Rural voters in Wisconsin were part of a broad swing toward the Democratic Party in Tuesday’s state Supreme Court race, in which Democrat Janet Protasiewicz defeated Republican Daniel Kelly by more than 10 points.
Protasiewicz garnered 45% of the rural, or nonmetropolitan, vote in the election – not enough to win the rural vote outright but a significant improvement for the Democratic candidate compared to two recent high-profile elections: the presidential contest in 2020 and the U.S. Senate race in 2022.
The race hinged on the abortion issue and Republican redistricting and is considered a bellwether on how abortion rights might play in other elections. Her election will flip the court from a conservative majority to a liberal one.
Protasiewicz performed significantly better than President Joe Biden in 2020 and Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Mandela Barnes in 2022 in all parts of Wisconsin, from major metropolitan areas to rural counties.
In the central counties of major metropolitan areas (Milwaukee and parts of the Minneapolis and Chicago metros), she earned 73% of the vote, 3 points higher than Biden in 2020.
Her biggest gains were in medium-sized metropolitan areas (Madison, Green Bay, and Duluth, Minnesota, whose metro area has one county in Wisconsin). In those metros, she performed 7 points better than Biden in 2020 and Barnes in 2022.
Besides losing the rural vote, Protasiewicz also lost among suburban voters in major metros. Protasiewicz lost those voters by 11 points, a bigger margin than her 10-point loss in rural areas.
Protasiewicz’s race against Republican Kelly was one of the most closely watched elections in the nation this year. Protasiewicz campaigned openly on her opinion that Wisconsin’s abortion ban and redistricting decisions should be overturned.
Major metropolitan statistical areas are defined as having 1 million or more residents. Medium-sized metros have 250,000 to under 1 million. Small metros have 50,000 to under 250,000. Nonmetropolitan counties are not part of a metropolitan statistical area, as defined by the Office of Management and Budget in 2013. In this story, nonmetropolitan and rural are used synonymously.