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What could Dallet's SCOWIS victory mean for the Wisconsin Assembly?

A wide playing field

Wisconsin voters will elect representatives to all 99 of Wisconsin’s State Assembly seats in November. The chamber is currently split between 64 Republicans and 35 Democrats. Democrats, hoping to close the gap, are running candidates in 91 races. Republicans, on the other hand, are mainly just trying to maintain their super-majority; they are contesting 69 seats.

Democrats around the state were heartened by Rebecca’s Dallet’s victory in the April 2018 Wisconsin Supreme Court race.1 Dallet exceeded Clinton’s vote share almost everywhere. She won 20 Assembly districts held by Republicans–including 17 which Trump also won. Dallet also carried the two Democratic Assembly seats which voted for Trump in 2016 by a comfortable margin.

Will 2018 look like 2016 or be a 2012 redux?

Lots of national commentary has characterized the Democratic Party as facing a choice between wooing back Obama-Trump voters or continuing their pursuit of the more highly-educated suburban voters who shifted towards Clinton in 2016. The results from Rebecca Dallet’s successful Spring 2018 election suggests this may be a misleading dichotomy.

Notice how the graph below shows two parallel trends among the Republican districts. These two trends neatly reflect a basic division between Trump skeptical and Trump enthusiastic places. Trump enthusiastic places are those districts which gave Trump a higher vote share than Romney. Trump skeptical places did the opposite.

Republican Trump enthusiastic places shifted significantly toward Dallet. Here is the comparison of Dallet’s performance in Trump enthusiastic districts with the presidential vote in 2012 and 2016. Increases in Clinton and Obama’s vote shares are both significantly and independently associated with improvements in Dallet’s performance. The model’s intercept is 9.1%, meaning that Dallet would be expected to receive 9% of the vote in a district where Clinton and Obama both got 0%.2

Table 1: Dallet margin ~ Clinton margin + Obama margin (Trump enthusiastic districts
Estimate Std. Error t value Pr(>|t|)
(Intercept) 0.0914659 0.0173276 5.278617 0.0000014
ClintonMinusTrump 0.4156935 0.1174290 3.539956 0.0007162
ObamaMinusRomney 0.3954587 0.1285062 3.077351 0.0029804

Now consider the same regression model for Trump skeptical places. In these places the 2016 result is very predictive, and the 2012 result matters not at all. Across all Trump skeptical districts, a 1% increase in Clinton’s vote share correlates with a 1.36% increase in Dallet’s vote. The model’s intercept is practically zero.3

Table 2: Dallet margin ~ Clinton margin + Obama margin (Trump skeptical districts
Estimate Std. Error t value Pr(>|t|)
(Intercept) 0.0029006 0.0342479 0.0846938 0.9332377
ClintonMinusTrump 1.3559977 0.4120003 3.2912542 0.0031968
ObamaMinusRomney -0.2987572 0.3935343 -0.7591644 0.4554648


Rebecca Dallet’s campaign accomplished two significant things en route to her 11.5% victory.

  • First, she improved on Clinton’s struggles in the vast Trump enthusiastic parts of the state. Her performance looked closer to President Obama’s strong showing in 2012.
  • Second, she maintained Clinton’s improvement in the smaller–but politically crucial–Trump skeptical areas. Clinton overperformed Obama in these places, and Dallet mostly maintained that momentum.

Dallet didn’t win by choosing between the suburbs or the more Trump-friendly outstate. She won by doing well in them both. It remains to be seen if the much higher turnout November midterms will resemble this spring nonpartisan race. But sometimes, when you’re an outsider running against an unpopular incumbent party, you can have your cake and eat it too.

  1. Although Supreme Court races are nominally nonpartisan, both the state Republican and Democratic parties openly supported their respective candidates.

  2. The adjusted R^2 is 0.8893

  3. The adjusted R^2 is 0.9348