As the banking industry collectively holds its breath for what everyone hopes will be the last 36 hours before the nation has a reliable election outcome, WBA takes one last comprehensive look at the 2020 Elections and the impact on policy. This is one year where the rhetoric matches the hype, but regardless of who is in leadership on the state and local level, bankers could have reason to be optimistic. 

State Political Outlook  

Assembly 

Twenty Legislators out of ninety-nine are running unopposed (13 Republican and seven Democrat) and the GOP currently controls the Assembly 63-36. Assembly Republicans are on defense due to an “over-performance” in previous elections with several legislators beating President Trump’s vote totals by significant margins. This defensive posture is compounded by southeastern suburban voters’ apprehension about re-electing President Trump but marginalized by a Democrat brand that is not appealing to rural Wisconsin. There are about 14 races to pay attention to tomorrow. 

Likely outcome: Assembly stays with a Republican majority. 

Possibly outcome: Assembly Democrats make strong/large gains in the Assembly. 

Least likely outcome: Assembly Republicans retain 59 or more seats.  

Senate 

Five state senators are running unopposed (two GOP and three Democrat). Republicans currently control the chamber 19-14. There are about six races to watch. 

Likely outcome: Senate Republicans maintain their current majority. 

Possible outcome: Senate Republicans increase their majority. 

Least likely outcome: Senate Democrats make gains. 

Polling/History

Wisconsin is a battleground state and many recent Wisconsin state-wide elections have been very close. 

  • 2019 – Conservative Brian Hagedorn elected to Wisconsin Supreme Court by .03%.  
  • 2018 – Democrat Tony Evers won Governor by 1.15%. 
  • 2016 – Republican Donald Trump won Wisconsin by .08%. 
  • 2004 — John Kerry defeated George Bush by .38%. 
  • 2000 — Al Gore defeated George Bush in Wisconsin by .22%  

2020 is not 2016, but not necessarily for the conventional wisdom eschewed by many of the state and national pundits. Joe Biden has been ahead in almost every major poll that has covered Wisconsin, and by most measures it appears that Biden may win this state (and potentially nationally). But conventional wisdom was wrong in 2016, even with the hindsight of looking at the large number of undecided voters going into the last presidential election. Last week, the final Marquette Law School poll found former Vice President Joe Biden leading with of 48% of likely voters in Wisconsin, President Donald Trump supported by 43% and Libertarian Jo Jorgensen receiving 2%. Another 7% say they will vote for none of these candidates, don’t know how they will vote, or declined to say. These results include those who are undecided but say they lean to a candidate. Let’s take a look at three reasons why the 2016 polls and 2020 polls are not equal. 

Voter Turnout and Methodology. 2020 voter turnout in Wisconsin is likely to exceed 2016. In 2016, Wisconsin saw its lowest voter turnout by percentage of voting population since 1996 as reported by the Wisconsin Ethics Commission, with about 60,000 fewer voters in Milwaukee alone. Trump received just over 27,000 more votes than Clinton, out of more than 2.94 million cast overall. However, according to targetsmart.com, as of November 1, voters have cast 61% of the total votes counted statewide, meaning at least 1,814,008 voters have cast ballots in the 2020 general election. In order to achieve the larger 2012 numbers, only 667 people per municipality need to turn out on election day. A larger turnout most often positively impacts Democratic candidates. 

In addition, newer polling methodologies have changed to take into account voter turnout and with a sensitivity to the preference of undecided voters. 

 source: www.marquette.edu Vote for likely voters and allocated vote, respectively 

Response Likely Voters Likely Voters, Including Allocated Vote
Joe Biden 48 50
Donald Trump 43 45
Jo Jorgensen 2 2
None/other (VOL) 1 0
Don't Know 0 0
Refused 6 2

Joe Biden is not Hillary Clinton. Remember the “enthusiasm gap” Hillary faced in the last presidential race? One major newspaper recently quoted “I didn’t like Hillary — I felt that she was a fraud, basically, lying and conniving,” said Sarah Brown, 27, of Rhinelander, Wis., who regrets her 2016 vote for Mr. Trump and plans to vote for Mr. Biden. “I’m not a super big fan of him, either, but the two options — I guess it’s the lesser evil.” However, this quote would have more weight if it came from Menomonie Falls as Trump is performing well in rural Wisconsin and therefore, it’s more important to follow the trends in suburban areas.  

COVID-19. The Coronavirus has taken the debate over science in politics to a new level and impacted everything from voter turnout to toilet paper. It has intensified policy positions on institutional and personal levels even in a hyper-intense environment.  

Interestingly, the state’s personal financial situation is…better? Wisconsinites feel like they are better off now than they were in January. The table below shows the trend in family finances since January and shows the percentage living comfortably rebounded while the percentages of people just getting by or struggling declined. Deposit trends may support this, but it definitely goes against conventional wisdom. While this would normally support incumbents, the COVID-economy doesn’t seem to care about past performance. 

Source: www.marquette.edu  Family financial situation 

Poll Dates Living Comfortably Just Getting By Struggling
1/8-12/20 63 28 8
2/19-23/20 62 29 8
3/24-29/20 59 30 10
5/3-7/20 61 28 9
6/14-18/20 61 31 6
8/4-9/20 63 28 8
8/30-9/3/20 60 32 8
9/30-10/4/20 60 30 9
10/21-25/20 67 26 6

Elsewhere in the Midwest: Democrats are not expecting a blue wave but are looking to pick up seats to make for more divided government. In Minnesota, Republicans hold a two-seat majority in the state Senate and are looking to pick up nine in the Assembly to gain a majority. In Iowa, Republicans will maintain their state Senate majority, but Democrats need four seats to win a majority in the state house for the first time in a decade.      

  In addition to spending referendums, other local referendums run the gambit from allowing residents to drive ATVs on town or country roads, to asking residents to move the town clerk or town treasurer from an elected position to an appointed one due to a lack of interested and qualified candidates in rural communities.  

The effort to recall Gov. Tony Evers failed to gather enough signatures and one result was that Gov. Evers was able to take advantage of unlimited fundraising limits during a recall election to make a six-figure media buy attacking Republican lawmakers over COVID-19. Under state law, recall targets can raise unlimited funds during the 60-day window when petitions are circulating against them. 

The local spending spree continues. Over $1.1 billion in local K-12 spending referendums from 23 school district will be decided by the voters. Some of the largest include $300 million for Madison schools, $150 million for Wausau schools, and $100 million for Oshkosh schools. This fall combined with last spring’s 52 of 57 approved spending referendums could break 2018’s record of more than $2 billion in construction-related referendums approved. Since 2016, more than two-thirds of school districts in the state have put forward referendums to raise property taxes, with 80% approval.  

Keep an eye on the 3rd Congressional District race (La Crosse and western Wisconsin). This race place long-time Congressman Ron Kind (D) against veteran Derrick Van Orden (R) in a battle rural Wisconsin. Following the 2016 election, this district was one of 105 congressional districts that intersected with one or more Pivot Counties. These 206 Pivot Counties voted for Donald Trump (R) in 2016 after voting for Barack Obama (D) in 2008 and 2012.  

*Special thanks to Associated Builders & Contractors for a few key insights.