When voters head to the polls in an election year, one issue usually tops all others.
“The economy, obviously,” rural Egg Harbor voter Bernadette Rainsford said. Her state of Wisconsin has enjoyed a lengthy period of economic growth.
“We’ve actually run into a bit of a bottleneck in the sense that we don’t have enough people to fill the jobs that we have,” said Steven Deller, economics professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, who says economic strength is good news for President Donald Trump’s re-election efforts in the state.
“There is a fair amount of research that suggests that an incumbent’s chances of re-election hinge on how the economy is doing. If the economy is doing well, then Trump has a very good chance of being re-elected,” Deller told VOA. “If the economy weakens, then all bets are off.”
In the 2016 presidential election, Donald Trump won Wisconsin by fewer than 30,000 votes — the first Republican to win the state since Ronald Reagan in 1984. Wisconsin led to an overall electoral victory, and is viewed as a critical battleground state in Trump’s 2020 bid for re-election. Democrats also consider Wisconsin key to their own successful bid for the White House.
A good economy not only helps Trump in his re-election bid in the state, it also boosts local Republican candidates like Scott Fitzgerald.
“The economy still seems to be expanding, and in Wisconsin we know it is, specifically light manufacturing, which has come back strong, which is one of the three big sectors in Wisconsin,” Fitzgerald said.
Fitzgerald is president of the Wisconsin state Senate. He’s also a Republican running for Congress in a district encompassing the suburbs of Milwaukee, currently held by Republican Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner.
Sensenbrenner, who has served in Congress since 1979 and has cast more than 23,000 votes, is among a growing number of Republicans leaving the chamber in the coming year.
While the district has typically supported Republicans, which bodes well for candidates like Fitzgerald, the 2020 presidential election is still a year away.
While Deller pointed to signs Wisconsin’s economy may be “slowing down,” a mostly rosy picture has emerged for the U.S. economy as a whole heading into 2020, including robust job creation, rising wages and a buoyant stock market.
Even so, some see economic warning signs in Wisconsin.
Despite low unemployment nationwide, the U.S. Labor Department reported Wisconsin has higher levels of unemployment this year compared to last year in almost every one of its 72 counties.
Wisconsin also leads the nation in family farm bankruptcies, a problem compounded by trade wars launched by the Trump administration.
Even the proposed $10 billion Taiwanese Foxconn technology plant on the Wisconsin-Illinois border, promoted by President Trump as locally and nationally transformative, has yet to live up to expectations that it would create more than 10,000 new jobs.
“There have been some changes in trade policy that is a reflection of Trump’s policies,” Deller said. “I think FoxConn has kind of sat back and said, ‘When we made the announcement, we kind of overhyped it,’ and now they are kind of scaling back and making a more reasonable investment.”
Given economic uncertainty, Fitzgerald hopes voters reject the impeachment process unfolding in Washington and punish Democrats for launching it.
“I think it [impeachment] is going to generate a lot of turnout in districts like this and obviously districts across the nation as the intensity from Republicans and Trump supporters is going to be there,” he told Voice of America before meeting with supporters at a campaign party. “Quite honestly, the Democrats must be questioning at some point whether or not they are kind of moving in the wrong direction.”
“That is motivating among his supporters,” said Charles Franklin, who is the director of the Marquette University Law School Poll, which gauges sentiment among Wisconsin voters monthly. “But it is also motivating in the other direction among Democrats who are so deeply opposed to him, so I don’t see that impeachment on net has much of an effect.”
Voter Bernadette Rainsford said regardless of the economy, she is backing a Democrat for president — former Vice President Joe Biden. Whatever happens with impeachment, she doubts she can sway the opinions of Republicans in her community.
“I’m not going to change their minds,” she said. “We’ll just have to let it play out.”
Wisconsin holds its primary election April 7. Democrats and Republicans across the state will vote for their respective party’s nominee in the November general election.