NBC News reporters tracked seven leading counties as part of the “County to County” project for the 2022 midterm elections. This is some of what they learned from.
Home to the University of Wisconsin and the Wisconsin state capital, Madison, Dane County provided a clear measure of Democratic enthusiasm in the battleground state that helped propel President Joe Biden to the White House in 2020.
The growing county has turned increasingly and overwhelmingly Democratic, helping the party overcome the GOP’s growing advantages in rural areas during high-turnout elections.
Yet when the Omicron variant swept across the country last winter, even Democratic voters were in a bad mood, showing pandemic fatigue amid Biden’s stalled legislative agenda. our NBNC News Survey it showed Biden’s approval among Democratic voters in January 2022 falling to 80%, with a threatening 18% of his base saying they disapproved.
“There were a lot of promises made early on, which is definitely why I voted for him and I don’t know, it’s a little disappointing to see that we haven’t made much progress,” Samantha Georgson, a Dane County resident. voter who mostly backs Democrats, she told NBC News in Madison, a year after President Biden took office.
But then came the United States Supreme Court decision that overturned Roe v. Wade, triggering an 1849 state law that closed abortion clinics across the state with an exemption only for the life of the mother. Abortion access became a key message line for Governor Tony Evers’ successful re-election campaign and Democrat Mandela Barnes’ failed Senate campaign. Democrats doubled down on the message even as polls showed Republican Sen. Ron Johnson was gaining momentum with a crime message.
For Dane County’s young voters, it was a message that worked. Abortion access was regularly featured on NBC News as a top issue motivating voters.
University of Wisconsin student Valerie Howell, who said she supported Democratic candidates, told NBC News she probably would have turned out to vote anyway, “but I wouldn’t have been as passionate about it.”
In the end, around 90% of the presidential turnout ran in the 2022 midterm elections, outpacing the rest of the state. Democrats were fired up and will continue to view Dane County as key on their road to victory in 2024 and beyond.