Friday, April 17, 2020

Rural voters moved to the left in Wisconsin primary

Daily Yonder map; click the image to enlarge it.
Results were slow in coming for the April 7 primary election in Wisconsin, but this much seems clear: Rural voters moved to the left, which has interesting implications for November.

The most important office on the ballot was a state Supreme Court seat. It's officially a non-partisan race, but each party had a favorite. Justice Dan Kelly, whom Trump endorsed, was widely favored to win, but he lost to liberal-backed Dane County Judge Jill Karofsky by more than 10 percentage points. Kelly won by 3 points among rural voters, much less than the 20-point they gave Trump in 2016, Tim Marema and Bill Bishop report for The Daily Yonder. Rural voters accounted for about a quarter of the votes cast on April 7.

Using the race "as a surrogate for the national presidential contest, we see broad movement toward the Democratic side of the ledger in Wisconsin, compared to 2016," Marema and Bishop report. Democrats or liberal candidates "improved their margins across the board in every category of county the Daily Yonder normally tracks," and though the gains were largest in small- and medium-sized metropolitan areas, "Karofsky improved on [Hillary] Clinton’s rural performance by about 10 points. She made rural a horse race in areas where Trump blew the doors off Clinton in 2016."

It's difficult to make an apples-to-apples comparison of the races, due to the pandemic and other reasons. Democrats sought to delay the primary and increase absentee voting, but Republican lawmakers and conservative-majority courts blocked that, and the state ran into problems getting enough absentee ballots issued early enough, Kendall Karson reports for ABC News.

Requiring in-person voting and limiting absentee ballots favored rural voters, who were less likely to face long lines or crowds on election day. Thousands of poll workers forsook their posts, fearing for their health. Milwaukee, which normally has 180 polling sites, only had five open, NBC News reports. That caused a 25 percent drop in the city's voter turnout from 2016, but overall voter turnout otherwise, including in rural areas, wasn't that different from 2016, the Yonder reports.

Karofsky's win will shift the conservative-liberal split on the court from 5-2 to 4-3. That could be significant as state lawmakers redraw legislative boundaries after this year's decennial census. The political boundaries drawn by Republicans heavily favor rural, conservative voters, and have helped the party keep a majority in the state legislature without a majority of popular votes. "During the 2018 election, Democratic candidates won 190,000 more votes for State Assembly seats, but the GOP held a 64-35 advantage in the chamber," Reid Epstein reports for The New York Times.

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