Data Wonk

Has Tide Turned Against Republicans?

Last week’s elections show GOP could be vulnerable to right kind of campaign.

By - Jan 24th, 2018 01:39 pm
Patty Schachtner. Photo from Patty for Senate.

Patty Schachtner. Photo from Patty for Senate.

Following surprising results in Wisconsin’s tenth Senate District, both Emily Mills on the left and Christian Schneider on the right announced that the Wisconsin GOP is in trouble. Schneider warned that “if this week was a canary in the coal mine for Wisconsin Republicans, they better learn bird CPR pretty quick.” Like Schneider, Mills blamed President Trump: ”Having thrown in with Donald Trump, who currently sits at a 39% approval rating, the horizon looks distinctly stormy for Republicans.”

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker sent out a series of tweets to Republicans: “Senate District 10 special election win by a Democrat is a wake up call for Republicans in Wisconsin.” Former Governor Tommy Thompson joined the chorus of doom in a talk to Republicans celebrating the anniversary of Trump’s inauguration. “We’re going to have one hell of a tough fight on our hands and I’m not going to sugarcoat it, because they are much more organized, much more energized and much more passionate,” he said, referring to the Democrats.

The reasons behind these reactions were the results in two Wisconsin legislative districts. In the first, Senate District 10, Democrat Patty Schachtner won the race even though Republicans had long won the district. The chart below shows the results in the four elections since the boundaries were redrawn following the 2010 census. Up until this year, the district shows every sign of being safely Republican.

Vote in Senate District 10

Vote in Senate District 10

District 10.

District 10.

The 2012 and 2016 elections were easily won by Republican Sheila Harsdorf. Lacking a senate race in 2014, I have shown the district’s results for the contest for governor, in which Walker won the district by ten points. A special election was called for January of this year, following Harsdorf’s appointment as Secretary of Agriculture in the Walker administration. Here is a map of the district:

In the second of these races, for Assembly District 58, centered on West Bend, the Democrat lost. However, he did far better than one would expect from previous races, as shown in the chart below. The district is so favorable to Republicans that normally no Democrat has contested the seat. Instead the chart shows the results in presidential and gubernatorial elections.

Vote in Assembly District 58

Vote in Assembly District 58

Assembly District 58

Assembly District 58

And here is a map of that district:

The Wisconsin results are consistent with the results in other states over the past year. In most—but not all—cases Democrats have performed about 10 percent better than historical results would have predicted.

Yet, there are reasons to be cautious about using these results to predict results this coming November. One is turnout. In Senate District 10, the number of 2018 voters was only about 12 percent of the 2016 vote. This would imply that relative enthusiasm was a more important factor than a move to Democratic support.

As both Mills and Schneider point out, Trump puts many Republican office holders in a no-win situation. The website posts a continuously-updated summary of polls on Trump’s approval rate. These indicate that among all voters he is remarkably unpopular, implying that Republican candidates in competitive distrcts would be well-advised to distance themselves from him.

Trump’s approval rate

Trump’s approval rate

Yet, among Republicans, Trump remains popular. Reuter’s Polling Explorer allows one to apply various filters to the poll results of the Ipsos Poll. As the next chart shows Trump’s approval rating (in red) among Republicans has recently dropped somewhat but is still very high (73 percent to 26 percent disapproving).

Trump's approval rating among Republicans

Trump’s approval rating among Republicans

This creates an obvious quandary for Republicans facing a competitive election. Distancing oneself from Trump in hopes of winning the general election may leave one open to a successful primary challenge.

Shortly before the election both Urban Milwaukee and the Journal Sentinel published estimates of spending on the 10th District election. Both listed Americans for Prosperity, the Realtor-affiliated Wisconsin Homeowners Alliance, and Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce among outside groups supporting Jarchow. The Journal Sentinel listed Jobs First Coalition founded by former Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen and the Republican State Leadership Committee as other conservative groups active in the race.

Liberal groups were also active, but outspent. Greater Wisconsin spent $30,000 on digital ads, according to both articles. Post Cards to Voters recruited volunteers in other parts of the country to send handwritten postcards to voters in Wisconsin.

It appears that Schachtner was substantially outspent, particularly when the outside groups are included. In Schachtner’s view, the spending by conservative groups was counterproductive. In an Interview following the election, Schachtner attributed her victory to a reaction to these mailings. “It wasn’t nice. It was mean. People just said, ‘You know what? We’re nicer than that.”

The same Journal Sentinel article strongly implied that neither Democrats nor Republicans expected the Democrat to win. It quotes Jenni Dye, executive director of the State Senate Democratic Committee, as hoping for a strong showing. “That’s going to be a sign that 2018 is headed in a good direction for Democrats.”

The executive director of the state GOP was quoted as arguing that Democrats were already trying to cover for a potential loss in the race. “If they are unable to convert a competitive race into a win … I don’t think it bodes well for them.”

It is worth noting that Adam Jarchow, the Republican candidate in senate District 10, issued a remarkably gracious concession tweet: “I just called Patty Schachtner and congratulated her on her victory tonight. I look forward to working with her as our new state Senator.” Schachtner responded in kind.

It appears from her website that Schachtner ran a notably canny campaign, one that may serve as a model for Democratic candidates, particularly in districts that Trump won in 2016. She exploited voters’ weariness with increasing partisanship in Wisconsin, effectively exploiting the attacks from the outside conservative groups. She listed her priorities as improving access to health care and helping drug addicts get treatment. After the election, she resisted attributing her success to opposition to President Donald Trump, keeping the door open to Trump voters. If it is true, as she suggests, that the campaign from outsiders created a backlash, that is an  optimistic sign for the future of our democracy.

Categories: Data Wonk, Politics

20 thoughts on “Data Wonk: Has Tide Turned Against Republicans?”

  1. Terry says:

    Yes. Republicans are done. People are waking up fast to the damage these republican charlatans have caused in Wisconsin. All the Trump voters I know in the rural Northwoods are dumping Walker, Republicans and Trump just like voters did in District 10. People have had it with Walker and republicans. They might as well resign right now and save face before being unceremoniously dumped in November.

    Career politician Walker is pro-Trump as are other Wisconsin republicans. They are enablers and appeasers of him and his authoritarianism and crypto-fascism. This is disastrous on many levels. Walker is a career politician propped up by out of states mega rich donors and now he wants to be “Governor for Life.” Voters don’t agree.

    All aboard the Dump Walker train!
    Next stop, freedom!

  2. Troll says:

    Can Democrats motivate their urban base? Can Republicans motivate poor, High school diploma, rural folks to vote with out Trump on ticket. Will tax cuts sway working moms to vote Republican? Will millennials still favor Democrats as the Trump economy booms? Can Walker convince voters that his record is worthy of another four years? Momentum is currently with the Dems…..can Trump get wall and save DREAMERS? Will Schumer allow wall?

  3. PMD says:

    Economists say you need to wait two years into a new president’s term before you can see the full effects of their economic policies. This is an Obama boom Troll. Not to mention it’s been well documented that Trump remains historically unpopular despite the economy for a plethora of reasons. And several recent polls show that women who voted Trump are turning away from him (hardly surprising) and the recent election here offers evidence of that.

  4. blurondo says:

    This year, practice democracy and vote in every election:

    Vote February 20 in Wisconsin’s spring primary
    Vote April 3 in Wisconsin’s spring election
    Vote August 14 in the statewide primary
    Vote November 6 in the general election

    Also, women will be the overwhelming force in each of these elections.

  5. Troll says:

    PMD, by arguement GW Bush gets credit for the bullmarket run of 2009-2010…the DOW average went from 9000 to 12000 up 33%…and any fallin the economy in 2018 is Obama’s. Fault. I am sure the press will blame 2018 on Obama.

  6. PMD says:

    Troll would you say that a president gets too much blame when the economy isn’t strong and too much credit when it is? No thoughts on the other issues raised? It’s impossible to have a discussion with you. You bring something up, someone responds directly to what you brought up, and then you immediately pivot to something else entirely, never addressing the response to what you brought up in the first place. You don’t seem capable of holding a conversation. You don’t seem like a smart guy.

  7. Tim says:

    Speaking of bull markets.

    “For Fun, Stock Market as Barometer of Policy Success”

    Trump vs Obama

  8. Troll says:

    As much as Obama hated the rich as Tim points out, he is the president of Wall Street. No president has made more money for Goldman Sachs. PMD, Trumps tax cuts are seen by the working class in February not two years from now. Obama’s fingerprints are gone. All of his executive orders are gone. All that is left of obama is his federal judges and the obamacate website.

  9. Terry says:

    Frank Schneiger recently wrote the following:

    “First, if you are not blinded by the belief in American exceptionaism, the United States is showing many of the signs of a decaying system of government, most notably the destruction of the institutions of democracy, including a free press, an independent judiciary, the functioning agencies of government, plutocratic control, and a corrupt congress, which is in thrall to a strategically based group of Republican extremists like the so-called Freedom Caucus and Senators like Cotton and Cruz

    The Republican Party has not only become the White People’s Party, but is now beholden to elements that are racist and, in some instances, openly fascist in the classical definition of the term, supported by the enormous financial might of major industrial sectors and the hyper-wealthy, like the extremist Mercers, Kochs, Adelson, Hendricks and others.

    It is not possible to understand what is happening without watching Fox News, the semi-official Trump Administration news agency, our version of TASS or some third world state outlet. It is part of an echo chamber that broadcasts a steady stream of lies, but lies that their and the administration’s fans want to believe. The secret “memo” being just the first vehicle, after Benghazi, the e-mails, Uranium One, and others. All with a racist and nativist sub-text.

    Next, the flood of information about the misdeeds and crimes of the administration and its leader is so overwhelming that individual items get lost in the litany of “breaking news.”, As our moral and ethical norms collapse, the $130,000 payment by the president as hush money to a prostitute becomes a one day story, one that would have been headline news for years in the past; and inevitably provokes a right-wing “what about” response, as in “what about Monica Lewinsky?” followed by the lies that liberals were accepting of Clinton’s behavior and that he got away with it (he was impeached.).

    The world’s self-proclaimed greatest democracy, the home of a similarly self-proclaimed “generous people” is about to deport 3/4 of a million young people to countries that they have never known, because, contrary to the lies Republican leaders tell us about wanting to “solve the problem,” their base wants to get rid of these, mostly non-white young people and make sure that more like them don’t come here. While the United States is not a cruel country, power is currently in the hands of – and beholden to – cruel people. For a majority of Americans, this horrific action will be a moral stain that will haunt us for decades to come. For the Republican base, it will be good riddance.

    Finally, there is the ominous trend, typical of autocracies and dictatorships, of threatening your political opponents with prison, as in “Lock her up.”Ron Johnson may be a cipher and a mediocrity, but autocracies and failed democracies always float on a sea of ciphers and mediocrities. Enormous damage is being done to our country, much of it may be irreversible or take decades to fix. If it is to be fixed.”

  10. Tim says:

    The stock market under Obama outperformed Trump’s stock market, if you’re too lazy to click the link or if you believe Troll for some reason.

  11. D. says:

    Your Map of Senate District 10 is old, from before the 2010 census redistricting.
    Here is the current map, it barely includes any of Pierce County now (pretty much just River Falls):

  12. Terry says:

    As usual, facts are presented and Troll quickly heads back to his imaginary world under the bridge. You can only hide from reality itself for so long Troll.

  13. Chuck says:

    Team “Imaginary World Under the Bridge” vs Team “Imaginary World in the ‘Rural Northwoods'”
    Tough call here. WHO YA GOT

  14. Terry says:

    @Chuck. Ad hominem attacks, insults or namecalling won’t work anymore. Got anything consyructive to add? Didn’t think so. Come on out to the woods anytime!

  15. Chuck says:

    If you think they don’t work then your own modus operandi here goes out the window,

  16. Terry says:

    @Chuck, Oh republicans “work.” They work iniquity.

    And those that sow discord and work iniquity shall receive the same.

  17. Chuck says:

    ” Ad hominem attacks, insults or namecalling won’t work anymore.”

    That’s what I was referring to Terry.

  18. Terry says:

    @Chuck, I know. Stop it.

  19. Bruce Thompson says:


    Thanks for pointing out that I grabbed an old Senate District map. Help is on the way.

    In an article on the election, the Times noted that Obama won the district in 2008. What the reporter missed is the 2008 district was pre-gerrymander.

  20. gene larson says:

    blue wave coming! Wisconsin is finnaly waking up and seeing what the damage GOP has done to our wonderful state. We had a reputation for clean government until this version of the GOP took over. Now corruption is our image

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