Francis Wilkinson, Bloomberg, November 24, 2019
White voters were the key to Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential victory. Their continued support for him is the main reason he is unlikely to be removed from office by impeachment. They are the foundation of his political support heading into 2020. Unless, of course, they live in Dane County, Wisconsin.
Dane County does not buy what Trump sells. About four in five residents of the county, which includes the state capital of Madison, are non-Hispanic white. Nationally, according to the U.S. Census, about 60 percent of the population is non-Hispanic white. The electorate in Dane is generally even whiter than the county’s general population. Yet in 2016, Hillary Clinton defeated Trump in Dane County by a margin of three to one.
Political distinctions among white voters are well established. Women are less supportive of Trump than men, youth less supportive than oldsters, seculars less supportive than evangelicals, urbanites less supportive than farmers, college graduates less supportive than the high-school-educated. Dane features the kind of demographic markers — other than race — that are associated with support for Democrats.
“The population in Dane County displays many of the hallmarks of contemporary progressivism,” said University of Wisconsin political scientist Barry Burden in an email. “It is highly educated and secular. It is young and upwardly mobile. Large numbers of people work in the public sector for state or local government.”
University of Wisconsin political scientist Katherine Cramer spent years meeting with small groups of residents in rural Wisconsin. Her book, “The Politics of Resentment,” is a sympathetic analysis of the myriad grudges these rural citizens hold against Wisconsin’s largest cites, Madison and Milwaukee, even though the people in those cities seem to have little in common beyond density and Democratic inclinations. The median household income in Milwaukee, which is almost two-thirds nonwhite, is more than $21,000 lower than in Madison.
Kramer’s book explores the distinct, mostly white, “rural consciousness” that propelled Republican Scott Walker’s three gubernatorial election victories and, after the book was published, Trump’s presidential win in the state. But there seems to be a political consciousness among white Wisconsinites who dwell in higher-density locales, as well. The affluent suburbs outside Milwaukee, like others around the country, are trending less Republican. Meanwhile, Madison’s liberalism seems to be radiating outward.
“It ain’t just Madison,” emailed Democratic pollster Paul Maslin, who is based there. “Even the surrounding suburbs and surrounding counties — which are a mix of bedroom and rural/small town — are getting more Democratic. Never seen anything like it.”
Madison is a famed liberal outlier. But it’s also a model of sorts. It shows the power of a liberal political culture that’s underwritten by high levels of education and economic growth — even if it’s not racially diverse. Trump’s brand of racial tribalism can’t compete there.