This is part 7 of the PredictWise series on congressional districts that are seen as competitive in the 2018 election according to PredictWise and Cook: The PredictWise Progressive Pendulum, with new entries coming right here on PredictWise every Tuesday. Instead of the ins-and-outs of the horse-race, this series sheds light on the ideological landscape in these districts. How do residents tick politically? What are their stances on the hot-button issues of the day, from immigration to gun regulation? How do they view traditional political fields, from taxation to healthcare? What role do environmental policies play in the mind of voters of these Districts? How does the Progressive Pendulum swing? Today, we will zoom in on the 1st Congressional District in Wisconsin.
WI-01: This district despises DC politics. If we move beyond disdain for beltway politicians, however, there are openings for democratic campaigning on healthcare and taxation, as well as regulation. High approval for President Trump mean that negative campaigns should best be avoided. This district sees Democrat Randy Bryce squaring off against Bryan Steil, after the retirement of Speaker of the House has thrust this district in the spotlight of media and forecasters alike.
This district encompasses an in area in southeastern Wisconsin, covering Kenosha County, Racine County, and most of Walworth County, as well as portions of Rock County, Waukesha County, and Milwaukee County. It is relatively wealthy, with a median annual household income of close to $70,000, paired with a very high college graduation rate of 44%, compared to the 32% at the national level. In terms of ethnicity, this district skews White, making up 82% of residents in this suburban district.
Media attention is guaranteed in this district, following incumbent (and House Majority leader) Paul Ryan’s surprise retirement announcement, that immediately thrust this Midwestern onto the list of most watched races for 2018. The primary battle on both sides already garnered some attention: On the one hand, Randy Bryce fought it out against Cathy Myers. While Bryce put himself on the map with a viral campaign ad produced by boutique New York production company Acres, he faced questions of past arrests for drug use and a DUI, and his past failures to pay child support. At the end, Bryce beat Myers handily. On the Republican side, the primary gained notoriety because of candidate Paul Nehlen, a self-described “pro-White Christian American candidate“. At the end, Bryan Steil, endorsed by Speaker Paul Ryan, won handily.
By all accounts, this race will be close, but potentially not as close as other races. First, this district has historically been very Republican: The Cook PVI – comparing a congressional district’s average Democratic or Republican Party share of the two-party presidential vote in the past two presidential elections to the national average share for those elections – is set at R+5. And, Cook rates this district as “Lean Republican” (as opposed to Republican toss-up). PredictWise registers Trump approval in this Wisconsin district, for which no public polling is available as of yet, at 52% – significantly higher than the 46% state average. And, our horse race projections have Bryce trailing by 25 percentage points. While there is some trending toward Bryce, it is very slight. Yet, the DCCC – the organization responsible for electing as many Democrats to the House of Representatives as possible – has added Bryce to the organization’s coveted Red to Blue list identifying the most amenable candidates in its efforts to flip the House, and has without a doubt done so on the basis of some additional non-public survey data.
Politically, Bryce supports Medicare for All, paid family leave, equal pay for equal work, expansion of early childhood education, tuition-free public colleges and universities and protecting Dreamers with a new law. Steil is running on protecting the Second Amendment, in favor of balanced budgets.
WI-01: DC be damned; but progressive at the core
The district of House Speaker Paul Ryan is fed up with politics and politicians writ large, that much is clear. 64% of all likely voters here disagree with the statement that “Washington DC works for me”. And, there is very little partisan difference on this question (67% of Democrats disagree, but also 62% of Republicans).
That does not necessarily include the scandal-ridden President – Trump approval is high (52%). But, this seems to be a derivative of a strong outside mentality in this district, in which about 20% of all residents are employed in manufacturing jobs. On healthcare, on taxation, even on elements of gun regulation, the heart of this Midwestern district beats progressive.
WI-01: Progressive on Healthcare; Taxation; Regulations
Randi Bryce’s progressive economic message is certainly resonating with likely voters here. Prime examples include taxation and healthcare: 66% of all voters believe that the government should pursue a universal healthcare system, guaranteeing healthcare to all people, and this includes very solid majorities of both, Democrats (66%) and Republicans (54%). Medicare for All, a variant of universal healthcare, that is front-and-center of Randy Bryce’s campaign platform, certainly resonates with likely voters in this Midwestern district.
Taxation is no different. A majority of likely voters here believe that the government should raise taxes on households with income of $250,000 or more. Again, this includes a majority of Republicans (45%, as opposed to 37% who believe Republicans should lower taxes on households with income over $250,000), and Democrats (61%).
Likely voters in this Midwestern district inhibit strong preferences for expanding regulations to protect public land and the environment. 67% of all voters, including 76% of likely voters affiliating with the Democratic party and 64% of likely voters affiliating with the Republican party, believe that government regulation of environmental pollution is necessary to protect the public interest.
WI-01: Sympathetic to Dreamers, Progressive on Elements of Gun Regulation, Mixed on Trade
Another key point of Randi Bryce’s campaign platform is comprehensive legislative protection for Dreamers. Again, that position resonates here. 52% of all voters believe that undocumented immigrants brought to the US as children who have jobs and no criminal record should have a pathway to citizenship – only 18% favor deportation. Among Republicans, 49% favor a pathway to citizenship, compared to only 24% who favor deportation (22% of Republicans favor allowing Dreamers to stay and work legally as a solution).
On gun regulation, this district is more mixed. But, when it comes to a federal registration of guns or gun owners, likely voters in this district think progressive. 65% of all voters believe that the right to own guns, without being subject to state or federal registration, should be restricted, and that number includes a sizable majority of both Democrats (76%) and Republicans (59%).
On trade, the political make-up of this district is likewise mixed. Somewhat surprisingly in light of threats by the European Union to retaliate against possible US tariffs on European goods by imposing tariffs on Wisconsin-made Harley Davidson, Wisconsinites residing in this districts are not too concerned about increased competition for domestic goods. When asked whether trade-offs in more and cheaper goods versus increased competition for domestic goods as a derivative of expanding free trade are worth it, majorities of all likely voters (50%), Democrats (52%), and Republicans (51%) agree.
But, free trade is seen less favorably when it touches upon issues related to immigration, such as border security. When asked whether trade-offs in more and cheaper goods versus increased stress on the border are worth it, a sizable fraction of overall voters (41%), Republicans (42%), and Democrats (40%) say that trade offs are not worth it. Of course, as we have pointed out before, only few Americans are passionate in their position on free trade.
WI-01: This district despises DC-politics, but hungers for healthcare, environmental regulation, and progressive taxation
In sum, there is no doubt that there are huge openings for progressives in this district. In about every issue falling on the economic dimension of the political space, this district skews left – be it healthcare, taxation, or regulation. Immigration here looks more mixed – Wisconsinites in this district show sympathy for dreamers, but are concerned about increased stress on the US border, for example through expanding free trade. And, negative ads directed against Trump should be avoided – a strong presidential approval of likely voters here likely mean such a campaign would backfire. The best advice we have for Randy Bryce is to run on the issues, and he seems to be doing exactly that!