CHIPPEWA FALLS — New research by a Democratic Party strategist shows that the party is losing voters in mid-sized communities across the Midwest, particularly in towns with numerous manufacturing or union job losses, and in cities that saw a decline in health care.
The report, compiled by Iowa-based Democratic strategist and researcher Richard J. Martin, was shared last week with the New York Times. Martin’s data in the 82-page report titled “Factory Towns” specifically notes the losses in cities like Chippewa Falls, or in Bay City, Mich.
Rich Postlewaite, UW-Stout political science professor and former Democratic candidate for the state Assembly, wasn’t surprised about the findings of the study.
“Some of that is the overall theme that you have to pick a party,” Postlewaite said Friday. “Small-town folks have always felt left out of the political process. And that is particularly true in factory towns that are blue collar and have unions. It’s fairly typical of the way things are moving.”
Nationally, Democratic gains in recent years have been in large metropolitan areas, but are offset by losses in rural areas, particularly in the Midwest, the study finds. The Democratic losses were the fastest between 2012 and 2020, and the report links the party’s decline in the region to the election of Donald Trump in 2016.
“We cannot elect Democrats from the top down the ballot, let alone protect our ruling majorities, if we don’t address these losses,” Martin warned his party in his report. “If things continue to get worse for us in the small and medium working class counties, we can give up all hope of winning the battleground states of the industrial heart.”
Calling these communities “factory towns,” Martin separates them into mid-sized counties anchored around towns of 35,000 or more and smaller counties that rely on manufacturing.
Postlewaite wasn’t surprised how the report tied the party’s losses to cities with blue-collar jobs.
“These factories have changed with the times,” Postlewaite said. “I can see the trend; I can see what the research is coming up with.”
Chippewa Falls last had a Democratic representative in the state Assembly in 1997, when Michael Wilder was replaced by Republican Tom Sykora. The northwest corner of the state used to be heavily Democratic on a national level; U.S. Rep. David Obey, a Democrat, held his seat in Congress from 1969 until he retired in 2011. However, the seat has since been held by two Republicans: Sean Duffy and Tom Tiffany.
Brian Westrate, treasurer for the Republican Party of Wisconsin, also wasn’t surprised by the conclusions of the study. He said he just went on a hunting trip with a friend who supported Bill Clinton’s presidency. Westrate described his friend as “a union guy.”
“In his garage, he not only has a Trump 2020 flag, but a Trump 2024 flag,” Westrate said.
Westrate added: “The Democrats have lost the farmer-labor part; they’ve lost that base.”
Westrate contends the Republican Party has drifted towards the center politically and has become more open to blue-collar workers.
“The Democrats have gone at warp speed to the left,” Westrate contends. “They’ve left behind the middle class, hard-working base. And that is where the lost good, hard-working Americans in the Midwest.”
The study surveyed ten states in the Great Lakes region, along with Missouri and Iowa. He determined that Democrats lost 557,000 votes in heavily rural areas from the 2012 election to 2020.
Martin’s report notes those states have lost 1.3 million manufacturing jobs since 2000, and those losses also are damaging to Democrats.
Nine of the 10 states included in the survey accounted for 93 percent of the loss of union members nationwide over the past two decades. And in the past 10 years alone, these states have lost 10% of their union membership, an average three times the national average.