Wisconsin sees high turn-out on Election Day; urban-rural divide growing stronger

Whether you were pleased in the results of election day or not, almost any Wisconsinite should feel proud in how many people in the Badger State turned out to vote. According to Milwaukee Journal political analyst, Craig Gilbert, Wisconsin saw record-breaking turnout this election. With over 2.7 million people in Wisconsin casting a ballot, this is the largest midterm turnout America’s Dairyland has ever seen. Percentages wise, nearly 60% of those who were eligible to vote did so this past Tuesday. In greater context, some states like Arkansas, West Virginia, and Tennessee don’t even crack 55% turnout in presidential elections. For a midterm election, Wisconsin’s turnout is indeed something to be proud of.

But beyond the remarkable turnout in Wisconsin, what was also revealed this past election is that suburban areas in the country are getting bluer, and rural areas in this country are getting redder. Historically speaking, suburban areas--residential towns or small cities that surround major cities--have been among some of the most conservative bastions in the country. Suburbs were the birthplace of the “Traditional American family”, households where men went to work and women stayed home. Rural areas, in contrast, were the home of economic populists, people that were the main proponents of more liberal social policies. Now, while this dichotomy has progressively shifted, no election has emphasized the complete swap of suburban-rural voting patterns than this one. A perfect example actually took place in Minnesota, where two suburban congressional districts ousted their Republican representatives in place of Democrats and two rural congressional districts replaced their Democratic congressmen with Republicans. But what does this trend mean for the future? Does this surge of suburban liberalness mean trouble for the Republican party? After all, it took less than a decade for the Democratic party’s growing popularity in the D.C. suburbs to transform Virginia from a once solid red state into a reliably blue state. Even historically conservative Georgia could become a swing state because of its trending blue Atlanta suburbs. But what it may ultimately come down to is how much ground the Republicans can make up in rural areas. But if Wisconsin is any indicator, it may not be enough.

Wisconsin is notably the only northern state where suburban voters have historically resisted the trend of voting more liberally. As mentioned before, Minnesota just lost two Republican representatives from its Twin-Cities suburbia districts and the suburbs of other northern states like Michigan, Illinois and New York have been voting blocks for the Democratic party since the 2000s. In Wisconsin however, the suburbs of Milwaukee have been among the most conservative strongholds (be they southern, northern, rural, suburban or otherwise) in the nation. This, coupled with the Badger State’s somewhat left-leaning, rural southwest region, present a contrast to the earlier mentioned trend. However, given the crucial drop-offs in conservative turnout in the suburban counties of Washington, Ozaukee, and Waukesha--along with strong Republican showing in the state’s rural northeastern corner--it has left some to wonder if Wisconsin is finally going the way of Virginia or Minnesota. After all, this election did bring Wisconsin its first Democratic governor since 2010, and subsequently left Senator Ron Johnson as Wisconsin’s sole statewide-elected Republican. Now, while some attribute Wisconsin’s many blue victories to huge Democratic surges in Madison, the state capitol, and Milwaukee, the state’s largest city, it still cannot be ignored that Republicans did worse in the state’s suburban areas. As a matter of fact, some argue that if counties like Waukesha or Ozaukee had voted like they did in past elections, ousted Republicans like Scott Walker and Brad Schimel might have nearly beaten their Democratic opponents, Tony Evers and Josh Kaul. While 2020 may be the ultimate decider for which party benefits from this suburban-rural shift, Wisconsin’s results seem to show that Democrats’ inroads with the suburbs put them on top.

PoliticsZach Nienhuis