Republican U.S. Senator Ron Johnson built his margin of victory in Wisconsin this week largely with the support of suburban Milwaukee and rural parts of the state. 

In the suburban counties of the Milwaukee metropolitan area, the Republican incumbent managed a 20-point victory over Democratic challenger Mandela Barnes. Johnson also ran up a 20-point margin in the rural (nonmetropolitan) areas of the state. 

Johnson won with much smaller margins in the suburbs of medium-sized metropolitan areas (primarily Green Bay) and small metropolitan areas like Sheboygan, Oshkosh, and Appleton. 

Democrat Barnes beat Johnson by 40 points in Milwaukee and nearly that margin in Madison. But those advantages were not sufficient to overcome Johnson’s performance outside the central counties of those metropolitan areas. 

Although overall turnout was only about 80% of the 2020 presidential election, on a percentage basis, Johnson, who won 50.5% of the vote statewide to Barnes' 49.5%, did nearly 2 points better than Donald Trump did in Wisconsin in 2020. Trump won 48.8% of the vote in Wisconsin in his narrow loss to Joe Biden two years ago.

Johnson outperformed fellow Republican Trump significantly in the Milwaukee suburbs, small metropolitan areas, and rural areas. Barnes outperformed fellow Democrat Biden in the core counties of the Milwaukee and Madison metro areas. But he did worse than Biden in most of the rest of the state, including rural areas. 

If Barnes had performed as well as Biden in small metropolitan and rural areas, while maintaining his advantages in the core counties of medium and large metro areas, he would have defeated Johnson by a few thousand votes.  

Methodology

  • Large metro core are the central counties of metropolitan areas of 1 million or more residents.
  • Large metro suburbs are the counties surrounding those large-metro central counties. Medium metro core are the central counties of metropolitan areas from 250,000 to 999,999 residents.
  • Medium metro core are the central counties of metropolitan areas from 250,000 to 999,999 residents.
  • Medium metro suburbs are the counties surrounding those medium-metro central counties.
  • Small metro are all counties in a metropolitan area with fewer than 250,000 residents.
  • Nonmetro (rural) are counties not located within a metropolitan statistical area, as defined by the 2013 Office of Management and Budget. This analysis uses nonmetro as synonymous with rural.

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