All Eyes Are On Wisconsin Ahead Of The 2020 Elections. Here's Why

Dec 11, 2019

By many accounts, Wisconsin will be one of the most important states in next year's presidential election. But why? In part, it's because Wisconsin is one of a handful of true "two-party states."

Kyle Kondik is managing editor of Sabato's Crystal Ball out of the University of Virginia Center for Politics. It is a weekly, non-partisan newsletter about campaigns and elections.

We asked Kondik about Wisconsin's political landscape and role in national elections.

Why is Wisconsin a key state in the 2020 elections?

Kondik says there are currently only a handful of truly two-party competitive states — and Wisconsin is one.

"Actually, if you sort of drill down to the states that were closest in 2016, Wisconsin is a state that really could end up providing the decisive electoral votes to either the Republican or the Democratic nominees in next year's presidential election," he explains.

While many other states in the U.S. are relatively safe for one party.

"States like California, Illinois, New York that used to be competitive now are very safely Democratic at the same time," he says. "There is a large swath of very safe Republican states in both the South and the great plains and the anterior West."

But Wisconsin's key 10 electoral votes are more up for grabs, he says.

"For a long time, [Wisconsin] was regarded as a more Democratic-leaning state. Although, even though it voted Democratic from 1988 through 2012, it was often pretty close in those elections, particularly in 2000 and 2004," he explains. "And so, it is sometimes lumped in with a group of other heartland states called the 'blue wall' for Democrats." 

But he says the foundations of this "blue wall" were pretty shaky.

READ: What Republicans Are Doing To Win Wisconsin In 2020

"It is home to a lot of white voters who do not have a four-year college degree. That's a demographic group that has been trending strongly Republican over the years, particularly with Donald Trump at the head of the Republican Party. At the same time, it has some diversity," Kondik says, referring to urban centers like Milwaukee and Madison.

He says looking at Trump's narrow victory in 2016 and elections since then, Wisconsin is pretty balanced politically. 

"So it's a state that I think is gonna get a lot of attention from the candidates, from the campaigns, and also specifically from the Democrats because they're holding their convention in Milwaukee next year," Kondik says.

How will both parties capitalize on the demographics of/issues in Wisconsin?

"I think for Republicans, the hope is that they can hold on to the big gains that Donald Trump made, you know, outside the big city areas in the state, and even maybe build on them," he says.

He says some places in the state are very white and rural, where the vote has been trending Republican.

"It's possible that Donald Trump could do even better in those places than he did in 2016," he says. "Certainly, I think to win the state, he has to do as well as he did in 2016 given that the margin for error and for him in Wisconsin is not very large because he only barely won the state in 2016."

As for Democrats, Kondik says the blue trend in Madison and some of the surrounding areas and in Milwaukee is helpful.

READ: What Democrats Are Doing To Win Wisconsin In 2020

"I think Democrats want to get improved black turnout in Milwaukee — that I think was something of a problem for them. Although that may be difficult to restore, given that part of the reason that black turnout was high in 2008 and 2012 is because Barack Obama, the first black president, was leading the ticket."

He says growth patterns in the state may have subtle effects.

"A lot of the kind of rural parts of the state aren't really growing, whereas greater Madison is growing pretty considerably," Kondik says. "And if you've got a little bit more population growth in a place like Madison, as opposed to the more Republican rural areas, that perhaps gives an opportunity for the Democrats to grow their vote a little bit more."

"I don't know if Wisconsin is a must-win state for either party, I think there are paths to victory for both sides without it."

So, he says there are plenty of countervailing trends in the state.

"I think the best guess right now is that the stage should be pretty close and competitive. I don't know if Wisconsin is a must-win state for either party, I think there are paths to victory for both sides without it. But, I do also think that it's one of the three or four most important states overall in the presidential election," Kondik says.

What do you think Democrats and Republicans will do in Wisconsin to expand their voting base? 

Kondik says it doesn't really matter if Democrats or Republicans win or lose a county. But what does matter, he says, is finding votes in every corner of Wisconsin,

"For Democrats, if Obama lost the place 60-40 and then Clinton lost at 70-30, and the Democrats can get that to back to something like 65-35 in their deficit, that's still an improvement. And likewise, if Republicans can lose by a little bit less in Milwaukee and Madison, that's also important," he says.

He says the overall trend line suggests that Dane County seems to be very Democratic and getting more Democratic. While a lot of the rural counties are Republican and getting more Republican.

"But this is a race that's going to be probably decided in the margins assuming that the national presidential race is close. And so the good campaigns are going to be organizing everywhere and searching for votes everywhere," Kondik says.

What do you want to know about the 2020 elections and the DNC convention? Submit your questions below.

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