The ship had already sailed by the time Hillary Clinton had time to ponder her lack of campaigning efforts in the Rust Belt, particularly in the now not so reliable blue state of Wisconsin. The Badger State was narrowly beaten by Trump in 2016 after voting for every Democratic candidate since 1988. What went wrong is that Wisconsin was overlooked and its history of a battleground was ignored.
A mere 25,000 votes were the difference between Trump and Hillary four years ago. A Google consumer surveys poll conducted a few days before the nation went to the ballot box had Clinton ahead in Wisconsin by 12 points. However, the Democrats failed to gather momentum in a typically blue-collar state and faced a reckoning on results day when the working-class looked to the GOP for the first time in years. The historical swing was a pattern in the Midwest region as a whole, cementing Trump’s presidency with working-class approval.
What the left failed to realise in 2016 was that Wisconsin was not as blue as they thought. Wisconsinites have voted solidly for Republican presidents in the past; with Reagan, Nixon and Eisenhower all taking the state to form administrations. Trump securing a victory there means that 2020 is highly significant for Biden and his campaign to listen to state voters intently and mobilise enough activists to sway the vote on the ground.
Although regularly referred to as a majority-white state, Wisconsin has an influential African American population that are a crucial voting bloc in the state’s elections. The city of Milwaukee has a higher percentage of black voters compared to other parts of the state. Many of the city-dwellers feel that Democrats haven’t listened to them when they explain the city’s segregation problem and the lack of funding and resources in black neighbourhoods. In 2016, around 93,000 black Milwaukeeans voted for neither candidate, which should be considered a colossal failure on the Democratic side when Trump won the state by a lot less votes. The protests that took place in Kenosha recently has given Trump the platform to hammer home his message for law and order. This could be substantial for Trump voters who believe in his vision, but also transformative for the Democrats to quell unrest and call for racial justice.
The Democratic National Convention was due to be held in Milwaukee this year but the coronavirus pandemic pushed the once large spectacle online. Without the pandemic, this could have been the opportunity for Biden to rally black voters in a state crucial to his victory next month. Already the polls are suggesting a Biden win with him up by 10 points in some. Feeling comfortable with polling has seen grave consequences before. Instead, upping the ante on the ground in Wisconsin would be more effective.
The Biden campaign are seemingly using their resources to flip solid Republican states of Arizona and Texas. They also seem to be distracted by engaging with the traditionally conservative Latino base of southern Florida, where Trump won comfortably before. Instead of focusing so heavily on these areas, Biden should not ignore the electorate of Wisconsin. Seen as the tipping-point state, not galvanising the voters there would be perilous for a Democratic party hoping to win the White House.
The loss of Wisconsin in 2016 was the archetype of a political and cultural shift across the US political landscape. Working-class voters in white and minority communities felt left behind by the two-party system. Although the state carries only ten electoral college votes in the election, this may be the margin needed to sway what is expected to be the most contentious race in a long time.