Will Wisconsin Matter in Presidential Race?
If not, that’s bad news not just for Trump but for Ron Johnson, too.
The Marquette Law School poll tends to dominate the news when it comes to political prognostications, and its last poll, while it wasn’t great news for Donald Trump, wasn’t horrible. The mid-June poll showed Hillary Clinton led Trump by 42 percent to 35 percent, compared to a bigger lead of 47 percent to 37 percent in March.
The result was a spate of articles suggesting the race was tightening or that both candidates had weaknesses, as a Journal Sentinel headline declared.
But have the fundamental dynamics of the race here really changed? Not really, if you look at Nate Silver’s invaluable FiveThirtyEight website, which collects, weighs and adjusts all polls to come up with a model that projects who will win. Silver is famous for having correctly predicted how every state would vote in past presidential races and his analysis of Wisconsin, taking into account all 14 polls done by nine different polling organizations, shows that little has changed since last November. Trump has never led and Clinton’s margin of victory has always been pretty secure.
Right now Silver’s model shows Clinton with 50.5 percent of the vote and Trump with 41 percent in Wisconsin. He gives Trump just a 14.5 percent chance of winning the state. In short, Wisconsin doesn’t look like much of a swing state, its usual position, for the upcoming election.
For that matter, the national race doesn’t look very close. Sliver projects Clinton winning the popular vote 48.9 percent to 42.5 percent and winning the electoral vote 342 to 195.4. That compares to RealClearPolitics, which tends to be more careful (and historically less accurate) in its meta-analysis of the polls: it shows Clinton with a 4.6 percent popular vote lead, a 210-164 electoral vote lead, and a 7.4 percent lead in Wisconsin, all margins which are likely low.
What does this mean for Wisconsin? It means Wisconsin may not to be among the dozen or so swing states where the race is expected to be close. It means it will probably get less attention from the presidential candidates than it has in past races going back decades. It means less excitement and media coverage of the state and perhaps a lower turnout of voters.
All of which is probably not good news for Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, in his race for reelection against Democrat Russ Feingold. Republicans nationally have been very worried about how Trump’s candidacy will affect down-ticket races for the Senate and House of Representatives.
Johnson started this race with a dreadful problem. By the time Feingold entered the race last summer, the MU Poll had surveyed voters nine times on Johnson, and the percentage that approved of him had averaged just 32 percent, compared to 28 percent who were negative and 40 percent who had no opinion. Those are horrible numbers for an incumbent.
But Trump is unlikely to provide any boost. Just the opposite. Numerous national polls show Republicans are less likely to turn out in high numbers because many have negative feelings about Trump. And there are few states where so many Republican officials and conservative talk radio hosts are as lukewarm (if not downright hostile) to Trump, which is a big reason he was thumped here by Ted Cruz in the April Wisconsin primary.
For Johnson the challenge is get Republicans who don’t care about the presidential race to show up at the polls anyway, just to vote for him. Yet in six years in office, he has never activated strong feelings for him among the electorate.
For Johnson to win — and the chances are very slim — he needs several things to happen. He needs to relentlessly attack Feingold in hopes of driving down the challenger’s favorable ratings (the Marquette poll showed 40 percent of voters viewed him positively) to the same dismal level as Johnson’s. He has to hope that less attention to Wisconsin in the presidential race means less turnout by less faithful voters (some of the college students and minority voters), who tend to vote Democratic. And he needs a huge turnout of Republicans in Waukesha, Washington and Ozaukee counties, equal to the astounding turnout for Scott Walker in his last two gubernatorial races, including by the many voters who don’t intend to vote for anyone for president.
The chances of all that happening are about as likely as Trump winning Wisconsin. Indeed, though the media made much of the seven point margin in the last Marquette poll, they tended to bury the fact that it also showed that among likely voters Clinton’s edge was nine points — about the same as the margin Silver gives her in Wisconsin. This long purplish swing state is likely to very blue in November.