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UWEC expert explains importance of political geography in the election

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your voice your vote 2020

EAU CLAIRE (WQOW)- Over the last decade, Wisconsin has seen a shift in political standing. President Trump won the state in 2016, the first presidential election win by a Republican since 1984, and one expert says Trump needs to replicate his 2016 performance to have a chance to win again.

While both presidential candidates looked to gain support in larger municipalities, local experts say rural votes are critical in determining the winner of the presidency.

In 2016, Hillary Clinton won much of the votes in urban Wisconsin areas like Milwaukee, Madison and Eau Claire, but rural voters helped propel President Trump to victory.

In 2012, President Obama dominated much of the state vote in both rural and urban areas, boosting him to a margin of victory of nearly 7%.

UW-Eau Claire political geographer Ryan Weichelt says pulling in rural voters in small districts could be the key to winning the state, and the election as a whole.

"When elections are as close as they have been in the state of Wisconsin, it's looking at these little individual voting districts, and Trump was very successful in 2016 at grabbing five votes in one district, seven votes from another, eight votes from another, and compared to previous elections, when you start aggregating those up, that's when you start seeing elections change," Weichelt said.

Many municipalities surrounding Eau Claire voted for Trump in 2016, some by very small margins, and Weichelt says even a slight increase in voter turnout among Democrats in rural areas could flip an entire county in Biden's favor.

Both Trump and Biden spent time in the Badger State ahead of the election as last-ditch efforts to sway undecided Wisconsin voters, but Weichelt says their campaign efforts may have done the opposite.

President Trump most recently made stops in Green Bay, West Salem and Waukesha, while Biden spent time in Milwaukee last week. Weichelt says campaign efforts across the state were pivotal for the Trump campaign to flip the state, but this year, the efforts could have less of an impact swaying voters due to safety concerns surrounding the pandemic.

"It's important to show you care about the state," Weichelt said. "Hillary Clinton never showed up and that hurt her, Biden has showed up a few times, so it has an impact, but not as great of an impact in 2020 as it did in 2016."

Weichelt says Trump's large rallies despite the pandemic could turn voters against him, while Biden's lesser efforts to campaign in Wisconsin compared to Trump could do the same for Democrats. Campaign efforts could still have slight impacts in certain regions of the state, including the Milwaukee area where both candidates made stops in recent weeks.

Weichelt believes President Trump's visit to Eau Claire just days before the 2016 election was key for his success in the Chippewa Valley, but he is interested in how the votes will fall this time around, as neither candidate made stops in the area during their campaigns.

Evan Hong

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