Biden vs. Trump in Wisconsin: The Crucial Fox Valley, a Massive Lead With Moderates, the Gender Gap, and More

In the latest Marquette University Law School Poll: Breaking down Biden vs. Trump, the divergent views of Wisconsin men and women, Republican mask outrage, and broadly popular Democratic policies.

The Recombobulation Area is a weekly opinion column by veteran Milwaukee journalist Dan Shafer. Learn more about it here.


Photo via Joe Biden on Facebook.


Wisconsin might be the most important state in the 2020 presidential election, and the Marquette University Law School Poll is the state’s gold standard of measuring where voters stand, so here at The Recombobulation Area, each new poll is going to be monitored closely. See the breakdown of the May poll here and the June poll here.

Quick note: This time, the poll looked at “likely” voters in addition to “registered” voters, and that’s what I’ll be focusing on here. 


There’s less than three months until Election Day. Let’s dive into the poll.

Biden vs. Trump: The Fox Valley is Wisconsin’s most important swing region

As he does in most states, former Vice President Joe Biden holds a lead over President Donald Trump in Wisconsin. The new Marquette University Law School Poll, the first released since June, puts Biden up by a five-point margin — 49% to 44% — in the race for Wisconsin’s extremely important 10 electoral votes. 

Of course, in Wisconsin, where three of the last five presidential campaigns were decided by less than one percent, this race is far from over. Wisconsin will remain on the short-list of up-for-grabs states until all the votes are counted in November. FiveThirtyEight today identified it as the tipping point state to decide the election.

So within this swingiest of swing states, what are the areas to focus on as this campaign unfolds?

In past breakdowns, I looked at the Biden-Trump matchup by age, region, and gender.

Region remains among the most fascinating ways to look at this race.

Columns from left to right: Biden, Trump, Neither, Don’t know, subsample size

Many tend to overlook the region, but the Fox Valley and the Green Bay/Appleton media market could very well decide this election. Biden has a five-point lead in the region now, but numbers there have vacillated. 

Among registered voters, Biden went from 37 percent in May to 55 percent in June. Biden 50 - Trump 45 with likely voters in August means this will be a hotly contested race in that part of the state for the next 83 days. 

The Green Bay/Fox Valley region has certainly drifted to the right over the past decade. It’s currently represented by two Republican congressmen (Mike Gallagher in the 8th, Glenn Grothman in the 6th), and every county went for Trump in 2016. However, it’s also part of the state where Democratic Senator Tammy Baldwin has been successful. She won a majority of votes in Winnebago and Door counties both times she was on the ballot, and carried Outagamie and Brown counties in her decisive 10-point re-election victory over Leah Vukmir in 2018. Biden’s campaign has signaled its desire to follow Baldwin’s path to victory in Wisconsin.

Trump’s overall approval rating is also under water in the Green Bay/Fox Valley region. He’s at 44 percent approve, 55 percent disapprove, and his handling of the coronavirus — sure to be the defining issue of this election — is at just 35 percent approve, 64 percent disapprove in the region. 

In comparison, Democratic governor Tony Evers has a 62 percent overall approval rating (36% disapprove) in the region, and his handling of the coronavirus is above that, at 64 percent approve (33% disapprove).

Votes in places like Oshkosh and Appleton and Neenah and De Pere are going to be extremely important. These cities don’t fit cleanly into a “suburban” or “rural” category, and that’s part of what makes the region hard to pin down and evaluate. Overlooking this aspect of the Midwest can be a common mistake, but it’s a crucially important part of understanding this part of the country.

With Wisconsin’s distinction as the tipping point state, voters in the Valley could be the ones to determine the outcome of the entire 2020 presidential election. No pressure.

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Biden vs. Trump: Biden holds the center

In addition to fighting for votes in the Fox Valley, the Biden campaign is also clearly focused on bringing moderates from both sides of the aisle to his side.

He’s succeeding in that goal in Wisconsin (so far). 

Independent voters:
Biden: 49
Trump: 37

Moderates:
Biden: 62
Trump: 27

That margin with moderates is massive. It’s one thing to lead with moderates. It’s quite another to lead by a 35-point margin. Many Wisconsinites consider themselves to be independent, or belonging to the political center. If Biden carries the moderate vote by that kind of margin, it’s going to be tough for Trump to overcome, even with his continued strong support with “very conservative” voters. 

Columns from left to right: Biden, Trump, Neither, Don’t know, subsample size

Still, it’s not unreasonable to expect some more Republican leaning voters to return home to support their party’s candidate as the campaign nears its endgame. So too, could Biden face challenges in turning out the slightly-less-supportive “very liberal” wing of the big-tent Democratic Party. But if Biden holds the center with overwhelming numbers like these, that could mean victory in Wisconsin. 

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There’s a huge divide between men and women in Wisconsin

One of the biggest across-the-board divides in this poll is the canyon that divides men and women voters in Wisconsin. On nearly every issue, there is a huge divide between the views of men and women.

A few examples.

On the presidential election:

Men:
Biden: 40%
Trump: 53%

Women:
Biden: 57%
Trump: 37%

On Donald Trump:

Men: 
Approve: 54%
Disapprove: 44%

Women:
Approve: 37%
Disapprove: 61%

On Tony Evers:

Men: 
Approve: 50%
Disapprove: 46%

Women:
Approve: 63%
Disapprove: 32%

On the Black Lives Matter movement:

Men: 
Favorable: 39%
Unfavorable: 48%

Women:
Favorable: 57%
Unfavorable: 30%

On if we should “keep schools and businesses open even if coronavirus cases rise”:

Men: 
Agree: 49%
Disagree: 45%

Women:
Agree: 37%
Disagree: 57%

On schools reopening:

Men: 
Comfortable: 51%
Uncomfortable: 43%

Women:
Comfortable: 42%
Uncomfortable: 51%

On supporting “tax-funded vouchers to be used for private or religious schools”:

Men: 
Agree: 46%
Disagree: 46%

Women:
Agree: 36%
Disagree: 53%

On raising the minimum wage to $15/hour:

Men: 
Agree: 49%
Disagree: 47%

Women:
Agree: 61%
Disagree: 35%

On enacting a “Green New Deal”:

Men: 
Agree: 33%
Disagree: 43%

Women:
Agree: 43%
Disagree: 27%

Not only will women be key to Democratic victory in Wisconsin, their views are driving some of the most important policy and public perception shifts in the state. 

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The Mask Debate is a losing battle for Republicans

Following Gov. Evers executive order requiring masks, legislative Republicans threw quite the tantrum, with one state representative likening the elected governor issuing a public health order to that of a “dictator,” spouting ridiculous falsehoods about masks, and obliviously saying “It is simply not the government’s role to tell you to wear a piece of fabric.” 

Scott Fitzgerald, the Senate Majority Leader and Republican congressional candidate for the 5th District, threatened to bring the legislature into session for the first time in more than 100 days to “end the governor’s order.” That was two weeks ago now, and the legislature has not done anything during that time. Republican representative Adam Neylon of Pewaukee signaled on WISN’s “UpFront” over the weekend that legislative Republicans don’t have the votes to overturn the governor’s mask mandate. 

Perhaps this is why: Republicans are split on mask requirements. 

Overall, masks have overwhelming support. Nearly 70 percent of voters surveyed agree that masks should be required in all public places. This does split on party lines, with just 37 percent of Republicans in favor and 59 percent opposed to the mask requirements, but that margin tightens when moving to the ideological center.

Columns from left to right: Agree with mask requirement, Disagree, Don’t know, subsample size

Liberal support for masks is about as unanimous as it gets. Moderates support the requirement by a huge margin. Not insignificant margins of conservatives, even about a third of “very conservative” voters, are in favor of the mask requirements. Granted, that hasn’t stopped the increasingly far-right legislature from siding with the extremists within the party before. But perhaps now they’re seeing how damaging it would be for their lone vote on an issue relating to the coronavirus since wrestling control of the state’s response from the governor and health secretary to be one that would not fight the spread of coronavirus. 

Also of note here: High margins of pro-mask voters don’t just reside in more urban areas like Milwaukee and Madison. The “Rest of MKE” suburbs (64%-34%), Green Bay/Fox Valley (71%-27%), and “Rest of state” voters (62%-35%) are all quite supportive of this very simple public health measure. 

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Democratic policies are broadly popular in Wisconsin

Here’s a list of policies with majority support in the state (with % support):

  • Require coverage of preexisting conditions: 92% 

  • Path to citizenship for DREAMers: 80%

  • Require 12-weeks paid maternity leave: 74%

  • $15 minimum wage: 55%

There’s also significant margins of opposition to repealing Obamacare, limiting legal immigration, and using taxpayer funds for private or religious school vouchers. On the issues, policies advocated for and proposed by Democratic elected officials have strong support. 

Wisconsin is among the most gerrymandered states in the country, particularly in the State Assembly. There’s minority rule pushing minority viewpoints and policies in Wisconsin. It’s more than just Wisconsin is a purple state and that Republicans have won recent elections. It’s that the system is crafted so that conservative policies don’t face opposition that is very clearly present. People are clearly not being heard.  

Be sure to fill out your census, register to vote, and keep putting pressure on your legislators. 


Dan Shafer is a journalist from Milwaukee who writes and publishes The Recombobulation Area. He previously worked at Seattle Magazine, Seattle Business Magazine, the Milwaukee Business Journal, Milwaukee Magazine, and BizTimes Milwaukee. He’s also written for The Daily Beast, WisPolitics, and Milwaukee Record.


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