Decision 2016: Wisconsin weighs in

Tonight, both Democratic and Republican primary voters in Wisconsin delivered unequivocal upsets to its front runners, with high voter turnout on both sides. So what happened, and what is likely to happen in upcoming contests?

Democratic contest

(Revised 4/6 AM) Bernie Sanders carried the state with an overwhelming 57-43% lead over Hillary Clinton. Demographics again worked to Sanders’ advantage: Wisconsin has few minorities, and also has a vocal contingent of liberal primary voters in university towns like Madison. And Wisconsin’s union voters seem to be as friendly to Sanders as they were in Michigan.

(Revised 4/6 AM) And in this open primary state (Wisconsin doesn’t have party registration), Democratic turnout was high but not record breaking: while 1 million voters chose a Democratic ballot, a record 1.1 million Democrats voted in 2008.

However, Sanders’ victory doesn’t change the trajectory of the Democratic contest: Hillary Clinton next faces voters in New York in two weeks, and in that closed primary contest, she is likely to win big in a state she represented in the United States Senate for nearly a decade. Plus, the Democratic electorate is dominated by “majority minority” New York City.

Republican contest

(Revised 4/6 AM) After a recent spate of unfavorable publicity (combined with an active anti Trump campaign from the state’s conservative establishment). Ted Cruz won a major (48-35%) victory. Additionally, the Trump percentage (35%) was less than his showing in neighboring Illinois (39%) and Michigan (37%). This suggests that his support has reached a ceiling – and that ceiling is less than 50%.

This victory was important to Cruz, because it showed that he could compete outside the Deep South/Rocky Mountain states. However, with the predominance of northeastern contests in the next few weeks, he MUST be able to compete in those contests for him to be able to go into more favorable contests in May and June as a viable competitor to Donald Trump.

Speaking of “viable competitor”, John Kasich only won 14% of the Wisconsin vote. Which was a noticeable downtick from his support in previously conducted contests in next door Illinois and Michigan (he got 24% of the vote in both states). In other words, the Wisconsin results also suggest that Kasich’s support has peaked, even as it was already a mathematical impossibility for him to get enough delegates to be the Republican nominee.

(Revised 4/6 AM) GOP turnout again reached record levels, at 1.1 million Republican primary voters, which is substantially above what it was in 2012 (721K) or 2008 (411K). And 52% of all primary voters chose a Republican primary ballot – which is in line with GOP performance in recent gubernatorial races.

Looking ahead

With no contests during the next two weeks, the Cruz/Sanders wins will dominate the media narrative in the short term, although those results are likely to be reversed when New York votes on April 19. And after New York, there will be a “Northern Super Tuesday” on April 26, when Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island all vote on the same day. After that, the campaign moves into less favorable terrain for Trump, when Indiana votes on May 3.

Even though Hillary is steadily heading towards the required number of delegates to be nominated, Bernie Sanders will keep the race competitive in the meantime, and the Wisconsin results (combined with victories in other recent contests) give Sanders additional incentive to stay in the race.