Graham Kilmer

State’s Past Votes Could Foretell 2020 Result

Wisconsin has had two kinds of presidental elections. Which one this time?

By - Nov 2nd, 2020 02:48 pm
Voters at South Division High School. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Voters at South Division High School. File photo by Jeramey Jannene.

If you’re watching the election results come in Tuesday night — and likely well into Wednesday — and you’re wondering how Milwaukee and Wisconsin has voted in the past, here’s a rundown the last 20 years of presidential election results.

Both the City of Milwaukee and Milwaukee County historically are Democratic strongholds, even in years when Republican candidates win the state and or the presidency. Only once during the past 20 years has less than 70% of the city gone to a Democratic candidate — Al Gore in 2000 with 67.6% of the vote.

Still, some voting trends visible statewide also show up in Milwaukee.

Specifically, low voter enthusiasm. When turnout is low across the state, it’s usually low in Milwaukee. And, between 2000 and 2016, whenever turnout was lowest, third party voting went up, suggesting low approval of candidates running on the tickets for the two major parties.

In 2004, 2008, and 2012, third party candidates didn’t manage to get even 1% of the vote in the city, county or the state. But in 2000 and 2016, the two elections in recent years with the lowest turnout, third party candidates did much better. In 2000, Green Party candidate Ralph Nader won more than 3% of the vote in the city, county and state. And in 2016, Libertarian Candidate Gary Johnson won 2.5% of the vote in the city, 3% in the county and 3.6% in the state. Green Party Candidate Jill Stein won just over 1% in the city, county and state.

In the last 20 years, former President Barack Obama is the only presidential candidate to win Wisconsin with a majority of votes. He won 56% in 2008 and 52% in 2012. President Donald Trump won the state with a plurality. That is, he had the highest number of votes, but fell short of a majority.

It is because Wisconsin, like most of the U.S., assigns its electoral votes based upon a plurality, not a majority, that in American politics third party candidates are historically described as “splitting the vote.” This is the result, statistically speaking, when third party votes reduce the probability that a major party candidate with similar views wins. It’s no coincidence that when Obama twice won with a majority of votes third party candidates didn’t even crack 1 percent.

Turnout and third party votes appear inversely correlated in recent elections. When turnout goes down, third party voting goes up. Trump won Wisconsin in 2016 with fewer votes than Sen. Mitt Romney had in 2012 — when he lost. Voter turnout was down in the city, county and the state in 2016. More than 92,000 fewer Wisconsinites voted during that election than the previous one.

If history is any guide, the third party vote will be lower for this election as the turnout is expected to be very high in Wisconsin (along with the nation), perhaps hitting historic levels. Which suggests the winning candidate will win a majority, not a plurality of the vote in Wisconsin.


City of Milwaukee

Votes % of Votes
Donald Trump 45,411 18.43
Hillary Clinton 188,657 76.55%
Gary Johnson 6,254 2.54%
Jill Stein 2,689 1.09%
Ballots Cast 247,836


Milwaukee County

Donald Trump 125,846
Hillary Clinton 288,797
Gary Johnson 13,590
Jill Stein 4,529
Ballots Cast 440,247


State of Wisconsin 

Votes % of Votes
Donald Trump 1,405,284 47.22%
Hillary Clinton 1,382,536 46.45%
Gary Johnson 106,674 3.58%
Jill Stein 31,072 1.04%
Ballots Cast 2,976,150


City of Milwaukee

Votes % of Votes
Barack Obama 227,384 79.27%
Mitt Romney 56,553 19.72%
Ballots Cast 288,459


Milwaukee County 

Barack Obama 332,438
Mitt Romney 154,924
Ballots Cast 492,576


State of Wisconsin 

Votes % of Votes
Barack Obama 1,620,985 52.83%
Mitt Romney 1,407,966 45.89%
Ballots Cast 3,068,434


City of Milwaukee

Votes % of Votes
Barack Obama 213,436 77.82%
John McCain 57,665 21.03
Ballots Cast 275,042


Milwaukee County 

Barack Obama 319,819
John McCain 149,445
Ballots Cast 475,192


State of Wisconsin 

Votes % of Votes
Barack Obama 1,677,211 56.22%
John McCain 1,262,393 42.31%
Ballots Cast 2,983,417


City of Milwaukee 

Votes % of Votes
George W. Bush 75,746 27.35%
John Kerry 198,907 71.83%
Ballots Cast 277,535


Milwaukee County 

George W. Bush 180,287
John Kerry 297,653
Ballots Cast 482,236


State of Wisconsin

Votes % of Votes
George W. Bush 1,478,120 49.32%
John Kerry 1,489,504 49.7%
Ballots Cast 2,997,007


City of Milwaukee 

Votes % of Votes
George W. Bush 69,075 28.21%
Al Gore 165,598 67.64%
Ralph Nader 8,062 3.29%
Ballots Cast 245,670


Milwaukee County

George W. Bush 163,491
Al Gore 252,329
Ralph Nader 13,953
Ballots Cast 433,537


State of Wisconsin 

Votes % of Votes
George W. Bush 1,237,279 47.61%
Al Gore 1,242,987 47.83%
Ralph Nader 94,070 3.62%
Ballots Cast 2,598,607

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