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  /  News   /  Trump and Biden’s path to victory in Wisconsin

Trump and Biden’s path to victory in Wisconsin

(NewsNation) — Once considered a reliably blue state for Democratic presidential candidates, the GOP’s growing popularity with rural voters has turned Wisconsin into a hotly contested swing state that could decide the 2024 election.

Next week, Republicans will host their national convention in Milwaukee, where they will make former President Donald Trump the party’s official nominee.

Democrats are also all-in as they look to rebuild the winning coalition that helped President Joe Biden retake the state in 2020.

Here’s what to know about Wisconsin and what will decide the race.

Wisconsin as a swing state

After going blue in seven straight elections, Trump turned Wisconsin red in 2016, becoming the first Republican presidential candidate to do so since Ronald Reagan. Four years later, Biden returned the state to Democrats by less than a 1% margin, about 20,000 votes.


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Local experts say Wisconsin’s political deadlock mirrors recent trends in other swing states, with suburbanites drifting toward Democrats and Republicans gaining in rural areas.

“It’s quite notable how those trends have offset one another because it means that the parties are still basically fighting to a draw,” said Anthony Chergosky, a political scientist at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.

A recent Marquette Law School Poll — conducted before the first debate — showed Biden and Trump tied at 44% among Wisconsin registered voters with 12% undecided.


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To win the state again, Biden will need voters to show up in Milwaukee County, where turnout has been inconsistent, Chergosky noted. The president will also need a huge margin in Dane County — home of the state capital, Madison — a reliable Democratic stronghold and one of the state’s fastest-growing areas.

Meanwhile, Trump will look to extend his advantage in rural Wisconsin and improve among suburban voters in Waukesha, Washington and Ozaukee Counties, areas that overwhelmingly backed Mitt Romney in 2012.

The challenge in Wisconsin for Biden

Low voter turnout in major metro counties helped drive Trump’s Wisconsin victory in 2016, and polling suggests Biden is facing an enthusiasm problem today.

In the Marquette poll, 61% of those who are “very enthusiastic” about voting this November backed Trump, compared to 39% for Biden. The same survey showed that Wisconsin voters are significantly less enthusiastic about voting than they were at the same point in 2020.

The state’s April Democratic primary also showed warning signs for the incumbent: More than 48,000 voters, roughly 8%, cast votes for an “uninstructed delegate” over Biden — part of a larger protest-vote movement over the president’s handling of the Israel-Hamas war.

Thomas Holbrook, a political scientist and professor emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, thinks both parties will be more focused on mobilizing their base than winning over swing voters.

“I’m not convinced there are a lot of persuadable voters out there,” he said. “I think there are voters who can be persuaded to turn out to vote or not.”


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Biden’s recent debate performance, in which he struggled to articulate his policies, has only fueled Democrats’ concerns. Several fellow Democrats have asked him to drop out of the race, but he has rejected those calls so far.

A postdebate Morning Consult/Bloomberg poll showed Biden leading Trump in Wisconsin, 47% to 44% — a sign voters may have already factored Biden’s age into their decision. However, a significant share of respondents in the same survey, 57%, said Biden should “probably” or “definitely not” continue his campaign. Fewer, 48%, felt the same about Trump.

An aggregation of polls from The Hill/Decision Desk HQ has Trump leading by less than 1% in Wisconsin as of Tuesday.

Other national polling suggests Trump has seen a boost, as much as three points, since the debate. On top of that, a new NewsNation/Decision Desk poll found that 80% of all voters are either very or somewhat concerned about Biden’s cognitive ability.

Holbrook cautioned against reading too much into polls this far ahead of the election.

“If you look at almost any indicator from early July, it doesn’t necessarily predict outcomes very well in November,” he said.

According to Decision Desk HQ, Biden currently has a 41% chance of winning Wisconsin.

The challenge in Wisconsin for Trump

While he’s currently favored, Trump is facing several hurdles that could complicate his path to victory in Wisconsin.

For one, abortion has been a winning issue for Democrats in the state. Last year, voters elected a Democratic-backed Milwaukee judge to the state’s Supreme Court in a landslide 11-point victory over her Republican-backed opponent.

And like Biden, Trump has faced pushback from within his own party, as evidenced by Wisconsin’s GOP primary. Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley racked up more than 76,000 votes, almost 13%, despite the fact she had already withdrawn from the race.


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“For Donald Trump, the question is if he can draw in the Nikki Haley supporters, the types of Republicans who were on board with Mitt Romney, were on board with John McCain, were on board with George W. Bush, but are not there with Donald Trump,” Chergosky said.

Trump’s ongoing legal woes could also be a factor in November.

Among Wisconsin independents, 54% thought Trump was guilty of the charges in his New York hush money trial, compared to 28% who said he was not guilty, the Marquette poll found. Even so, independents leaned toward Trump over Biden in the survey, 57% to 41%.

The postdebate Morning Consult/Bloomberg poll showed Wisconsin voters preferred Biden to Trump in terms of values like compassion and honesty. They were also more likely to describe Trump as dangerous.

Two other variables worth noting: Democrats have beefed up their ground game in the state, outraising Republicans. Second, the state’s new legislative maps will have Democrats feeling optimistic after the Wisconsin Supreme Court overturned Republican-drawn maps in December.

As it currently stands, Decision Desk HQ predicts Trump has a 59% chance of winning in Wisconsin.