Wisconsin lost a feather in its cap on Tuesday when its election voter turnout fell to a two-decade low. The state that boasted the second-highest turnout in the nation in 2008 and 2012 still ranks highly compared to others, but is on track to fall behind Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota and New Hampshire this year. The decline — down nearly four points from 2012 and three points from what state elections officials projected — was all the more stunning as it followed record-high early voting numbers and the highest presidential primary turnout since 1972. “The state is no longer in the stratosphere of the highest turnouts in the country,” said University of Wisconsin-Madison political science professor Barry Burden. Republican Donald Trump received about 27,000 more votes than Democrat Hillary Clinton. While his performance didn’t stray far from Mitt Romney’s in 2012, Clinton’s fell significantly short of President Barack Obama’s.
Turnout was down in most counties throughout the state, but particularly in Milwaukee County, where nearly 60,000 fewer votes were cast this year than in 2012. Clinton earned about 43,000 fewer votes in the Democratic stronghold than Obama did four years ago. Milwaukee County is an area that tends to see vacillation in turnout from midterm to general elections, Burden said, but this year broke the mold.
Preliminary exit polls show that turnout dropped in particular among young voters and African-Americans, Burden said.
Clinton performed well among Democrats who voted in the state’s largest cities, said UW-Madison associate professor of journalism and political science Mike Wagner. Where she failed was in motivating Democrats to show up. “Milwaukee stayed home, Dane County delivered, and the rest of the state took a look at things and saw it differently than they did four years ago,” said Republican strategist Brian Nemoir.