Wisconsin, the Badger State, was granted statehood in 1848. The state has a history of electing Republicans, but Democrats won seven presidential elections from 1988 to 2012. In the last five presidential elections, the state voted Democratic four times, up until 2016, when the state was carried by President Donald Trump. Moving forward, Wisconsin can still be considered a battleground state.
The Wisconsin congressional delegation began the 21st century in the 106th Congress with nine representatives and a 5-4 Democratic majority. In 2003, it lost a representative, and split evenly between 4 Democrats and 4 Republicans. The delegation remained split until 2007, after Democrat Steve Kagen won in the 2006 election against Republican John Gard. Democrats lost the majority again in 2011, after Kagen lost re-election to Republican Reid Ribble in 2010. Republicans currently hold a 5-3 majority.
Wisconsin started the 106th Congress with Democrats holding both Senate seats, which the party held until 2011, after Republican Ron Johnson won a seat in the 2010 election. Currently, Senate seats are divided between Democrat Tammy Baldwin, who won 17 counties in 2018 that President Trump carried in 2016, and Republican Ron Johnson.
Both parties have experienced success in Wisconsin’s recent state elections. In 2014, former Republican Governor Scott Walker, who was originally elected in 2010, won re-election. Then, in 2018, Democrat Tony Evers beat former Governor Walker in a very narrow race by a margin of 1.1 percentage points. Recent lieutenant governor elections have mirrored the top executive post, with former Republican Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch winning her contest in 2010 and again in 2014. She then lost to current Democratic Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes in 2018.
Wisconsin’s demographics are changing. Since the 2010 Census, population growth has occurred almost entirely in the state’s cities, leaving rural areas shrinking and also experiencing less job growth. In 2017, according to the United States Department of Agriculture, Wisconsin had an estimated population of 5,795,483 people and about 1,498,256 of them lived in rural areas. Democrats in the state have strength in the urban regions and inner suburbs, while Republicans control the rural counties. According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “The Democrats’ core weakness is that its strength in urban areas and inner suburbs can leave the party stranded on geographic islands, disadvantaged in legislative and congressional districts that stretch across rural America.”
Rural Democratic support in the state was highest in 2008 and 2012. In 2008, former President Barack Obama carried the state 56.3 percent to 42.4 percent against Senator John McCain. Former President Obama also won the state in 2012, but by a slightly lower margin at 52.8 percent to 46.1 percent against Republican Mitt Romney.
Democrats in the state did not fare as well in 2016, though the election was still a close contest. President Donald Trump won Wisconsin 47.2 percent to 46.5 percent against Hillary Clinton. This was the first time a Republican candidate had won the state’s electoral votes since 1984.
For the foreseeable future the state will remain up for grabs. As the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel said, “It swung in 2018, as it swung in 2016, as it swung in 2012, as it swung in 2010, as it swung in 2006.”