Wisconsin’s Long History As Swing StateHistorians in the News
tags: political history, immigration, urban history, Wisconsin, 2020 Election
According to Jonathan Kasparek, professor of history at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, one of Wisconsin’s distinct swing state periods was in the late 19th century.
“Some of those elections were really close between the Republicans and the Democrats,” he said.
Kasparek said voters’ party allegiances in those days had a lot to do with their ethnicity and religious affiliations. Republicans tended to be Wisconsin natives or protestant immigrants.
“A large part of that is because the Republican Party tended to draw from people from the Whig tradition and other reformers that emphasized prohibition and tended to be nativist,” he said.
Catholic immigrants from Germany, Ireland, and Poland tended to support Democrats.
Kasparek said slight swings of very specific groups, like German protestants, decided multiple elections at the time.
In 1873, German protestants swung from the GOP to push back on a Republican policy that cracked down on taverns and alcohol consumption. They considered the law an attack on their culture, Kasparek said.
In 1890, the same group made a similar move after incumbent Republican Gov. William Dempster Hoard signed the Bennett Law, which required schools to teach in English. Lutherans didn’t want to implement the policy in their parochial schools.
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