Posts Tagged ‘Wisconsin’

The nucleus burning inside of the cell

My previous post looked at 2016 turnout and results in cities across Wisconsin, but had some specifically interesting findings about Milwaukee. As the state’s largest and least white city, Milwaukee plays a polar role in Wisconsin politics (as do similar cities in their states’ politics — Detroit, Chicago, etc.). It’s a conservative scare tactic, often paired with liberal Madison in a two-tone dog whistle meant to remind the rural population who’s taking all their money.

Wisconsin is, by some measures, the worst state in which to be black, and Milwaukee itself is one of the most segregated cities in America. The voter ID law that kept 77-year-old Delia Anderson out of the voting booth for the first time since the 1950s is by no means the first assault by Wisconsin conservatives on the people of Milwaukee.

One of the key results that I found in the turnout data was the steep decline in voting in the city of Milwaukee from 2012 to 2016. Given the city’s high level of segregation and the targeted nature of the voter ID law, there’s good reason to expect that the 14.6% average drop in total votes cast would not be uniform across the city. Luckily, Milwaukee adopted its current voting ward map in 2011, meaning that the same map was used for both 2012 and 2016, allowing for direct comparison. What we don’t know is the extent of movement in and out of the city, or between wards within it, but Census Bureau estimates don’t suggest any major changes in population distribution between the two elections.

Milwaukee has 323 voting wards that can be legitimately analyzed (three had zero votes in either election, and one had four votes in 2012 and five in 2016). Only 16 of them had more ballots cast in 2016 than in 2012, and they’re largely in well-off, mostly white areas — Bay View, downtown and the Third Ward, the tony Northpoint neighborhood. They’re almost all on the east side, with the exception of a couple on the far west that border Wauwatosa.

Meanwhile, 158 wards had turnout proportional to 2012 that was worse than the city average of 85.8%, including 30 that were at 70% or below. Look at, and compare, the extent of turnout decline by voting ward and 2000 census data on percentage of residents in each tract who are black:

mkewardmap mkeracemap

The ready explanation for this is, well, Barack Obama wasn’t on the ballot, so obviously black voters aren’t going to turn out. This is a very convenient argument for how tens of thousands of black voters disappeared in Wisconsin, but until I see some strong data it’s hard to buy the idea that upwards of 30% of black voters were only showing up for Obama and didn’t recognize the existential threat presented by Donald Trump. It’s also important to note that we can’t account for the impact of the voter ID law just by looking at how many people were turned away at polling places. There are also those who knew (or thought) they didn’t have the necessary ID and couldn’t expend the resources to get it, those who were hassled in a previous election and didn’t want to bother with it again, and those who weren’t sure but did know they’d been told repeatedly that voter fraud is a felony. It could go without saying that the state will not support any efforts to do rigorous study about this, but hopefully there is funding to be secured by scholars at UW-Madison or UW-Milwaukee, as long as the state doesn’t threaten to defund the school as a result.

(Thanks to The Both, whose “Milwaukee” provides the post title.)

Filed: We R in Control || 13:44, December 22 || No Comments »

Out in the city, into the sunshine

One of the weirder aspects of the extended election post-mortem this year has been the focus on Wisconsin. The state flipping from blue to red was certainly a surprise to all observers (including both campaigns), and it slots into a neat narrative about overconfidence and the “forgotten working class” (or a certain subset of it). Nevertheless, anything that the Clinton campaign did to win Wisconsin would not have mattered a lick if it didn’t also flip at least one other state (Florida), or more likely two more (Michigan and Pennsylvania). So anyone making the argument that Russian hacking doesn’t matter because they didn’t keep Clinton from visiting Wisconsin is, to put it mildly, not engaging in good faith discussion. Anyone not talking about the role of Scott Walker’s vote suppression law is also not engaging with the reality of what went on in Wisconsin this year, as reported last week by the Los Angeles Times:

Starting with John F. Kennedy’s victory over Richard Nixon in 1960, Delia Anderson had voted in 14 straight presidential elections.

She had cast her ballot at the same polling place for years, never with a glitch. This year, however, a volunteer driving her to the polls mentioned that she would be asked to show a state-approved photo ID.

“Don’t these poll people already know who I am?” replied Anderson, who is 77, black and uses a wheelchair, as she frantically sifted through her purse for anything to prove her identity.

It was a lost cause. She had planned to vote for Hillary Clinton. Instead, for the first time in 56 years, she did not cast a ballot.

“Lord, have mercy,” she said. “What happened to voting?”

Such stories abound in Milwaukee, a Democratic stronghold in a state where Donald Trump won by 22,748 votes, a key victory in his path to the presidency.

Now, voting rights advocates, elections officials and political experts have zeroed in on the city as a case study of whether controversial new rules requiring ID for voting — the kind used in several states in November for the first time in a presidential election — blocked vast numbers of largely young and racial minority Democrats from casting ballots and contributed to Clinton’s defeat.

In a state that saw its lowest turnout in 20 years, nearly 248,000 people voted in Milwaukee, roughly 41,000 fewer than in the last presidential election.

“I believe it was voter suppression laws from the state government that crushed turnout,” said Milwaukee County Clerk Joe Czarnezki, one of two officials who oversees local elections. “They tend to hit hardest on people who are poor, who don’t drive and don’t have a license, who are minorities.”

That said, Wisconsin is a very interesting case quite apart from its lack of impact on the overall outcome of the election. The state has long been at the median of many social indicators across the country, and has experienced a precipitous move to the right since 2010. It’s not for nothing that Hillary Clinton did better there than Russ Feingold, who obviously spent quite a bit of time campaigning in the state. There has been a considerable amount of examination of county-by-county results so far, with a particular emphasis on urban/rural splits (and for background on this, Kathy Cramer’s The Politics of Resentment is the place to start), but even in Wisconsin, rural counties are not where most people live. So although the data aren’t superb yet, I decided to explore a bit in the vote records for 2012 and 2016 to see what happened in Wisconsin’s cities.

The ten biggest cities in Wisconsin, as of the 2010 census, are home to 1,449,059 people, or just a little more than a quarter of the state’s population. More than half of that group lives in the state’s two biggest cities, Milwaukee and Madison. That is to say that, like most states in 2016, Wisconsin’s population is concentrated in cities. Unlike most states in 2016, Wisconsin saw its voter turnout hit a 20-year low, as the state cast only 97% of the total number of presidential ballots it cast in 2012 (which doesn’t take population growth into account, so the actual drop in turnout was larger than 3%). If Walker’s attempt to suppress Democratic votes worked like it was supposed to, we would not expect to see that number even across the board, but to generally be lower in cities, and especially to be lower in cities with larger non-white populations.

Wisconsin is also a state that both nominees lost in the primaries, and where neither was especially well-liked. That also suggests a reason for voters to turn away (despite there being a competitive and potentially balance-tipping Senate election on the ballot) or to vote for a non-major candidate. So below I tabulate three things. First, the net change in votes and percentage points for Clinton over Trump compared with Obama over Romney, the net change in third party and write-in votes and percentage points, and the number of ballots cast as a proportion of the total from 2012 (to compare with the percentage of the population that is white).

net votes
net pct.
3rd party
net votes
3rd party
net pct
vs. 2012
Appleton -1284 -3.3 1685 4.7 95.9% 85.2%
Eau Claire -1487 -4.0 2482 6.9 99.6% 90.3%
Green Bay -5397 -11.4 2542 5.8 95.3% 73.3%
Janesville -3689 -10.4 1838 6.2 92.8% 88.8%
Kenosha -6057 -11.9 1890 4.8 91.3% 69.5%
Madison 9311 5.1 7242 4.7 101.8% 75.7%
Milwaukee -27845 -1.5 9605 4.1 85.8% 37.0%
Oshkosh -3868 -11.5 1898 6.1 95.5% 88.9%
Racine -5201 -9.1 1266 4.5 83.8% 53.5%
Waukesha 2172 5.1 2404 6.8 94.1% 80.4%

With the caveat that there’s a lot that raw vote totals can’t tell us, there are several interesting things here. Starting at the right side of the table, turnout relative to 2012 and whiteness are highly correlated (r = .76). This is only the ten biggest cities, of course, and it would be worth extending this analysis to every municipality for which the Census Bureau has race data. It is a compelling finding, though, and particularly so for Milwaukee and Racine, the state’s two blackest cities and the two with the biggest dropoffs in this set. I’ll have more on Milwaukee’s low turnout in a subsequent post.

In the middle columns, we see that every single city gave non-major candidates at least four more percentage points than they did in 2012, up to nearly seven in Waukesha and Eau Claire. Even this maybe undersells it — for Eau Claire that was a 328% increase (from 1.8 percentage points to 7.7). Those big increases are also how Trump was able to win the state with only 47.2% of the vote. But the top and bottom of the list also tell another story. There was a lot of discussion during the campaign among people on the left about whether refusing to vote for Clinton was a move based in privilege (and also whether it was a big free-rider move, but that’s another discussion). The two least white big cities in Wisconsin, Milwaukee and Racine, had the lowest increases in non-major voting; they also had the lowest raw third-party and write-in rates of these cities. That is to say, these electorates appear to be the ones least interested in screwing around with this election. Waukesha, at the other end of the list, is interesting for another reason. It is the center of Wisconsin Republican politics, but it’s not a place that was ever happy with Donald Trump. Its big jump suggests a lot of Republicans there couldn’t bring themselves to vote for Hillary Clinton, but chose to vote for Gary Johnson or write in Paul Ryan instead.

(Aside: We don’t know how many write-in votes Ryan or Bernie Sanders or any other non-registered write-in candidate got, but we do know how many Evan McMullin got. For some reason, he absolutely dominated the write-in vote in Appleton, Kenosha, and Racine, getting 546 of 576 write-in votes in those cities. At the same time, in liberal Madison, write-in votes were up from 251 to 2,099, but McMullin got only 367 of those; I’d bet most of the others went to Sanders.)

Waukesha has a lot to tell us about Clinton’s columns, as well. It and Madison — political polar opposites — are the only two of the ten cities where she had a net gain over Obama’s 2012 margins, 5.1 percentage points in each. In relative terms, Trump did horribly in Waukesha, getting only 51.1% compared with Romney’s 57.1%. Clinton did only a little worse than Obama, and might have done better if a few more of those anti-Trump Republicans had been willing to vote for the only candidate capable of actually beating him. The results in Madison, full of liberals and students, suggest that turning out those two frequently scapegoated groups was not the problem in Wisconsin. Clinton got a higher percentage of the Madison vote than Obama did, Trump did worse than Romney, and Madison’s increase in non-major candidate voting was lower than the state as a whole. Madison was also the only city of these ten that cast more ballots in 2016 than it did in 2012, so the suppression of the student vote does not seem to have been all that successful, especially in light of how much turnout cratered in Milwaukee.

In 2012, Milwaukeeans cast 287,387 presidential ballots; this year it was only 246,617. Both major party candidates were down in percentage point terms from the 2012 nominees, with a relatively small net loss for Clinton. The much bigger loss came from votes that were never cast. If Milwaukee’s turnout drop had been the same as the state average and those extra votes cast in the same percentages as the others in the city, Clinton would have a net gain of a little more than 21,000 votes. But there’s good reason to think the lost votes wouldn’t be cast the same as the votes that happened; they would likely be more favorable to Clinton. In a follow-up post, I’ll dig specifically into Milwaukee turnout to look at how vote suppression manifested in this election.

(Thanks to Locksley for the great song that provides the title of this post.)

Filed: We R in Control || 18:25, December 21 || No Comments »

Incumbency effects in low-information elections

Whatever the final outcome of the Wisconsin state Supreme Court election, the basic tenor of it is clear — an even split. There have been a number of articles suggesting that this is a surprise, and that conservative incumbent David Prosser should have been expected to cruise to victory. But should we really expect the kind of incumbency effects we see in other races to manifest in judicial elections?

It’s important to understand, first, that while every election has its quirks, this one was really atypical. Generally speaking, state supreme court elections don’t take place six weeks into massive protests against the state’s sitting governor and amid legal wrangling over a controversial new law likely to be reviewed by said court. Turnout in this election was much higher than a typical spring election in Wisconsin, and considering that inability to adequately model it, I don’t know that any outcome should’ve come as a surprise. Prosser took 55% of the vote in the open primary (before the protests started), and opposition to Gov. Scott Walker’s anti-union bill has been in the mid-50s, suggesting anything from 55-45 for Prosser to 55-45 for challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg would’ve been plausible. But polls aren’t elections, and in the primary a total of about 419,000 votes were cast (compared with almost 1,500,000 in the general), so even these boundaries are weak.

If there are incumbency effects at work here, what might they be? Political science typically focuses on legislators in the study of incumbency effects, and there isn’t much there that maps well to the judiciary. Justices don’t have the name-recognition of legislators for a number of reasons, including their much less frequent elections. Justices are also not protected by partisan systems that sometimes allow legislators to easily win general elections in “safe” districts, assuming they survive primary challenges, nor do they have the opportunity to win voters over through constituent service.

And yet, the history of Wisconsin’s supreme court elections includes just five losses by incumbents. The most recent occurred in 2008, when conservative Michael Gableman won a contentious election with strong backing from Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, a year after WMC successfully supported Annette Ziegler’s re-election bid. The previous loss by an incumbent was in 1967, which suggests there is some effect of judicial incumbency. Prosser’s first election, in 2001, suggests it may be the absence of a party system to recruit and support challengers. After being appointed in 1998, Prosser ran unopposed for a full term. In a halfway-politicized judicial system — elections, but no parties — we probably shouldn’t expect to see the kind of challengers and challenging campaigns that we see in other races.

Filed: Super Special Questions || 12:09, April 10 || No Comments »

Elite cues in state judiciary elections

When it comes to electorates, there’s low-information, and then there’s low-information. State legislative elections features a lot of candidates that voters aren’t very familiar with, for example. An open city council primary like the one we just had in Carbondale — in which 16 candidates were whittled down to 12 for the general — is likely to rely on personal networking as much as anything else. But judicial elections are another beast entirely: Most people don’t really get what judges do, particularly at the appellate level and above (see, for example, Gregory Casey’s “The Supreme Court and Myth”).

So part of electing justices turns out to be lots of irrelevant scare-tactics about how Judge So-and-so wants to let child molesters loose in the schools, but another important part is elite cuing in the form of endorsements. You may not really know anything about the candidates or the job they’re running for, and you may not have the helpful cue of party identification, but it’s easy to sort out the latent partisanship of each candidate’s endorsements. Having said, Wisconsin will have a Supreme Court election in April, between incumbent David Prosser and challenger Joanne Kloppenburg. Let’s look at some of the prominent names in their lists of endorsers:

Prosser – Three former governors, a former lt. governor, apparently every Republican in the state legislature, many county sheriffs and DAs, and the county executive of Waukesha County

Kloppenburg – The county executive of Dane County, the mayor of Madison, several county supervisors, various aldermen, one state representative, and many private citizens.

Non-partisan election status aside, Prosser is the Republican and Kloppenburg the Democrat in this race. Notice the difference between how the parties understand this? The entire Wisconsin GOP is lined up behind Prosser, providing the kind of elite cuing that tells Republican voters how they should cast their ballot, even if they don’t know the first thing about Prosser or Kloppenburg as judges. Wisconsin Democrats, on the other hand, have apparently decided to sit this one out. Keep in mind, like all non-presidential elections, this is a turnout election — getting voters informed and interested in the election is the key to winning, particularly for a challenger. So where are the state legislative caucuses? Where is private citizen Russ Feingold and his considerable organizing and mobilizing weight? This is the first opportunity to demonstrate the energy of the anti-Scott Walker protests can be channeled into something sustained, and it has the added benefit of being a race that will impact the inevitable court decisions about what Walker’s trying to do.

Filed: We R in Control || 17:33, February 27 || No Comments »

Beyond selective exposure

Whenever possible, I get my news from local pizza joints' Facebook accounts. Still waiting for somebody to break the pizza donation story, Wisconsin State Journal!

In the wake of massively increased ideological media availability (particularly cable news analysis shows and blogs), many political communication scholars have become concerns about the effects of selective exposure — that is, what happens when we choose to only or predominantly use media sources we believe will present agreeable viewpoints or information. This general area of interest has produced a variety of findings, from the obvious (Republicans love Fox News) to the less obvious but intriguing (people who only read blogs they agree with are much more likely to engage in political participation than those who read ideologically diverse blogs). But one thing it hasn’t done much of is challenge the notion of what exposure is, or what types of sources we’re being “exposed” to.

A confluence of two things has brought this to mind. First, along with my colleague Narayanan Iyer and several grad students, I’m prepping a study that looks at the agenda-setting potential of Facebook among college students. In a more general sense, we’re interested of how much influence the inadvertent exposure to news information might have on a low-information audience. In this case, we talking about a very different kind of exposure than one gets from institutional media sources (and I’m thinking of blogs as institutional here), as well as a case where the “selection” has nothing to do with the news content that might appear in your Facebook news feed. Rather, selections are made based on some combination of social connection and social distance. Our “friends” are our family members, classmates and co-workers, but they’re also people we’ve met fleetingly or maybe even have never met in person. There is some evidence of ideological clustering within the Facebook network (see this article by Gaines and Mondak), but there’s no reason to suspect this is any different than the clustering that occurs in offline social networks.

The second thing that happened was that, as a former member of a Wisconsin public employee union, my news feed exploded with updates from my friends are still in the state and involved in the ongoing protests. Some of what’s been posted has been links to news stories, background information, analysis, etc., but most of it has been first- or secondhand accounts from protesters themselves. I’m finding this an unusual experience, because as a voracious news consumer, it’s pretty rare that my Facebook friends post anything I don’t already know about. Now that they’ve become part of the news, Facebook has become my primary source of information about the protests and developments surrounding them. A lot of what they’re posting is not ideologically tinged in the typical sense — that is, it’s not just a bunch of anti-Scott Walker screeds — but rather it’s broadly framed in ways that are sympathetic to the protesters’ concerns. It’s also informative in a way that traditional news coverage has not been, and clearly appeals to me in part because of the minute social distance between myself and my friends. These are people who, apart from being friends, are demographically similar to me, work in the same sector and share a similar disposition toward political engagement. I’m wondering now if the effects of this type of news consumption — both agenda and opinion effects — might not be much stronger than those of reading more distant ideologically agreeable sources, even for a heavy news consumer like me.

Filed: Super Special Questions || 15:15, February 20 || No Comments »

Liberals and the legend of Feingold

''Thanks Russ'' window in Madison

This empty Madison storefront was also a Kerry campaign office in 2004. Coincidence?

I spent four days in Madison over Thanksgiving break and learned two important things. First, my happiness at being back in my favorite city is only strong enough to survive one day of single-digit wind chills. And second, the development of the Legend of Russ Feingold is already well underway. All along State St., the “Feingold ’10” stickers have been permanently and prominently affixed behind store counters, while local talk radio has turned its ire to the “they” that populates the rest of the state (to be fair, this is also true in discussions of Gov.-elect Scott Walker’s plan to cancel a Milwaukee-Madison Amtrak route). No one I talked to was very receptive to the idea that Feingold shot himself in the foot by filibustering the financial reform bill, even though the result of his action was to weaken the bill so that Scott Brown would become the 60th vote.

This was all at the top of my mind when I read Dahlia Lithwick’s piece on the search for the new Feingold. The way Feingold supporters come across in the piece you’d think he was dead, because the last time liberals went looking for the “next” somebody it was Paul Wellstone. Ironically, the person most self-consciously working to uphold Wellstone’s legend — Al Franken — is suggested as a potential next Feingold as well, but dismissed by “civil libertarians” for his votes in favor of warrantless wiretapping. But then, he also voted for the financial reform bill, so maybe it’s a wash. But I suspect for liberals of a certain stripe, the lesson of Feingold’s defeat will be retrenchment. This is admittedly a bit of nutpicking, but these FireDogLake comments suggest that even Feingold saying “no” to a 2012 primary challenge isn’t enough to turn some minds from it.

Of course, since he’s not dead and not running for president in 2012, it’ll be interesting to see where he goes from here. It’s probably not a 2016 run — his window was 2008, when liberals might’ve gone big for him, if the Daily Kos straw poll is any evidence. Trying to get back to the Senate in 2012 if Herb Kohl retires? Challenging Walker in 2014? I’ve always felt that Feingold has an executive style about him, but I just don’t know if electoral politics is the place for him anymore. Facing a tough environment and a likely Republican wave, he pulled punches (when he punched at all); the campaign environment’s not going to be much more pleasant in the next couple cycles.

Filed: We R in Control || 9:59, November 30 || No Comments »