Go to HHH home page.
Smart Politics
 


History Says Barrett Win in Wisconsin Governor's Race Hinges on Feingold Victory

Bookmark and Share

Democrats have never won a gubernatorial election in Wisconsin when they have lost their U.S. Senate race

A general rule of thumb when anticipating results on Election Day is that the race at the top of the ticket in a state will frequently dictate what happens in contests further down the ballot.

But when it comes to gubernatorial elections in Wisconsin, there has been a different calculus at work.

A Smart Politics analysis of historical election returns in Wisconsin finds that Democratic gubernatorial candidates have lost every election since 1914 in which the Democratic U.S. Senate candidate did not prevail - 15 out of 15 races.

This does not bode well for Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett (pictured above), who is seeking to extend the Democratic winning streak for the governorship of the Badger State to three consecutive elections - for the first time since 1958, 1960, and 1962 - as well as set the record for years of continuous Democratic control of the governorship in the state.

The eight consecutive years of Democratic control in Wisconsin through outgoing governor Jim Doyle's term in January 2011 will tie the longest such stretch in the Party's history, along with Patrick Lucey's eight-year reign from 1971-1979.

Barrett has trailed his likely November opponent, Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker, in each of the dozen non-partisan polls conducted so far this year. Walker faces former U.S. Representative Mark Neumann in the state's September 14th GOP primary.

The historical data suggests Barrett will want to doubly cross his fingers that fellow Democrat Russ Feingold wins a fourth term in his U.S. Senate matchup against Republican Ron Johnson.

(Johnson has enjoyed a slim single-digit advantage, within the poll's margin of error, in each of the last four Rasmussen surveys dating back to mid-July).

Since popular vote U.S. Senate elections began in 1914, Democrats have lost gubernatorial elections in every cycle in which the Democratic U.S. Senate candidate also lost: in 1916, 1918, 1920, 1922, 1926, 1928, 1934, 1938, 1940, 1944, 1946, 1950, 1952, 1956, and 1986.

However, that does not mean that a Democratic U.S. Senate victory is a guarantee for success in the gubernatorial race, although the odds have been more favorable.

Democrats have won both offices in seven election cycles: 1932, 1958, 1962, 1970, 1974, 1982, and 2006.

But on five occasions, Democrats have won their U.S. Senate race and still lost the governorship: 1914, 1964, 1968, 1994, and 1998.

Democrats have not fared much better in the race for governor during Class II U.S. Senate election cycles when Wisconsin does not have a Senate contest on the ballot.

In these cycles, Democratic gubernatorial candidates have won just two races and lost nine, notching their only victories in 1960 with Gaylord Nelson and 2002 with Jim Doyle.

Fate of Wisconsin Democratic Gubernatorial Candidates vis-à-vis Performance of Democratic U.S. Senate Candidates, 1914-2006

U.S. Senate
Gov. Won
Gov. Loss
Total
Won
7
5
12
Loss
0
15
15
Not on ballot
2
9
11
Data compiled by Smart Politics.

The good news for Feingold, however, is that if Barrett's campaign gains traction, he might be on his way to a much easier path to victory.

And that is because on no occasion has the Democratic Party won a governor's race in Wisconsin and lost the U.S. Senate race that same cycle.

Democratic gubernatorial victories in 1932, 1958, 1962, 1970, 1974, 1982, and 2006 were all met with victories for the party in the U.S. Senate race as well.

Looking deeper into the numbers over the last several decades, it becomes apparent that Democratic U.S. Senate candidates have consistently performed better than their Democratic colleagues at the top of the ticket - either presidential or gubernatorial candidates.

Since 1950, Democratic Senate candidates in Wisconsin have both won a higher percentage of the popular vote as well as a higher margin of victory (or lower margin of loss) than Democratic nominees in top of the ticket races in 19 of 20 election cycles.

Overall, such Senate candidates have won an average of 56.0 percent of the vote, compared to just 47.3 percent for Democratic presidential or gubernatorial candidates that same cycle - or an 8.7-point better performance than the top of the ticket.

The only election cycle since 1950 in which a Democratic U.S. Senate nominee fared worse than the top of the ticket was in 1964, when William Proxmire won his third term with 53.3 percent of the vote.

Lyndon Johnson carried the Badger State that November with 62.1 percent against Barry Goldwater.

Democratic candidates have also averaged a +15.0-point higher margin of victory (or lower margin of loss) across these twenty election cycles vis-à-vis their top of the ticket Democratic brethren.

Performance of Wisconsin Democratic U.S. Senators vis-à-vis Top of the Ticket Democratic Candidates, 1950-2006

Year
US Senate
Top of ticket
Vote diff.
MoV diff.
2006
67.3
52.7 (G)
14.6
30.4
2004
55.4
49.7 (P)
5.7
10.9
2000
61.5
47.8 (P)
13.7
24.3
1998
50.5
38.7 (G)
11.8
23.1
1994
58.3
30.9 (G)
27.4
53.9
1992
52.6
41.2 (P)
11.4
2.2
1988
52.1
51.4 (P)
0.7
1.0
1986
47.4
46.2 (G)
1.2
3.0
1982
63.6
56.8 (G)
6.8
14.6
1980
48.3
43.2 (P)
5.1
2.8
1976
72.2
49.4 (P)
22.8
43.6
1974
61.8
53.2 (G)
8.6
14.9
1970
70.8
54.2 (G)
16.6
33.0
1968
61.7
44.3 (P)
17.4
27.0
1964
53.3
62.1 (P)
-8.8
-19.7
1962
52.6
50.4 (G)
2.2
4.4
1958
57.1
51.6 (G)
5.5
11.2
1956
41.2
37.8 (P)
3.4
6.4
1952
45.6
38.7 (P)
6.9
13.7
1950
46.19
46.15 (G)
0.04
-0.1
Average
56.0
47.3
8.7
15.0
Last column denotes the difference between the margin of victory or margin of loss for Democrats in the race for U.S. Senate and governor. Data compiled by Smart Politics from State of Wisconsin Blue Book.

And there's even more data to suggest Barrett will need Feingold to win a healthy majority on Election Day if he is to keep the governorship in the Democratic column.

During the last 14 election cycles since 1950 in which U.S. Senate and gubernatorial elections in Wisconsin have been held in the same year, Democratic Senate candidates have outperformed gubernatorial candidates in 13 of them - winning an average of 8.2 points more of the popular vote.

The exception was in 1956, when Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Henry Maier won just 41.2 percent of the vote in his loss to three-term GOP incumbent Alexander Wiley.

In the open seat gubernatorial race, William Proxmire won 48.1 percent of the vote in defeat to Vernon Thomson. This marked the third consecutive gubernatorial election loss for Proxmire before he would shift his political ambitions to the U.S. Senate - later winning a 1957 special election after the death of GOPer Joe McCarthy.

Performance of Wisconsin Democratic U.S. Senators vis-à-vis Democratic Gubernatorial Candidates, 1950-2006

Year
US Senate
Governor
Vote diff.
MoV diff
2006
67.3
52.7
14.6
30.4
1998
50.5
38.7
11.8
23.1
1994
58.3
30.9
27.4
53.9
1986
47.4
46.2
1.2
3.0
1982
63.6
56.8
6.8
14.6
1974
61.8
53.2
8.6
14.9
1970
70.8
54.2
16.6
33.0
1968
61.7
46.8
14.9
29.5
1964
53.3
49.4
3.9
5.9
1962
52.6
50.4
2.2
4.4
1958
57.1
51.6
5.5
11.2
1956
41.2
48.1
-6.9
-13.6
1952
45.6
37.3
8.3
16.6
1950
46.19
46.15
0.04
-0.1
Average
55.5
43.6
8.2
16.2
Last column denotes the difference between the margin of victory or margin of loss for Democrats in the race for U.S. Senate and governor. Data compiled by Smart Politics from State of Wisconsin Blue Book.

Follow Smart Politics on Twitter.

Previous post: What are the Most Partisan Cities in Minnesota for U.S. House Campaign Contributions?
Next post: Labor Day Special: Is Jim Thome the Most Productive Player on the Minnesota Twins?

Leave a comment


Remains of the Data

Strange Bedfellows: A Historical Review of Divided US Senate Delegations

Over the last century, states have been twice as likely to be represented by a single political party in the U.S. Senate than have a split delegation; only Delaware, Iowa, and Illinois have been divided more than half the time.

Political Crumbs

Haugh to Reach New Heights

The North Carolina U.S. Senate race between Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan and Republican Thom Tillis may go down to the wire next Tuesday, but along the way Libertarian nominee Sean Haugh is poised to set a state record for a non-major party candidate. Haugh, who previously won 1.5 percent of the vote in the Tar Heel State's 2002 race, has polled at or above five percent in 10 of the last 12 polls that included his name. The current high water mark for a third party or independent candidate in a North Carolina U.S. Senate election is just 3.3 percent, recorded by Libertarian Robert Emory back in 1992. Only one other candidate has eclipsed the three percent mark - Libertarian Christopher Cole with 3.1 percent in 2008.


Gubernatorial Highs and Lows

Two sitting governors currently hold the record for the highest gubernatorial vote ever received in their respective states by a non-incumbent: Republican Matt Mead of Wyoming (65.7 percent in 2010) and outgoing GOPer Dave Heineman of Nebraska (73.4 percent in 2006). Republican Gary Herbert of Utah had not previously won a gubernatorial contest when he notched a state record 64.1 percent for his first victory in 2010, but was an incumbent at the time after ascending to the position in 2009 after the early departure of Jon Huntsman. Meanwhile, two sitting governors hold the record in their states for the lowest mark ever recorded by a winning gubernatorial candidate (incumbent or otherwise): independent-turned-Democrat Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island (36.1 percent in 2010) and Democrat Terry McAuliffe of Virginia (47.8 percent in 2013).


more POLITICAL CRUMBS

Humphrey School Sites
CSPG
Humphrey New Media Hub

Issues />

<div id=
Abortion
Afghanistan
Budget and taxes
Campaign finances
Crime and punishment
Economy and jobs
Education
Energy
Environment
Foreign affairs
Gender
Health
Housing
Ideology
Immigration
Iraq
Media
Military
Partisanship
Race and ethnicity
Reapportionment
Redistricting
Religion
Sexuality
Sports
Terrorism
Third parties
Transportation
Voting