Disapproval, discontent, and uncertainty: Marquette expert observers describe 2024 election dynamics

On the one hand, “a year is forever in politics,” so don’t panic about where you think the party and candidates you favor are standing this far from the November 2024 national election.

On the other hand, there is a strong prospect of an unprecedented presidential election between Democratic President Joe Biden and Republican former President Donald Trump in a time of great discontent around politics, and standard understandings of political dynamics may not apply.

And some of the things going on politics – such as former Trump Cabinet members becoming opponents and critics of Trump – are not easy to explain.

So the outlook for the 2024 election for president is complex, fascinating, and uncertain, in the view of three nationally respected political observers, each with ties to Marquette University, who took part in an “On the Issues” program Nov. 29, 2023, in the Lubar Center of Marquette Law School.

The three statements at the start of this blog post summarize thoughts from, respectively, Professor Charles Franklin, director of the Marquette Law School Poll; Craig Gilbert, a fellow at the Marquette Law School Lubar Center for Public Policy Research and Civic Education; and Marquette Professor Julia Azari, a political scientist who is quoted frequently in national discussions on politics.   

“A Trump-Biden matchup would be so unprecedented,” said Gilbert, formerly the Washington bureau chief of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. An incumbent president against a former president is not the only reason for saying that. The ages of the candidates, especially widely held perceptions of Biden being too old, and the large negative ratings of both candidates are also factors.

“We live in an era of chronic disapproval and discontent,” Gilbert said. “Everybody ‘s unpopular and everybody’s unhappy. Who’s happy?”

Franklin said a good reason to pay attention to poll results at this point – and the Marquette Law School Poll released both national and Wisconsin results recently – is not to predict how elections a year from now will turn out. It is to see how races are shaping up and, in the long run, to be able to understand more about the course that leads to final outcomes.

The race for the Republican nomination is dominated now by Trump, Franklin said, but Nikki Haley, the ambassador to the United Nations while Trump was president, does better than Trump in head-to-head match-ups against Biden. Franklin said Republican voters are split, with about 70% having favorable opinions of Trump and 30% having unfavorable opinions. Even if Haley looks strong against Biden, overcoming Trump within the Republican race will be a big challenge for her. “You’ve got to get the nomination to become the nominee,” Franklin said.

Azari said that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis was positioning himself as “Trump-plus” and Haley as “Trump-light” in appealing to voters, while former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was running as the anti-Trump. Support for DeSantis has been slipping, Christie is not gaining momentum, and Haley has become the alternative to Trump getting the most attention among Republicans.

Gilbert said about 20% of voters are “double haters,” with negative opinions of both Trump and Biden. They could become important in shaping the race, as could voters who have a somewhat negative opinion of Biden but who might vote for him in a match against Trump.

Looking to Wisconsin, Gilbert said voting patterns in the state have changed significantly in the past couple decades. The “WOW counties” — Waukesha, Ozaukee and Washington Counties, adjacent to Milwaukee County – were long-time Republican bastions, but Republican margins have grown smaller in recent elections. Some rural parts of Wisconsin used to be more “purple,” with Democrats sometimes doing well, but have become increasingly “red” and supportive of Trump. And Dane County, including Madison, has continued to gain population and increase in its power as a  Democratic bastion. “It’s a different map” than it was 20 or 20 years ago when it comes to analyzing Wisconsin voting, he said.

Azari said Trump continues to appeal to “low-propensity voters” who are less likely to vote usually but are more likely to turn out for Trump. Many of them are in more rural parts of Wisconsin.

Franklin said that how much Trump voters will mobilize in 2024 is likely to be an important part of determining the election outcome.

Derek Mosley, director of the Lubar Center and moderator of the program, asked the three what had made Senator Tammy Baldwin, a Democrat, such a strong candidate for re-election in Wisconsin in 2024. Azari said Baldwin “has avoided becoming a national lightening rod” for conservatives. Gilbert said that in her Senate victories in 2012 and 2018, Baldwin did better in Republican-oriented parts of the state than other Democrats. Losing some areas by smaller than expected margins should not be underestimated as a valuable part of winning Wisconsin as a whole, he said. And Franklin said that, even though no major Republican candidate for Senate has joined the race so far, it is not too late for that to happen and the Wisconsin race could still heat up.   

The conversation may be viewed by clicking below.

Continue ReadingDisapproval, discontent, and uncertainty: Marquette expert observers describe 2024 election dynamics

Crossover voting is uncommon, even in Wisconsin’s wide-open primaries

In some states, only officially registered members are allowed to vote in a party’s primary. Not so in Wisconsin, which lacks any kind of party registration and where voters can choose to cast a ballot in whichever primary they please. They must pick only one, but all the party primaries—Republican, Democratic, Libertarian, Green, etc.—are all printed on a single ballot.

The main argument for closed primaries is that they prevent crossover voting, particularly party raiding. Party raiding refers to members of a different party disingenuously casting ballots in another party’s primary, thereby thwarting the will of the target party’s actual members.

Despite these fears, existing research shows that crossover voting is uncommon. When it does happen, it’s usually “simply because [crossover voters] prefer those candidates to the candidates offered in their own party’s primary, or they view their own party primary as a foregone conclusion and want the best possible set of candidates to choose from in the general election.” Deliberate party raiding, almost never matters.

Wisconsin is a good place to measure crossover voting, since our election system offers no obstacles to voters doing this. Data from the Marquette Law School Poll is consistent with the existing research showing little-to-no meaningful amount of crossover voting. I last wrote about this in 2019. Here is an update.

Because there are so few crossover voters, I pooled several survey waves preceding each election to calculate the following statistics. I don’t include statistics from the 2022 primary because we didn’t intended primary participation in a comparable way.

The April 2016 primary vote in Wisconsin was still contested among both Democratic and Republican presidential hopefuls. In surveys leading up to that election, about 2% of self-identified Republicans and 3% of Democrats told us they planned to vote in the other party’s primary.

Similarly, the 2018 August partisan primary featured a competitive gubernatorial contest between Democrats and a contested Senate primary among Republicans. Less than 2% of the self-reported members of either party planned to crossover to the other party’s primary.

In both 2016 and 2018, the shares of each party planning to vote in the other primary were statistically indiscernible. That’s not true of 2020, when clearly more Republicans voted in the Democratic presidential primary than vice versa. This isn’t surprising, given that the Democratic presidential primary was competitive, while the Republican primary to renominate incumbent Donald Trump was a formality.

Across the six survey waves we fielded preceding the 2020 primary, we found that about 5% of Republicans planned to vote in the Democratic primary, compared to just 2% of Democrats planning to vote in the Republican primary.

plot showing the proportion of each party's voters planning to vote in the other party's primary

It would be a mistake to assume that these crossover voters are engaging in strategic “party raiding.” It’s more likely that the small numbers of voters who identify with one party but choose to switch primaries are expressing a sincere preference between the other party’s candidates.

In the graph below, I’ve pooled the responses across all three primaries, 2016, 2018, and 2020. For both Democrats and Republicans, I calculate their average self-described ideology on a scale of 1 to 5, where 1 is “very conservative” and 5 is “very liberal.”

Democrats who plan to vote in the Republican party are noticeably more conservative than Democrats who are staying in their own primary. Likewise, Republicans crossing to the Democratic party are less conservative than Republicans staying in their own primary.

The average self-reported ideology of Republican and Democratic primary crossover voters are so similar to each other that they are statistically indistinguishable in this sample.

plot showing the average self-reported ideology by preferred primary

In 2020, slightly more Republicans intended to be crossover voters than Democrats, presumably because the Democratic presidential primary was more interesting. Depending on the outcomes from the first series of state primaries, the situation may be reversed in 2024.

Continue ReadingCrossover voting is uncommon, even in Wisconsin’s wide-open primaries

The median household income of Hmong immigrants in Wisconsin now exceeds the state average

The typical household income for a Hmong immigrant to Wisconsin now slightly exceeds the state average, recent census data shows.[i] This follows a dramatic rise in incomes among Hmong immigrant families over the past three decades.

Most Hmong immigrants arrived in the United States during the 1980s, as part of the refugee resettlement program. Like most refugees, they reached America with little besides themselves. In 1990, the median Hmong immigrant household reported a total income of $25,000 (in 2022, inflation-adjusted dollars). This was over 60% less than the state median of $64,000.

By 2000, the average Hmong immigrant’s household income was 12% of the state median. The gap further narrowed by the end of the decade, with the statewide estimate falling within the margin of error for Hmong families.

In the latest census data, collected between 2017 and 2021, the median household income for Hmong immigrants stands at $83,000, compared to $73,000 statewide. This difference is statistically significant, exceeding the 90% confidence interval for each estimate.

dot chart showing the median household income of Hmong immigrant households in Wisconsin compared to the statewide average, 1980-2021

The first large wave of Hmong refugee resettlement in the 1980s was followed by a wave of negative media portrayals. Wausau, Wisconsin, became a national touchpoint. In 1994, the Atlantic Monthly published a widely-read 6-thousand-word article “The Ordeal of Immigration in Wausau.” 60 Minutes ran a segment on the same theme.

Wisconsin reporter Rob Mentzer, revisited the piece in 2014, writing:

“Twenty years later, though, even the Atlantic Monthly piece seems not so much prescient as dated. Its predictions didn’t come true, and it’s shot through with a sense of racial anxiety — southeast Asians are taking over this fine white city — that feels gross.

The author of the piece, Roy Beck, achieved national fame from it, and its publication set him on a career path that would make him arguably the nation’s leading anti-immigration voice, as founder and director of the advocacy group NumbersUSA. In a profile this month, The New York Times called him “perhaps the most powerful member of the small but vocal movement that has helped scuttle every effort at an immigration overhaul for nearly two decades.”

Hmong Wisconsinites have continued to face challenges, as an Atlantic article by Doualy Xaykaothao, “To Be Both Midwestern and Hmong,” described in 2016. But it is simply not the case that Hmong people have failed to thrive in places like Wausau. On the contrary, the average household income of Hmong immigrants has more than tripled over the past 30 years, now exceeding the state average for all residents.


[i] The Census Bureau does not publish estimates of household income by reported ancestry. I calculated statistics for Hmong immigrant households using census microdata retrieved from IPUMS USA at the University of Minnesota. I define a Hmong immigrant household as any household in which a foreign-born person reporting Hmong ancestry resides. I adjust each year’s data for inflation using the CPI-U-RS All Items time series.

Continue ReadingThe median household income of Hmong immigrants in Wisconsin now exceeds the state average