Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

Will Kenosha Unrest Help Trump Win State?

His planned visit to Kenosha seeks to make urban unrest the key issue of campaign.

By - Aug 31st, 2020 12:43 pm
Donald Trump. Photo from

Donald Trump. Photo from

As polls continue to suggest that President Donald Trump probably can’t win reelection if he loses Wisconsin, he’s announced plans to visit Kenosha tomorrow. It’s all part of a law-and-order campaign, modeled after that of Richard Nixon in 1968, that may be Trump’s best chance of beating Democrat Joe Biden. 

His campaign would have found backing for this approach in a May 2020 research paper by Princeton political scientist professor Omar Wasow, who analyzed polls in the 1960s and found that voters supported non-violent protests and that the Democratic vote in white counties that directly experienced, or were closely located to the scene of nonviolent protests, rose by 1.6 percent. By contrast, violent protests likely caused a 1.6 percent to 7.9 percent shift among whites toward Republicans, which helped elect Nixon over his Democratic opponent Hubert Humphrey, Wasow found.

Wasow estimated what the outcome of the 1968 election would have been under a “counterfactual scenario that Martin Luther King had not been assassinated on April 4, 1968 and 137 violent protests had not occurred in the immediate wake of his death” and found that Humphrey would have won an additional 763, 040 votes, enough to win a majority of Electoral College votes. 

The Black Lives Matter protests have largely been peaceful protests, but there has been violence at times, though it’s not always clear who committed it. In Milwaukee, for instance, former Police Chief Alfonso Morales had said any of the crime happening at night was not being committed by protesters. 

The latest Marquette Law School poll, released on August 11, after weeks of Trump pushing the idea that protesters were engaging in violence and America’s cities were out of control, shows the issue probably had some impact on voters in Wisconsin.

The poll found that 48 percent of Wisconsin registered voters approve of the mass protests since the death of George Floyd, while 48 percent disapprove, which was a big drop from the June poll, when 61 percent approved and 36 percent disapproved. 

Approval of the Black Lives Matter movement had also declined, from 59 percent having a favorable view and 27 percent unfavorable in June to 49 percent favorable and 37 percent unfavorable in August.

Those are big changes in approval for protesters, yet it didn’t move the needle on Trump’s approval rating, which was 45 percent in June and 44 percent in August. As for his handling of the protests, just 30 percent approved in June and 32 percent in August. 

MU pollster Charles Franklin says the results suggest his strategy had little impact on Democrats or independents. “It may help tie his base more firmly to him,” Franklin says. “The biggest shift in views of the protests we saw in June to early August was among Republicans. So he could solidify opinion, but in a group he already is winning overwhelmingly.” 

But not long after this poll came Kenosha, and the killing of Jacob Blake, followed by protests, mostly non-violent, along with burning of buildings and looting of buildings. A New York Times story last week was headlined “How Chaos in Kenosha Is Already Swaying Some Voters in Wisconsin” with this subhead: “As residents see fires and looting, some worry that local Democratic leaders are failing to keep control of the situation.”

This was the classic case of an out-of-state publication “parachuting in” to cover the issue, with a result that can sometimes be thin on substance. In the wake of the unrest in Kenosha, Trump’s warnings about chaos in America are now “reverberating among some people in Kenosha,” the story reported, and “some voters who were less sure of their choice said the chaos in their city and the inability of elected leaders to stop it were currently nudging them toward the Republicans.” 

But only a few people were quoted in the story, leaving it far from clear how many Kenosha voters have changed their view. 

Trump won Kenosha County in 2026 by just 250 votes, so it is clearly a critical swing county in a critical swing state. Franklin’s polling has consistently showed Trump behind Biden in Wisconsin, but also showed he was consistently behind Hillary Clinton in 2016. 

The president’s planned visit to Kenosha is already causing controversy, with Gov. Tony Evers and other Democrats asking him not to come. But controversy is exactly what Trump wants; to put all the attention on unrest in the cities, rather than the coronavirus pandemic, which a high percent of Americans believe he has handled poorly. The MU poll found just 40 percent in Wisconsin approve of his handling of the pandemic with 58 percent disapproving. 

Biden issued a statement last week condemning violence, saying “Burning down communities is not protest, it’s needless violence — violence that endangers lives, violence that guts businesses, and shutters businesses that serve the community. That’s wrong. We need to end the violence — and peacefully come together to demand justice.”

But Trump and Republicans have repeatedly claimed he is hasn’t said enough, even as Biden has repeatedly made such statements, as a Washington Post story has documented. The strategy is to have Biden spend all his time on Trump’s favorite issue, rather than on the pandemic or the slumping economy. And a trip to Kenosha is the perfect way to stoke the issue. 

More about the Kenosha Shooting

Read more about Kenosha Shooting here

More about the Kenosha Unrest

Read more about Kenosha Unrest here

More about the Shooting of Jacob Blake

Read more about Shooting of Jacob Blake here

One thought on “Murphy’s Law: Will Kenosha Unrest Help Trump Win State?”

  1. says:

    Really people? Are you going to let Trump continue to drive division and unrest in our communities just so he can call himself a ‘law and order’ president–when he is the one inciting the violence?! Don’t give him the time of day and feed his ego.
    We do not want him here!!!

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