Mordecai Lee breaks down Tuesday’s election results
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee political science professor Mordecai Lee provides his analysis on the results of the presidential and U.S. Senate elections in Wisconsin.
Frederica Freyberg: Wisconsin had big turnout at the polls, about 70% as projected. We have a new majority in state government. We now have one of the most liberal members of the US senate, alongside one of the most conservative. Wisconsin was in the center of the political universe this week and that was without a pot referendum. We dive into the election returns now with UW-Milwaukee professor of governmental affairs, Mordecai Lee. Professor, thanks a lot for being here. Mordecai Lee: Hi, Frederica. Frederica Freyberg: Well, now it seems like the big story of this presidential election anyway were, kind of, the demographics of it. According to the Pew research center, Mitt Romney had a white male vote locked up along with Independents, I understand, but Barack Obama won 80% of the nonwhite vote and held 60% of the youth vote. How do Republicans capture that nonwhite vote going forward? Mordecai Lee: Well, I think the national news media is making generalizations that seemingly apply to the whole country, but if we were to talk about Wisconsin, Wisconsin is not particularly diverse in terms of our Hispanic population, our African-American population. So I think if the Republican party in Wisconsin wants to succeed, it's not so much about appealing to, let's say minority populations. I think it's much more about having a message that sounds constructive and realistic and pragmatic, as opposed to a, kind of a, I've made up my mind already and you guys better vote for me. Frederica Freyberg: What about the white male vote? Do Democrats have some work to do on that? Mordecai Lee: There's no doubt about it, but I think what we have to remember about Wisconsin is that Wisconsin has one of the weakest party affiliation populations. In other words, in other states when you register to vote, you have to register your party affiliation, something that strikes Wisconsinites as violating their constitutional secrecy. But because we have open primaries, because we have no party registration, so many Wisconsinites view themselves as Independents. I'm comfortable sometimes voting for a Democrat, sometimes for a Republican. So I'm not sure that it's an issue of let's say having domination, dominance, with white males or something like that. I think it's appealing to people in the way that Tommy Thompson did when he was governor. Tommy Thompson was wonderful about winning the Independent middle, the so-called soccer mom, as well as soccer dads, but being, sort of, moderate and reasonable. And I think that's the secret to success in Wisconsin for the future. Frederica Freyberg: Well, so some of what you just said might explain how Wisconsin at the top of the ticket went for Barack Obama, but then maintained this Republican majority in the state legislature. Mordecai Lee: Yeah. You know, I love democracy. This is why we still hold elections. And I think this is a very typical Wisconsin result, that people were voting for Barack Obama and then Baldwin based on, I think we should say, based on the merits. In other words, they didn't say, well, if I'm going to vote for the Democratic candidate for president, then I feel obligated to vote for the Republican senate candidate simply to prove to myself that I'm Independent. So I think that was important. And also let's remember that this was the first presidential election without having straight party voting on the ballot. That was one of the minor details that got eliminated. And so after people voted for Obama, they no longer had the button vote Democratic, vote Republican. They were voting for Tammy Baldwin on purpose. By the time they got to the bottom of the ballot, I think they were comfortable then, switching to the other column, in a sense showing themselves that they were Independents. But I'd also like to emphasize that voting for president, voting for US senate is an abstraction. You don't really know these people. But voting for the state assembly, voting for the state senate, there's at least a one out of two chance that you’ve met that person, or you know somebody who knows them. So it's much more based on knowing them than merely party affiliation. Frederica Freyberg: One thing that really stood out to me in this election was the turnout. In Milwaukee, read that turnout in the city of Milwaukee was 87%. How stunning is that number? Mordecai Lee: That's really stunning because I think we have to remember the issue of propensity to vote. A higher person's income, education and age, the more likely they are to vote. The lower they are on the socioeconomic status; in other words, below average income, below average age, below average education, they're less likely to vote. In a sense the political miracle that the Obama campaign did is taking a layer of voters who have a lower propensity to vote and getting them to vote. That really was a stunning success. Frederica Freyberg: We just have about 30 seconds left. What kind of hope do you hold out that gridlock in Washington, or even bipartisanship in Wisconsin, will be something we can expect going forward? Mordecai Lee: The issue really becomes for the Tea Party within the Republican party, those sort of second-term members of congress who were elected in the Tea Party wave. To them the word compromise is a dirty word, and I think compromise has been a dirty word in Madison with Governor Walker and the Republican legislature. The key issue is whether the election will jar them off their moorings, and for them to understand that half a loaf is better than none. I just don’t like a world where no loaf is better than half a loaf. Frederica Freyberg: All right. Mordecai Lee, thanks very much. Mordecai Lee: Thank you, Frederica.