After a week’s respite from actual voting, we’re back with a legit primary today in Wisconsin! The Badger State has always been a bit of an iconoclast, politically. It’s the place where the far left progressive ideals of Republican (yes, that’s right kids “far left”, “progressive” AND “Republican”, all in one sentence) governor, senator, and presidential candidate Fightin’ Bob LaFollette found widespread support. (Fightin’ Bob was Bernie Sanders 100 years ago, basically). Conversely, it’s also the home state of public union busting conservative governor Scott Walker, and 2012 VP candidate (and perhaps Cleveland wildcard candidate in 2016), house speaker Paul Ryan.
What’s at stake? For the Republicans, 42 delegates will be awarded today. For the Democrats, 86. The Democrats are awarding them proportionally as usual. On the Republican side, it’s winner take most. If a candidate can clear 50% of the vote and/or win each of Wisconsin’s congressional districts, he’ll walk away with the whole pie.
What’s really going on?
Wisconsin looks like the exam that will prove the notion that it’s all about momentum, except it isn’t, especially when demographics are involved. Say what now?
OK, consider that there are two possible motive forces that–beyond policy and campaigning–may help explain why voters vote the way they do. One is a bit of a timeworn cliche that frankly looks weaker with each contest, momentum. The other is demographics, which looks more and more like the factor to explain how we got to where we’re at, and what is likely to happen in Wisconsin voting today.
More specifically, on the Republican side Wisconsin has never looked like a super strong Trump state. He’s led in some polls there in the past few months, but once the serious polling of the state started two weeks ago, his vulnerability has been apparent. The 30-35% he’s polled there looked good when it was against a field of Cruz, Kasich, Rubio, and Jeb!. It looks a lot worse with the field winnowed to just two opponents.
And Wisconsinites seem like a pretty skeptical group. Heck, northern plains voters in general seem to not particularly like Donald Trump very much (remember that neighboring Minnesota delivered Marco Rubio his one victory from an actual state in 2016). And…Trump’s weird attacks on Heidi Cruz and a media that seems to have turned on him have created a steady drumbeat of negative stories in the last few weeks. Momentum, all bad for Donald, all good for Cruz…
Or is it momentum? Wisconsin, as stated, always looked like a tough sell for Trump. His polling’s stayed about where it was. The difference? Maybe it’s just the reduction of the field of opponents. But, as Harry Enten of FiveThirtyEight pointed out yesterday, will we still be talking about Trump’s lost “momentum” when he sweeps through the heavily populated east coast states in two weeks? That’s where the demographics favor him, after all. Momentum versus demographics. Demographics versus momentum. Today in Wisconsin for the Republicans, pick your favorite theory and shout if from the rooftops if you like, but in reality it’s probably some amount of both of those things, though perhaps not equally divided.
Democrats, next post!