The 2018 Midterm Elections Bring Back Divided Government to Wisconsin


 Joe Murray  |    December 10, 2018
The 2018 Midterm Elections Bring Back Divided Government to Wisconsin

The 2018 midterm elections in Wisconsin were highly competitive and very expensive. This, along with strong voter enthusiasm on both sides of the political divide, generated the highest voter turnout in a midterm election since 1962, at 59 percent.

And yes, there were a few surprises with the final election results. In the end, both Democrats and Republicans have reasons to be happy as well as disappointed. Here’s a quick overview of the Wisconsin election results from November 6.

Republicans no longer dominate state government: As political reporter Craig Gilbert noted the day after the November elections, ‚ÄúAn eight-year reign of Republican dominance and political muscle in this state came to an end Tuesday when Democrat Tony Evers defeated GOP Gov. Scott Walker, the central figure in Wisconsin politics for more than a decade.‚ÄĚ

With Evers’ 1.2 percent win over Walker, Republicans no longer control every branch of state government. For the past eight years, Gov. Scott Walker and legislative Republicans have been able to pass into law virtually any policy they supported. With governor-elect Tony Evers taking over the executive branch, legislative Republicans will have to negotiate and compromise in the future to get legislation signed into law by the new governor.

Democrats swept the top of the ticket: For the first time since 1982, Democrats swept top-of-the-ticket races across the board last month: U.S. Senate (Baldwin), governor (Evers), attorney general (Kaul), secretary of state (LaFollette), and state treasurer (Godlewski). The race for governor and attorney general were very close; while U.S. Senate, secretary of state and state treasurer election winners were all comfortable wins for Democrats.

This achievement is remarkable when you consider the fact that in gubernatorial elections, Wisconsin Democrats have only won a real majority of votes in a midterm election three times since 1980: Tony Earl in 1982, Jim Doyle in 2006 and Tony Evers in 2018.

Republicans maintain power down the ballot: Just as remarkable as the Democrats’ sweep at the top of the ticket was the GOP’s dominance in all federal and state legislative elections. The ballot included all eight congressional seats, 17 state Senate seats and 99 state Assembly seats. Virtually nothing changed! There are a number of new legislators replacing those who retired or ran for another office, but the balance of power remains the same:

  • Congress: Heading into the November elections, the Wisconsin U.S. House delegation had five Republicans and three Democrats. Nothing changed!
  • State Senate: Heading into the November midterms, Republicans controlled the chamber 18-15. The GOP actually picked up one seat and now control the Senate 19-14.
  • State Assembly: Prior to the November elections, the GOP controlled the state Assembly 64-35. Republicans lost one seat and still control the lower chamber 63-36.

Bottom line: Republicans experienced a one-seat gain in the state Senate and a one-seat loss in the state Assembly. Virtually nothing changed in spite of the top-of-the-ticket sweep by Democrats. This was one outcome that few, if any, political prognosticators predicted. It’s even more remarkable when you factor in the $6 million spent on behalf of Democratic state Senate candidates from third-party groups to try and flip the state Senate from red to blue. Very unusual.

Absentee voting is wildly popular and growing: According to numbers compiled by the political website WisPolitics, the number of absentee ballots cast before the November 6 election grew by 46 percent over the 2014 midterm elections. In 2018, 547,954 absentee ballots were cast, compared to 374,294 absentee ballots in 2014. Absentee voting, often referred to as ‚Äúconvenience voting,‚ÄĚ will most likely continue to grow as voters discover the ease of voting early and avoiding long lines at the polls on Election Day.

In the end, Wisconsin voters rendered a split decision. Neither side was completely happy with the outcomes, and both sides will have to negotiate to get anything passed. Divided government has returned to Wisconsin.

Joe Murray is Director of Political and Governmental Affairs for the WRA. 

Copyright 1998 - 2019 Wisconsin REALTORS¬ģ Association. All rights reserved.

Privacy Policy   |   Terms of Use   |   Accessibility   |   Real Estate Continuing Education