Sunday, February 24, 2008

WI 08: Going Blue?

Over the past few election cycles, Wisconsin's 8th congressional district has been getting more competitive. For decades a Republican stronghhold, in 2006 the 8th elected Democrat Steve Kagen to the House. The previous incumbent, Mark Green, vacated the seat to run unsuccessfully for governor. In the process, he underperformed quite dramatically in his home district. This got me thinking about whether or not the 8th was changing. I must admit that traveling to the area several times per year (I grew up in the neighboring 6th), I haven't noticed any striking change. Nonetheless, the numbers don't lie. The 8th is anchored by two of Wisconsin's larger cities, Green Bay (Brown County) and Appleton (Outagamie County). I've plotted the Democrats' performance over the past four most competitive statewide elections: 2006 governor, 2004 president, 2002 governor, and 200 president. The county is on the x axis and the Democratic percentage of the vote is on the y axis. Note the extremely high Democratic performance in Menominee County. This is in fact on of Wisconsin's Indian reservations so it acts as an outlier.

I should note that I had to do a bit of number massaging to allow me to plot Democratic performance. In the 2002 Wisconsin governor's race, independent Ed Thompson (brother of former governor Tommy Thompson) ran as an independent and performed quite well, largely along Libertarian lines. I decided to divide up his vote between the Democratic candidate (Attorney General Jim Doyle) and the Republican (Governor Scott McCallum) to allow for some comparison between the two major candidates aside from a calculation of the two party vote that would have excluded Thompson. Given Thompson's lineage and platform I decided to award McCallum 2/3 of the Thompson vote and Doyle the remaining 1/3. I had a similar dilemma for the 2000 presidential race and the Nader vote. Here I awarded Gore the entire Nader vote on the assumption that he would have received these votes without Nader in the race.

What we see is that over the 2000-2006 timeframe Democrats have indeed improved their performance with the exception of a downtick with Kerry in 2004. This is especially notable in Outagamie County but is seen clearly across the entirety of the 8th district. This would seem to bode extremely well as Congressman Kagen seeks to be the first Democrat re-elected in this district in thirty years. The data from the 2008 Wisconsin presidential primary would seem to add more creedence to this tentative conclusion. While we obviously can't directly compare the Democratic and Republican primaries given how relatively settled the Republican race is, the turnout disparities between the parties is nonetheless worth paying attention to. Turnout in the Democratic race was over two times the Repubican (133,940 vs. 57,303). On the Democratic side Obama beat Clinton 56%-44% which was slightly below his statewide total of 58%. On the Republican side, McCain beat Huckabee 56%-44% which essentially mirrored his statwide total of 55%.

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