an ad advantage in Georgia where he won handily in 2016.
With Trump effectively giving up on Wisconsin and with Biden maintaining a lead in statewide polls, spending far more money and possessing a significant ad advantage statewide; Biden is going to win Wisconsin. However, this is not a victory which will restore Wisconsin back into the Democrats’ mythical “blue wall” for future elections. A Biden win in Wisconsin will further cement Wisconsin as an important battleground state to be fought for aggressively by the parties.
Fifty-nine percent of Wisconsin’s age 25 and over population is white and without a college degree, which are the defining characteristics of Trump’s base. For the Trump campaign to give up focus on Wisconsin with its large slew of voters with demographics that fit directly into his core base is quite counterintuitive. This only further demonstrates the wide gap in both the polls and in funding Trump needs to close with election day fast approaching.
For future presidential elections, the white voter without a college degree will continue to define Wisconsin politics. This demographic in Wisconsin, however, is unique and unpredictable, with Trump winning this demographic in Wisconsin by 28 points in 2016, but now only leads polls with this same group by 5 points.
This dramatic swing away from Trump demonstrates that white Wisconsin voters without a college degree are not solidly in the GOP’s pocket, and that both parties will need to work hard in the future to attract this key Wisconsin demographic.
As a whole, Trump maintains a slight 3-point lead among likely white voters in Wisconsin. Wisconsin will continue to stick out as a battleground state for its slight blue-lean in presidential elections, while maintaining such a predominantly white populace that was 86 percent of the electorate in 2018.
In a recent Pew Research study of demographic changes in the electorate between 2000-2018, Wisconsin remains a sore white thumb amongst other battleground states that saw a major demographic shift, like Florida with a 13-point drop in the white electorate and Arizona with a 12-point drop. Wisconsin only had a 5-point drop in white eligible voters in this same timeframe.
Wisconsin’s current whiteness lags behind the trajectory of the United States Census Bureau projection of the nation being minority-majority by 2050. The general leftward swing in American suburbs is credited in part by the decline of the white electorate in these areas.
In Wisconsin, this not necessarily the case with the Milwaukee suburbs and exurbs in Waukesha, Ozaukee and Washington counties that remain quite white. Waukesha, the most populous of the three WOW counties, is 92.5 percent white. The Milwaukee metro-area remains one of the most racially segregated areas in the United States with its predominantly white WOW counties currently supporting Trump by a 10-point margin.
Wisconsin’s enduring whiteness, the erratic nature of Wisconsin’s white voters without a college degree, and the WOW counties’ defiance of the American suburban leftward shift shows how Wisconsin will continue to be a baffling and unpredictable swing state. Biden’s win this cycle will not politically categorize Wisconsin in the slightest and every election will continue to be an upwards battle to understand the mysterious and undefinable political nature of Wisconsin.