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Road to 270: Wisconsin

Today we continue our Road to 270 series with the Badger State, Wisconsin.

HOMELAND OF EXTRAORDINARY PHOTOGRAPHER/ADVENTURER BRETT FAVRE MARTY, Wisconsin a significant manufacturing state that votes at very high rates. In 2004, it was the closest contest, shading to John Kerry by the slimmest of margins (0.4%). In 2000, Gore won the state by less than a percent. With those tiny wins, Republicans had good reason for optimism, given that since Nixon resigned only Ronald Reagan (twice) earned Wisconsin’s electoral votes on the Republican side. The state seemed to be closing. However, in 2008, Barack Obama put Wisconsin away early, despite the Republican National Convention aimed at moving the upper Midwest into the red column on November 4. And look, we didn’t even make a cheese reference.

Key Demographics

Note: Factors colored in red can generally be thought to help McCain. Factors in blue can generally be thought to help Obama. Factors in purple have ambiguous effects. Except where otherwise apparent, the numbers next to each variable represent the proportion out of each 100 residents in each state who fall into that category. Fundraising numbers reflect dollars raised in the 2008 campaign cycle per eligible voter in each state. Figures for seniors and youth voters are proportions of all residents aged 18, rather than all residents of any age. The figure for education reflects the average number of years of completed schooling for all adults aged 25. The figure for same-sex households reflects the number of same-sex partner households as a proportion of all households in the state. The liberal-conservative index is scaled from 0 (conservative) to 100 (liberal), based on a Likert score of voter self-identification in 2004 exit polls. The turnout rates reflect eligible voters only. Unemployment rates are current as of June 2008.

What McCain Has Going For Him

Wisconsin has a high gun ownership rate, a fairly high share of male voters, not many minority voters, and a decent number of white evangelical voters, including in Platteville, where jaded, disaffected youth grow up to one day take photos of campaign offices. There are plenty of hockey moms in Wisconsin, but not enough to tip the scales in the McCain-Palin direction. Wisconsin isn’t ideologically shaded against McCain, as it sits fairly close to dead center on the Likert scale, and indeed self-identifying Republicans outnumbered Democrats four years ago. Wisconsin doesn’t have a particularly high percentage of youth voters that would tend to help McCain, but in the end McCain’s anemic fundraising here foreshadows the lack of traction his campaign has gotten in the state.

What Obama Has Going For Him

Wisconsin’s huge primary night win for Barack Obama cemented a momentum swing in his favor that locked down the delegate race. With a large number of Catholic voters, moderate social views, and a lower proportion of military vets, Wisconsin shades in some ways toward a Democratic candidate, but it is similar to Missouri in that many of its data points cluster around the median. Obama simply is popular here. As a Midwestern Senator, Obama began with higher name recognition in Illinois’ neighboring state, and his tone and style is pitched very well to a Midwestern audience, as much as any audience. Barack Obama will win the state’s ten electoral votes.

What To Watch For

In the House, Republicans hold the three suburban/exurban seats in the southeast surrounding Milwaukee, and Democrats hold urban Milwaukee and the remainder of the state’s four seats. The least safe race is Democratic incumbent Steve Kagen’s race in the 8th district, in the northeast quadrant that includes Green Bay, but it leans Democratic. There are no Senate or gubernatorial races, so the presidential race is where it’s at, but we project Obama to win by double digits. This is one of those states that cut strongly against the purported Bradley Effect in the primaries, where Barack Obama swept to a sizeable victory that outstripped the polling. Though Republicans made feints in the summer toward contesting the state, that never materialized, and look for Wisconsin to be not nearly as dramatic this time around.