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Politically, Wisconsin's official color is purple

Politically, Wisconsin's official color is purple

By Makayla Mladenovic

The Marquette University Law School Poll indicates that Wisconsin doesn’t show overwhelming support for a particular candidate or party, which could make it a purple state - not Democratic blue or Republican red.


Polls throughout past months have shown that Wisconsin voters support Republican Gov. Scott Walker and Democrat President Barack Obama.  But many don’t understand how voters could back a Republican and a Democrat, when their views on issues differ substantially.  
Wisconsin has become more of a “split state” in the last five years, according to Susan Johnson, University of Wisconsin-Whitewater political science chair.


Susan Johnson, photo by Charles Cottle

“Walker was elected in 2010, (Republican) Ron Johnson was elected to the U.S. Senate and Republicans took control of the Assembly, so it was a great year for Republicans,” Johnson said. “Nationally, Wisconsin’s gone more for the Democratic candidate in the last several elections and had Democratic senators for quite awhile.”


Obama won the presidential vote in Wisconsin in 2008.  Two years after voting for a Democrat for President, Wisconsin elected the Republican Walker as governor.

The Whitewater professor said this “split” reflected recent election results.

Walker won by 52% in 2010 and by 53% in the June 5 recall election this year. Polls showed Obama was favored by 51% of those polled four months after the recall election. Those numbers send a "purple Wisconsin" message.


One reason a voter might support both Walker and Obama could be the economy.

“Approval ratings go up when the economy is doing better,” Johnson said. "People might associate both Walker and Obama with the improvement [of the economy] and support both of them for this reason.”

A small percentage of Walker/Obama voters could make the difference in such a tight presidential race, according to David Siemers, University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh political science chair.


Another possible explanation behind this sort of contradiction in voting is the idea of partisan and ideology balancing. Voters may vote for two different political parties as a means of balancing power.
“A lot of Americans like to split their tickets to keep the parties in check and supposedly 'honest' with each other,” Siemers said. “They also think it keeps [politicians]
from getting too far out in front of public opinion and serves as a sort of checks and balances.”
A small number of people vote this way, but they could decide which presidential candidates wins Tuesday's presidential voting in Wisconsin, according to Siemers.
Polls showed movement between parties after the first presidential debate on Oct. 3. Johnson and Siemers believe the changes were undecided voters making up their minds on a candidate.


But there may be more to the reason behind the shifts, according to David Canon, University of Wisconsin-Madison political science professor.

Dr David Siemers

Dr. David Siemers 
(photo from UW-Oshkosh political science website)

“There is definitely some flip-flopping going on,” Canon said. “There are some people who said they were going to vote for Obama, then switched to Romney. You can see this
because there weren’t enough undecided voters left to account for that big of a change.”
There has been a fair number of adults who were still undecided: 7.5% of voters surveyed in a poll released on Sept. 29, and about 6% in a survey made public Oct. 18, according to the Huffington Post’s poll aggregator. 

There was a 3.5% shift between Walker and Obama, but only 1.5% of undecided voters made up their mind - which is not enough to compensate for the shift, Canon said.
Shifts seen in the polls could possibly be a result of the candidate's personality. Obama is
known as a good speaker and that sometimes drives a voter’s decision, according to Johnson.
Another possibility for people who support Walker, but plan to vote for President Obama on Tuesday, revolves around religion. Poll results during the primaries showed that many Republicans questioned whether they would vote for a Mormon.
“You could have a conservative, evangelical Christian Republican who is pro-Walker but is so far to the right -- especially on religious issues -- they see Mormons as a cult rather than a form of Christianity,” Canon said. “There may be a small potential category who hate Mormons more than they hate Obama, a Protestant Christian.”
The idea that Wisconsin is a purple state means it is a battleground, which has promoted repeated visits by the presidential candidates and their surrogates.