Wisconsin has voted for the winning presidential candidate 76 percent of the time
In 43 of the presidential elections Wisconsin has participated in, voters decided the winner on 33 occasions
(WKBT) – For many years now, Wisconsin is one of the handful of “swing” states every presidential election, but the state has not always been a tossup.
There’s a saying that the only constant thing in life is change.
“Party identification and party voting is sticky,” UWL assistant political science professor Anthony Chergosky said. “It doesn’t change really fast, really frequently.”
We have to go all the way back to the 1800s. Wisconsin officially entered the union in 1848, the same year it took part in its first presidential election. That year, Wisconsin voted for the Democratic Party. But through 1928, only three other times did Wisconsin vote blue.
“In the past at least, it’s been more a matter of the candidates, and what their issues are, and what they stand for,” retired political science professor Joe Heim said.
Wisconsin then shifted from primarily Republican to Democratic through the Great Depression and World War II eras. That was when FDR was in office, who served as president for 12 years.
“That was a high point in the Democratic Party’s strength,” Chergosky said.
In the 14 elections from 1944 to 1996, Wisconsin voted for the winning candidate 11 times. Many of those races were not that close.
“Given massive social changes and given massive cultural changes, eventually people will change their preferred political party,” Chergosky said. “But that doesn’t happen overnight.”
But ever since 2000, Wisconsin has been a key battleground state.
“We’re a farm economy state, but we also have a fair number of urban areas,” Heim added.
In 2000 and 2004, Wisconsin voted in favor of Democrats, but both races were very close. Al Gore beat George W. Bush by a 47.83% to a 47.61% margin in the state in 2000. John Kerry beat the incumbent, Bush, four years later by less than four-tenths of a percentage point.
“That puts Wisconsin in an extra advantageous position, because the vast majority of states are not competitive,” Chergosky said.
In 2016, President Trump defeated Hillary Clinton by 23,000 votes.
Western Wisconsin is a farm and urban area. Farm areas vote more Republican, while urban vote more Democratic.
“In 2016, the rural areas went strongly for Donald Trump,” Heim said.
The latest UW-Madison poll shows Joe Biden up by nine points on Trump in the state, but what really changes this race and all races is voter turnout.
“Typically in Wisconsin, you don’t win elections with eight or nine percent margins,” Heim said. “So I would discount that.”
In our state’s history, Wisconsin has voted for the winning presidential candidate about 76 percent of the time.