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Democrats Need Black and Blue Coalition to Win in Wisconsin

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In the hard-fought Wisconsin Governor’s race, the outcome may hinge on the Democratic Party’s ability to hold together and turn out a long-time alliance: the black and blue coalition.

For Democrats to win in Wisconsin they need two key elements – big turnout in heavily African-American Milwaukee and support from the aging, white union base. This is the big city/blue collar coalition that has sustained the Democrats in states such as Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania for decades, and it will be tested this November.

For the most part, Wisconsin is older and whiter than the nation at large. Roughly 82 percent of its population is white, compared to a national average of about 63 percent, About 15 percent of the population is 65 years of age or older, compared to the national figure of 14 percent. African Americans make up less than 10 percent of the state’s population.

But in Milwaukee County, which holds one sixth of the state’s population, the story is very different as outlined in this chart. Only 53 percent are white and only 12 percent are 65 or older. More than 27 percent are African American. Those demographics make it critical to Democrats winning the state. President Barack Obama carried 67 percent of the vote there in 2012.

Democrats need to drive up the African-American vote in Milwaukee, which is considered a Big City in the American Communities Project at American University’s School of Public Affairs, and try to get the vote near those 2012 levels if Democratic gubernatorial nominee Mary Burke is going to have a chance of unseating Gov. Scott Walker.

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But beyond Milwaukee County, the big issue looming over the state is whether its union vote will be felt. Wisconsin’s union membership and the number of people represented by unions are above the national averages. In the state, 12.3 percent of workers are represented by workers versus 11.3 percent nationally.

Walker hit unions in the state hard when he pushed through a bill that removed the collective bargaining rights of most of the state’s public employees. The unions were so angry with Walker they attempted, and failed, to recall him in 2012.

Angry voters have another shot at unseating Walker. And while most people associate unions with big cities, in Wisconsin union membership is scattered all over with double-digit membership around the state. In Green Bay, 10 percent of the work force is union member. In Osh Kosh it’s 15.9 percent. In Janesville it’s 16.8 percent. In La Crosse the number is 12.3 percent. Those towns are heavily based in less-densely packed Middle Suburbs counties in the ACP, as shown on this map.

In fact, as noted recently in the Wall Street Journal, many of the counties in Wisconsin that “flipped” 2012 from Mr. Walker in 2010 to President Barack Obama in 2012, were in the more sparsely populated western counties in the state.

In a close election like the Wisconsin governor’s race, which looks like it is a toss-up right now, those could be big numbers.

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