November 3 Is Almost Here

 Joe Murray  |    October 14, 2020
November 3

The 2020 election cycle is certainly unique. Wisconsin, along with the rest of the country, is grappling with the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, historically high unemployment, and civil unrest that began in May and continues. Who could have predicted all this in January?
We are now only a few weeks away from the November elections, and much is riding on the outcome, especially in state legislative elections. The next legislature and Gov. Tony Evers will tackle issues important to the real estate industry, including the serious shortage of workforce housing, property taxes, private property rights and more. Elections really do have consequences.
As we get closer to November 3, four big-picture political dynamics will shape the outcome this fall, including the presidential race, the rise of early absentee voting, the 21 most competitive legislative elections, and the likelihood of record voter turnout in Wisconsin this year. Here’s a closer look at all four dynamics.

Trump vs. Biden

In the 2016 presidential election, Donald Trump carried Wisconsin by a mere 22,748 votes, or 0.78%, over Hillary Clinton. The state of Wisconsin was, in fact, the tipping point that put Trump over the required 270 electoral votes necessary to claim the presidency. As a key battleground state in 2020, can Trump pull off another stunning come-from-behind win in the Badger State? Maybe, but it’s going to be more difficult than four years ago. Election year 2020 is different from 2016 in three significant ways.
First, there are fewer undecided voters this year. In 2016, according to a Marquette Law School poll, about 20% of likely voters were undecided. This year, the undecided number is less than 10%. Second, third-party candidates received 6% of the total vote in 2016, and third-party candidates will likely get far fewer votes in Wisconsin this year. Third, Trump ran as an outsider in 2016; but this year, he’s an incumbent running for reelection. All three of these factors will play a potentially significant role in the outcome, and all three factors make it more difficult for Trump to replicate his 2016 performance in the Badger State.

Mail-in voting will remain in the news

Mail-in absentee voting will remain a hot topic as voters in Wisconsin cast their absentee ballots in record numbers this year. In the April 2020 state Supreme Court election, approximately 80% of all votes cast were some form of early absentee voting, including mail-in votes. As noted by UW-Madison political science professor Barry Burden, absentee voting was “completely off the charts” in the April election. As we get closer to the November 3 election, the debate over mail-in voting will continue between Trump and some Republicans who worry about rampant voter fraud versus Democrats who argue that these concerns are unwarranted and are vastly overstated. This debate could easily intensify if the presidential election is close in Wisconsin and both sides end up in a protracted legal battle to decide the outcome. Who can forget the 2000 election fiasco in Florida?

21 competitive legislative districts

There are 115 state legislative elections on the ballot in Wisconsin this November. Of these 115, only 21 districts will truly be competitive. Both Democrats and Republicans have zeroed in on these highly competitive 21 seats where the staff, time and political money will be spent to shape the outcome in November.
What’s noteworthy in this cycle is the geographic balance of these 21 districts. Ten seats are located on or near the western side of Wisconsin, while 11 seats are located on or near the eastern side of the state. This balance is due primarily to the competitive nature of several suburban GOP seats around the Milwaukee and Green Bay media markets. The competitive districts on the western side of the state include far smaller urban pockets and are much more rural districts overall. If Trump continues to struggle in the suburbs with college-educated and female voters, it could pose real problems with GOP incumbents who represent primarily suburban districts.
The other interesting political dynamic is which political side is on offense and which side is on defense. There are four competitive seats in the Senate and 17 in the Assembly. In the Senate, three of the four seats are held by Democrats, one by a Republican. This puts Senate Republicans on offense. In the state Assembly, 13 seats are held by Republicans and only four by Democrats. Assembly Republicans are almost entirely on defense due to the commanding size of their current majority, 63 to 36. The top-of-the-ticket race between Biden and Trump will heavily influence the outcome in these 21 districts.

Voter turnout could surge in November

Voter turnout in the 2020 presidential election is likely to set a new record in Wisconsin. If you’re looking for clues, you only need to look back at the turnout numbers in the last two statewide elections. In the 2018 Wisconsin midterm election, approximately 2.7 million people, or 60%, voted, easily the most votes ever cast in a midterm election in Wisconsin. In the April 2020 state Supreme Court election, voter turnout hit 34.3%, making it among the highest turnout for a Supreme Court election in Wisconsin history. Given the battleground status of Wisconsin in the presidential race, the growing popularity of early absentee voting, and the Badger State’s long tradition of high voter turnout, it will not be a surprise if voter turnout in Wisconsin sets a new record this November. Which side will benefit most from surging turnout this fall? 
Refer to the WRA Voter Guide, which you received in the mail in early October, for all WRA-endorsed candidates, and don’t forget to make your voice count on November 3!

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

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