Finding the Humanity in the Data. A Review of the 2016 Wisconsin Presidential Vote. Not as boring as it sounds.

So many questions.

This post is a shallow dive into Milwaukee, it's makeup and it's voting trends. It's a mirror of sorts for me. I am from Milwaukee and I so badly want to internalize its struggles and needs, and try to help.

What changed between 2012 and 2016? Which voters changed their party and which sat it out? Where are these voters located? This essay tries to answer these questions and shine a light on this great city. There are some surprising results.

Back in 2012 President Barack Obama carried Wisconsin over Mitt Romney by 213,019 votes and won the state by about 7%. In Milwaukee, President Obama won by 177,514 votes.

This past November Donald Trump won Wisconsin by 22,748 votes or about a 0.77% margin over Hillary Clinton. In Milwaukee county Hillary Clinton won by 143,486 votes.

Over the past few months I have heard a narrative in the media that low turnout among African-American voters as the reason Clinton lost. Is this true? And if so, what does it mean and why? Is this a fair narrative to Trump? Did Clinton lose the state or did Trump win it? First, we should try to understand Milwaukee.

American Carnage.

Milwuakee voting trends from Jsonline Chicago voting trends from Jsonline

I am from Milwaukee, specifically Mequon, a suburb about 10 miles north of the city center. They are both where I came from, I can call both home. I make no distinction between the two, but for many in this area, that is not the case.

In terms of housing, Mequon, and many other suburbs, have used zoning regulation to limit multi-family dwellings, using rules such as Mequon's 5 acre minimum, so that it becomes impossible for lower income people to live in these communities.

The new suburbs form what [historian John] Gurda calls the “iron ring” around the City of Milwaukee, and there is no obvious way to break through the ring.

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel had an amazing piece from 2012 chronicling the racial and political makeup of the city. In the picture above, taken from the article, blue = more Democratic, red = more Republican. Compared to Chicago, Milwaukee is strikingly politically segregated.

The picture to the left shows the racial makeup of Milwaukee.

Riots and Accusations of Police Brutality

Milwaukee's plight got national attention in August, 2016, with the Sherman Park riots.

From Wikipedia: "On August 13, 2016, a riot began in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, sparked by the fatal police shooting of 23-year-old Sylville Smith. During the three-day turmoil, several people, including police officers, were injured and dozens of protesters arrested."

National media picked it up and there even appeared op-ed's in national papers such as the New York Times and on CNN.

This awful event became a proxy war for politicians. A quick google search will show the myriad of articles that talk more about the role of Black Lives Matter as opposed to the people and places being affected.

Famously, during the final presidential debate, Trump noted, “Our inner cities are a disaster. You get shot walking to the store,” he said. “They have no education. They have no jobs.” This hyperbole paints a very dark picture. Is it true?


Milwaukee is number one in at least one category. It is home to the zip code with the highest incarceration rate in the USA.

An astonishing 62% of adult males in zip 53206 have spent time in a correctional institute.

An article published in Milwaukee Magazine goes on:

"According to a recent report on 53206 from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Center for Economic Development, only 36 percent of working-age males in the area are employed. The poverty rate for children is about 66 percent...Wisconsin locks up a higher percentage of black men (1 in 8) than any other state, in a country that incarcerates more people than any other nation...Even the feds seem to be abandoning 53206. The U.S. Post Office, still in operation on Teutonia Avenue, stands small and forlorn, with cracks in the foundation and red brick walls. No one has bothered to fix the broken window facing the street."

I strongly recommend the documentary Milwaukee 53206 to learn more. Or, you can help by going to community support websites like the I Will Not Die Young Campaign website and get involved.

And, the data.

First, the difference in raw votes, by ward, for the Democratic nominee and their respective top ten performing wards:

Bernie or Bust.

Both the 2012 and 2016 voter data was gleaned from the Milwaukee County Elections website. There is something very interesting to learn from these lists. Ward 138 had the most potential total Clinton voters in terms of raw votes but it was down 268 votes from 2012. Ward 138 is in an area of Milwaukee called Riverwest. This is the most liberal, and socialist leaning area of the city; it is Bernie country.

The Bernie vote really, really hurt Clinton in Milwaukee. 

But this is not the worst news for Democrats by any stretch.

Who won and who lost.

This beautiful map, made with Python and it's lovely basemap package, shows the change in raw vote between 2012 to 2016. Green is more of a gain for Clinton from Obama's numbers, red is more of a loss.

The areas known as the Third Ward and Walker's Point had the strongest gains for Democrats even outperforming Obama in 2012. These areas house most of our gay community, artists and hi-tech workers, three pillars of the Democratic coalition.

Other over-performing areas included the more affluent and educated parts of the city. For example, along Lake Michigan and by the Medical College of Wisconsin.


Normally, I would have done some regression analysis and employed fancy statistics to make a bunch of pretty pictures, but there is no need. The story is not the data, it's what the people of Milwaukee are screaming at us through the data.

The biggest losses for Clinton come from the black community and in a damning way.

From the data we know the following:

Clinton's top 30 losses were in wards that had at least a 23% reduction in voters. Her top three losses had greater than a 30% drop.
All of these wards are over 90% African-American.

This is significantly more than the 3% - 4% turnout was down nationally. Even if you factor in the overall drop in African-American vote as a percentage for Democrats, and the lower turnout, she still should have had enough votes in Milwaukee alone to beat Trump in Wisconsin.

In contrast, Trump's worst drop was actually in the same ward as Clinton's, however, his drop was only 10%. Interestingly, Trump had virtually zero gains in Milwaukee, in any ward. He did have approximately ten wards with a positive change, the largest being 0.9%.

In other words, if Clinton's drop would have been commensurate with national trends, she still would have won Wisconsin. From this it's fair to conclude that Clinton lost Milwaukee, and thusly, Wisconsin. Trump did not win it. 

Maybe the unconstitutional voter-id laws passed by a Republican controlled state government had a major effect. Neil Albrecht, executive director of the Milwaukee Election Commission, does claim this hurt turnout in Milwaukee.

Either way I can't help but conclude that the Democrats, who are the sentries for these wards, have failed to some extent. Regardless of the Republicans cynical laws, or the suburbs regulatory walls, the Democrats, especially outside the iron ring, could and can do more locally.

The "lesson" from this election was not only about the white-working class. There are other human beings out there and we all deserve to be treated with dignity and have our voices heard. In Wisconsin, Clinton and the Democrats didn't lose because they forgot about rural whites.

They forgot about everyone.

The ward with the largest drop in votes for both Democrats (32%) and Republicans (10%) was ward 147.

Ward 147 resides in zip 53206.

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