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Analysis: Trump will have to count on pro-police vote to win Wisconsin


The 2020 presidential election promises to be unlike any election in recent memory. At a time of historic polarization amid widespread civil unrest regarding police killings of Black people, the security of, and public trust in, the electoral process is more important now than ever.

Nowhere is this more true than in Wisconsin.

Wisconsin, a critical swing state whose 10 electoral votes are considered a must-win for a Donald Trump reelection, is divided on support for the ongoing Black Lives Matter movement and the police. Though polls showed Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden ahead of Trump by five points in Wisconsin, Trump’s campaign is banking on Wisconsinites’ support for the police to carry the state in his favor on Election Day. 

“If we win Wisconsin, we win the whole ball game,” Trump said at an October 17 rally in Janesville, Wisconsin. In the final weeks of campaigning, Trump has made multiple trips to Wisconsin, and has more planned before the polls open on Tuesday, Nov. 3. Each time he visits, he brings a strong pro-police message, often speaking in front of “Thin Blue Line” flags in place of American flags.

According to the latest Marquette University law poll, both likely Democratic voters and likely Republican voters in Wisconsin have largely-positive views of the police overall — 71 percent and 97 percent, respectively, express support for the police. But support for police breaks down along racial lines. While 82 percent of white likely voters view the police favorably, only 44 percent of Black likely voters share that view.

Respondents were also asked about the mass protests that began after the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. Nearly 73 percent of all demonstrations in Wisconsin since late May have been associated with the BLM movement, according to a study from the The Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, or ACLED, a crisis mapping project. Trump has cast this summer’s Black Lives Matter protests as violent affairs, but destruction and violence were nowhere to be found at 93 percent of the demonstrations across the US, according to USA Today.

Fifty percent of all Wisconsinites approve of the protests, while 39 percent do not. But party lines draw stark differences between likely voters when it comes to support for the Black Lives Matter movement generally. Eighty percent of all likely Democratic voters view the Black Lives Matter movement favorably, compared to just 15 percent of likely Republican voters.

In a year when every vote counts, Wisconsinites are already turning out to vote in record numbers. Many counties in Wisconsin that went for Obama, then flipped for Trump, could decide who carries this state on Tuesday. One of those counties-Kenosha County-went to Obama in ‘08 and then Trump in 2016, when he won by just over 20,000 votes.

Kenosha, Wisconsin became the epicenter of the Black Lives Matter movement for a time in August after a Kenosha police officer shot Jacob Blake, an unarmed Black man, seven times in the back, which was caught on video. 

The protests that followed attracted scores of heavily-armed militiamen, including 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse, who drove from Antioch, Illinois to Kenosha, where he shot three people, killing two, during a protest. Rittenhouse will face intentional homicide charges in Wisconsin, after a judge ruled he would be extradited from his custody in Lake County, Illinois. According to the recent ACLED study, Wisconsin is one of the top five states in the nation at highest risk for election-time militia activity.

On September 29, Kenosha Sheriff David Beth endorsed Trump for reelection. But come Election Day, Wisconsinites will need police to put political allegiances aside in order to protect everyone’s right to vote.