Wisconsin was once considered a Democratic stronghold. But the GOP has increased its grip on the state since 2011, when Republican Gov. Scott Walker signed legislation aimed at limiting the power of public-sector unions.
Among other provisions, Act 10 Wisconsin did away with collective-bargaining rights for state workers and prohibited unions from withholding dues. It also made Wisconsin a “right-to-work” state, meaning workers couldn’t be compelled to join a union or pay agency fees to accept a job.
According to a paper by Marc V. Levine, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, the percentage of unionized workers in Wisconsin (which had already been on the decline) fell from 14 percent in 2011 to 8.3 percent in 2015. During the same time period, the rate of unionized public employees fell from 50 percent to 26 percent.
The decline in unions, a traditional constituency of the Democratic Party, seems to have impacted the state’s politics. Five years after the bill was passed, Wisconsin, which hadn’t voted for a Republican presidential candidate since 1984, went for Donald Trump. The same year, the state re-elected a Republican U.S. senator who had been predicted to lose. Walker and the GOP have also stayed in power in the Statehouse.
In an essay, Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, wrote that if the same legislation was “enacted in a dozen more states, the modern Democratic Party will cease to be a competitive power in American politics. It’s that big a deal.”