What if it Comes Down to Independents?

Independent voters could decide the November elections. So, why is Tim Michels moving hard right?

Wisconsin is pretty much equally divided between Democrats and Republicans, so a common strategy for both parties is to turn out their base voters. Earlier this summer Democrats were despondent and Republicans were energized. Polls showed a big enthusiasm gap for the GOP even after Roe v. Wade was overturned.

But that has changed. The latest Marquette poll shows a virtually identical level of high interest in voting. About 90% of both Democrats and Republicans say they are absolutely certain or very likely to vote in November. It’s not clear why the gap vanished, but a fair guess is that a string of legislative victories in Congress and the confirmation of a new liberal Supreme Court Justice may have energized Democrats.

But here’s the thing. If the state is split down the middle and each party has maxed out on turnout, who wins? The answer is the party that does best with independents. And since independents tend to be less ideological you’d expect candidates to be moderating their positions.

Gov. Tony Evers is doing that to a limited extent. But keep in mind that Evers had no primary, so he had no need to move left to hold onto his party’s base. In other words, he doesn’t have to move much to get closer to the center. On a hot button issue like abortion, since there is strong support for abortion rights among the voting population as a whole, just maintaining his basic pro-choice stance is a mainstream position.

And here’s where things get curious. You would think that, after the primary, Michels would soften his hard line anti-abortion stance. Nope. He’s sticking with his support for Wisconsin’s 1849 law outlawing abortion in all cases, including rape and incest. That would seem to fly in the face of a strategy to capture independent voters.

But here is a key point. On a list of the issues that are most important to independent voters, abortion ranks fifth, behind inflation, crime, public schools and an accurate vote count. And all of those issues are ones on which Republicans have the upper hand.

These are the top ten issues from a Marquette poll taken in early September, ranked by what’s important to independent voters.

So, Michels’ theory could be that if he maintains a tough stance on abortion, he holds the enthusiasm of his base. He’s willing to risk turning off independents because it’s an issue that isn’t especially important to them. They might not like his position on abortion, but that won’t be the issue that captures their vote. And as for taking a stance that might light a fire under Democrats, well, they’re already pretty fired up anyway.

The same goes for Michels’ move to the right on election denial. It maintains the enthusiasm of his base, creates no additional enthusiasm for his opponents because they’re already maxed out, and it’s an issue that isn’t all that important to independents.

As of earlier this month Evers held a six point lead with independents, 45% – 39%. But an independent candidate, Joan Beglinger, had 11% support. Beglinger dropped out of the race just as Marquette went into the field and she endorsed Michels. So, it’s likely that that six point lead is a mirage.

In other words, it’s possible that in a state equally divided between Democrats and Republicans, the independent voters who could decide this election are also split right down the middle. But the issue landscape has to be concerning for Democrats.

Postscript: Democratic candidates nationwide have spent $124 million on ads that reference abortion — twenty times more than they spent on that issue in 2018. It makes sense because it’s one of the few issues on which they have broad public support for their position. But if the election comes down to independents, do they risk turning off those voters by focussing so heavily on an issue that ranks relatively low on their list of concerns?


Published by dave cieslewicz

Madison/Upper Peninsula based writer. Mayor of Madison, WI from 2003 to 2011.

15 thoughts on “What if it Comes Down to Independents?

  1. You’ve said something twice now that I don’t quite get. You’ve stated Republicans have an advantage on the issue of “accurate vote count” but I don’t know where that is coming from. Seems like an issue Republican voters care about but as far as having a better argument on that issue with the broader electorate? I just don’t see their advantage on that issue.


    1. It seems to me that when someone identifies accurate vote counts as an issue of concern they’re likely to believe the current system isn’t accurate. In fact, the system works quite well and there is virtually no fraud. So, I believe there’s a strong correlation between saying you’re concerned about accurate vote counts and taking what is a Republican position on that subject.


      1. What is your basis for saying there is virtually no fraud? I would give you more credence if you had independently audited the systems. The issue is not going away. Whether it is Trump, Al Gore, David Prosser, etc., anytime the result is something people don’t like they will scream ” STOLEN ELECTION”.

        So how can we restore confidence in the system? I’d start with an automatic independent audit of Presidential results. Also would like to be able to look up how my vote was recorded.

        That being said, it’s a low priority issue for me.

        Interesting the poll says “Coronavirus”. Early pandemic you couldn’t say that on social media; had to say Covid. Now pretty sure the powers in charge were trying to disassociate the pandemic from the Wuhan Coronavirus lab (see Jon Stewart take).


      2. There were 24 people referred for prosecution of election fraud in the 2020 election out of 3.3 million votes cast in Wisconsin. All this “accountability” stuff is a solution in search of a problem. Republicans are arsonists now hitting the fire alarm.


      3. Republicans weren’t the ones screaming stolen election in 2000 (and for years after).

        Pendulum will turn to the Dems sooner or later and it will magically transform into a valid issue, or more accurately, a rallying cry.


      4. Not a valid comparison, that was a contested election that made it to the Supreme Court and everyone behaved like adults throughout the process. Al Gore didn’t whip up a mob and he was the VP who certified his own loss in the Senate. Your comparison isn’t even in the same universe as to what is being cooked up now about a fraudulent election. No Democrats ran on a vote integrity platform after 2000, Al Gore didn’t take over the Democratic Party after his loss and purge dissenters and demand a redo of the election. The truth is no one has done what Trump did and their is hardly any real voter fraud and no election fraud.


  2. Wait a minute, where is the evidence for fraud outside of the cases Dave stated One eye? There have been plenty of audits by groups of every ideological stripe…there is no evidence of neither election nor voter fraud outside of what was stated in the comment above. Might be hard to believe given our disfunction as a nation but we actually do elections well…for now.


    1. Hey tell that to the White House press secretary who it was recently revealed, screamed STOLEN ELECTION after Trump won in 2016.

      It’s illogical to think prosecutions = fraud that is occuring. Where was the evidence of fraud before Enron collapsed? Where was evidence of real estate bubble before 2008 financial crisis? Where is the evidence of “price gouging” that Tony Evers claims is occuring?

      My point is …. we don’t really know. Trust in election systems has faded along with our trust in other institutions (CDC and NIH are examples) and now everyone is trying to weaponize it.


      1. A single press secretary versus and entire administration and now an entire political party? Hardly equivalent. Real estate bubbles and financial scams are not equivalent to election systems either. Also, the people screaming about how we can’t trust institutions are usually the ones who worked the hardest to undermine them, it’s a form of projection. There was no election fraud. There is no equivalence between what happened in 2000, 2016, or any other election with what happened in 2020. The sad truth is it was all cooked up by one man and swallowed willingly by half the country bleating after him like a herd of sheep. You want to know how you know it’s made up? Because Trump said the exact same thing on Twitter about the 2012 election when Romney lost, he called the election stolen and called for an uprising. It’s all bullshit pedaled by a carnival barking con man.


      2. Disagree as run of the mill Dems spent years weaponizing the stolen election mantra after 2000. Maybe the silver lining of Trump using it is it’s now so toxic no one will ever use it again… let’s check back after the midterms.

        BTW, has anyone kept up with the cheating scandal in chess? Some kid came out of nowhere and beat the world’s best player. No evidence of cheating but the chess people are tightening procedures. Going to be interesting to see if it is cheating vs the kid being a new breed of player.


      3. Yes. As I understand it the concern is that somehow they may have used a computer to calculate moves and relay that to the player who upset the champion. But as far as I know nobody has presented any real evidence that that was done.


  3. One Eye, I don’t remember nearly the same level of “stolen election” screaming by the Democrats in 2000, as what came from the Republicans in 2020. I remember the Democrats complaining about the archaic nature of the Electoral College, and how the 2000 election was a good example of why it should be overturned. Seeing those as equal comparisons seem like “whataboutism” to me.


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