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Examining political leanings in Wis.

6 min read


Wisconsin is a key swing state in the presidential election. With 10 electoral votes up for grabs, it is a critical state for President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney to win. Since 1988, the state has voted Democrat in every presidential election. In 2008, Obama won 56% of the vote, compared with 42% for Sen. John McCain. Analysts aren’t too sure what will happen this time because polls show it is too close to call.

The map and data below tell the story of the demographic and political makeup of Wisconsin voters before the election. What will sway voters in this state? What do we know about them? We’ll be sure to check back after Nov. 6 to see what election results reveal.

General population statistics

The Badger State has slightly more than 5.7 million people. Its population is one of the least diverse in the country. Esri created the proprietary Diversity Index, which measures diversity on a scale of 0 to 100. The Diversity Index is defined as the likelihood that two people, selected at random from the same area, would belong to a different race or ethnic group. The Diversity Index for Wisconsin is 31.8. This compares with the U.S. Diversity Index of 61. Unsurprisingly, the percentage of Hispanics and blacks is lower in the state than in the overall U.S. population. Of adults in Wisconsin, 4.6% identify themselves as Hispanic and 5.5% identify themselves as black.

Here are some key demographic statistics about Wisconsin.

Demographic Variable



Median Age



% Male / % Female



Median Household Income



% Hispanic 18+ Population



% Black 18+ Population



Median Home Value



Sources: Esri Updated Demographics 2011/2016 and U.S. Census Bureau

Residents of Wisconsin are a little more conservative overall than the average American. Esri, the world leader in geographic-information systems, provides market-potential data that include the Market Potential Index. The index measures the probability that adults or households in a specific area will exhibit certain consumer behavior compared with the U.S. average. The index is tabulated to represent a value of 100 as the overall demand for the U.S.

Market Potential Variable


Consider self very conservative


Consider self somewhat conservative


Consider self middle of the road


Consider self somewhat liberal


Consider self very liberal


Sources: Esri GfK MRI

A resident of Wisconsin is 6% more likely than the average American to consider himself very conservative and 7% more likely to consider himself somewhat conservative. A resident of Wisconsin is 4% less likely than the average American to consider himself somewhat liberal and 9% less likely than the average American to consider himself very liberal.

Wisconsin politics Market Potential Index

Click on image to enlarge map.

Where people live in Wisconsin appears to somewhat sway their political leanings. There are few areas where people with liberal — or even middle-of-the-road — leanings dominate an area. For Democrats, it is important to know that the ZIP code with the highest likelihood of very liberal voters is 53203, which is in Milwaukee. The index for someone who considers himself very liberal is 293, meaning the person is 2.93 times more likely to consider himself more liberal than the average American. For Republicans, the most conservative ZIP code is 54816, which is in Benoit, a small, unincorporated area in northern Wisconsin. The index for very conservative people there is 156, meaning a resident is 1.56 times more likely than the average American to consider himself very conservative. There are many areas around the state, though, where a significant number of people consider themselves very conservative.

Tapestry Segmentation classifies Wisconsin neighborhoods

Esri also developed the Tapestry Segmentation system, which classifies U.S. residential neighborhoods into 65 market segments based on socioeconomic and demographic characteristics. The top tapestry segments for Wisconsin:

Tapestry Segment

% Adults

Green Acres


Salt of the Earth


Rustbelt Traditions


Midlife Junction


Sophisticated Squires


The most dominant tapestry segment in Wisconsin is Green Acres. Seventy-one percent of households in Green Acres neighborhoods are married couples with or without children. Many families are blue-collar baby boomers, many with children ages 6 to 17. The median age in this group is 42, with a median household income of $60,461. These residents live in pastoral settings of developing suburban fringe areas.

Map of Wisconsin by Tapestry Segmentation

Click on image to enlarge map.


One key factor in the election is unemployment. This is a figure that citizens have been watching carefully, and it greatly affects the economy. The unemployment rate not only varies immensely by state but also by county. When Obama was sworn in as president in January 2009, Wisconsin had an unemployment rate of 7.8%, the same as the national number. In August 2012, the latest data available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Wisconsin’s number had decreased to 7.1%, compared with 8.1% nationally. Of course, the rate for each county varies based on its individual situation.

Wisconsin unemployment change: January 2009 to July 2012

Click on image to enlarge map.

Most counties in Wisconsin have a higher unemployment rate than when Obama took office, though no county has had an increase of more than 2%. Taylor County, which is slightly northwest of the middle of the state, saw the biggest decrease. Its unemployment rate dropped 4.5 percentage points, from 12.3% to 7.8%, between January 2009 and July 2012. The labor force increased from 10,087 to 10,802, but the number of employed stayed about the same.

Menominee County, in northeast Wisconsin, saw the largest increase. Unemployment was 10.7% in January 2009 but 20.2% in July 2012. The county has a labor force of 1,652, which is about the same as in January 2009. About 100 jobs were lost in the past 3½ years.

Why does this matter?

Understanding the type of people who live in Wisconsin can help Obama and Romney target their campaigns and even messaging. Knowing local issues, the demographic makeup of an area, political leanings or what types of activities interest residents can help them find supporters — at a very local level — and help them be in a better position win the election.

More information about Esri’s data can be found at To learn more about Esri in general, go to

Pam Allison is a consultant in digital media, marketing strategy and location intelligence. Visit her blog at