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Why pivot counties are critical for the 2020 election

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Pivot Counties Map Screenshot 10-28-2020
2016 Presidential Election Results
2016 Presidential Election Results from respective county clerks
2012 Presidential Election Resutls
2012 Presidential Election Results from respective county clerks
2008 Presidential Election Results
2008 Presidential Election Results from respective county clerks

(WQOW) - We're just days away from the 2020 presidential election, and the outcome of it could possibly lie in the hands of just 206 counties nationwide, which have flipped between voting Democrat and Republican in recent elections.

23 of those counties are in Wisconsin, and five surround Eau Claire.

In 2016, the 23 pivot counties in Wisconsin voted for Republican Donald Trump after voting for Democrat Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012. Here in the Chippewa Valley, Dunn, Buffalo, Jackson, Pepin and Trempealeau are considered pivot counties.

"Given the last election, it was about 2,000 votes different between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.  Some of those votes were coming from these counties that we call pivot counties," said Kim Zagorski, a political science professor and chair of the social science department at UW-Stout.

More than 11,000 Dunn County residents voted for Donald Trump in 2016 versus about 9,000 for Hillary Clinton. However, Obama won the county in both 2008 and 2012.

Although it's not a guarantee, Zagorski said past electoral behavior could help predict how counties like Dunn will sway in 2020.

"We could look at how those counties voted in the gubernatorial elections to give us an idea because when we're looking at how the governor is elected, it's a popular vote," Zagorski said.

But why does Wisconsin have so many of these areas?

Zagorski believes part of the reason for the 2016 flip was due to people's support for former Governor Scott Walker.

"Kind of that feeling that if we're not in southeastern Wisconsin, if we're not Milwaukee, if we're not Madison, how much political power and interest are we having?  I think in 2016, Trump was really able to tap into that state level dissatisfaction that we're seeing," Zagorski said.

According to Ballotpedia, Trump collectively won these pivot counties by more than 580,000 votes in 2016 with an average margin of victory around 11 percent.

Of course, we won't know exactly how these pivot counties will vote until next Tuesday.

News 18 will have full coverage of the races and will be tracking these counties' results on election night.

Katrina Lim

Katrina Lim joined the News 18 team in August 2019 as a multimedia journalist. She was born and raised in Jersey City, New Jersey but has lived in all time zones of the contiguous U.S.A.

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