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The political polarization of Wisconsin, according to NBC's Chuck Todd

Chuck Todd attends the 2021 AFI Fest
Jon Kopaloff
Getty Images
Chuck Todd attends the 2021 AFI Fest

Wisconsin is at the center of the national conversation every election cycle, and these midterm elections are no different. As polarization has defined politics in the U.S., Wisconsin has become an interesting example of how these political divides play out in local and national elections.

This unique situation brought NBC's Chuck Todd to the state to chat with various former and current political leaders about the state of politics in the Badger state. Todd is the political director forNBC News and the moderator of Meet the Press.

Todd describes Wisconsin as the "most polarized" political state in America of the states that are typically the most competitive in recent history. While analyzing the landscape of national political polarization, Todd suspects there may be a correlation between Wisconsin polarization and national polarization.

Todd says, "So, in the modern era, Wisconsin is patient zero for polarization, as far as I am concerned. And the question is: Did Wisconsin's divisiveness become contagious to the rest of the country? And if so, does Wisconsin have to sort of depolarize before America does? I believe there's a lot to learn from Wisconsin about how Wisconsin became so polarized because I think there are some trends nationally...[and political experts can use] Wisconsin as America's polarization Petri dish."

Todd spoke with several current and former Wisconsin politicians, including former Governors Scott Walker, Jim Doyle, and Tommy Thompson and State Senator Lena Taylor, among others. From speaking with these individuals, Todd noticed an ideal environment for political polarization to continue to develop in Wisconsin.

Todd says, "To me, this is the problem of polarization. Polarization works to win an election in a closely divided state — meaning running on issues that divide the other side [and] that forces sort of negative choices. 'You may not be happy with what we're doing. But oh my God, if they get into power, watch out.' That's sort of the tone, and I think one of the issues to sort of turning the temperature down is neither party is ready to give up what they believe is a core way that they [can] rally their own voters."

Along with rallying voters to win elections, Todd noticed another national political trend — politicians stating what they stand against while remaining silent on what they stand for. According to Todd, this is particularly prominent from Republican campaigns. Todd says, "It is shocking how many Republican campaigns have websites putting out what they're against, but you have no policy papers on what they are for. Mitch McConnell [Republican Senate minority leader] verbalized it, 'we'll let you know what we're going to do after the election".

An emphatic fan of the Green Bay Packers, Todd linked the community ownership of the franchise to strategies of political depolarization in Wisconsin. Todd says, "Get everybody feeling like they own governance in the state [as they do with the Packers]... More people will make compromises".

You can find Todd's piece on divisiveness in Wisconsin politics here.


Joy is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.
Rob is All Things Considered Host and Digital Producer.
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