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Image: Senator Ron Johnson Campaigns For Re-Election In Wisconsin
Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisc., greets people during a campaign stop at the Moose Lodge Octoberfest celebration on Oct. 8, 2022 in Muskego, Wisc.Scott Olson / Getty Images

A split Wisconsin result would buck recent history

It’s been 24 years since candidates of different parties won the Senate and governor’s races.


Marquette Law School poll released this week shows GOP Sen. Ron Johnson with an edge in the Senate race, and the governor’s race in a dead heat.

But it would be unusual for Wisconsin voters to re-elect both Johnson and Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, backing candidates from different parties for Senate and for governor. That hasn’t happened since 1998, when former Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold won re-election by two points as former GOP Gov. Tommy Thompson won re-election by 21 points. 

In the next three elections where both the Senate and governor’s races were on the same ballot— 2006, 2010, and 2018 — candidates from the same party won both offices. 

For more on Wisconsin’s polarization, check out the latest episode of Meet the Press Reports.

The decline in split-ticket voting underscores how polarized the state has become.  

“It’s very difficult for leaders in either party to really shift the lay of the land right now,” Charles Franklin, the director of the Marquette Law School poll, said in an interview last month with Meet the Press Reports. 

But that doesn’t mean change is impossible. 

“The one caveat, I would say, is think about how much Donald Trump changed the Republican Party in the last six years,” Franklin said.

For now, though, candidates in Wisconsin and across the country are battling over a shrinking share of swing voters. 

In the 2000 presidential election, 21 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties were decided by less than five percentage points. Two decades later, that number was cut in half. Just 9 of the state’s counties were decided by the same close margins in 2020. 

“The red counties become more red, the blue counties have become a lot more blue,” said Thompson, the former governor, who also sat down with Meet the Press Reports for a joint interview with former Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle. 

Doyle was also on the ballot in 1998 — the last time Wisconsin voters split their tickets for Senate or governor — when he was serving as the state’s attorney general. That year, both Doyle and Thompson both won at least 60% of the vote. 

“That is never gonna happen again,” Doyle said.