When Wisconsin voters went to the polls to decide the future of the state’s Supreme Court in April, many had it pegged as one of the most impactful elections in the state’s history. The court is set to decide the future of abortion rights, gerrymandering, and much more. The race gained national importance, set fundraising records, and proved to be yet another example of the lasting political salience of the pro-abortion rights coalition in perennial battlegrounds. 

So, how did Justice Janet Protasiewicz emerge victorious by 10 points in a state where Ron Johnson was reelected in 2022 by just 1 point? The answer: increased turnout and a diverse, statewide coalition of voters that stood up to the extreme politics of the GOP. This included the traditional Democratic base as well as Democrats winning a larger share of likely Republican voters in rural communities and white voters in conservative enclaves. 

Increase in Turnout

  • 1,819,657 ballots were cast in the April election, a 13% increase over the last time Wisconsin voted on a Supreme Court justice. 
  • Amongst modeled Democrats, turnout over the 2020 Supreme Court election increased by 5%. 
  • Strikingly, there was a 3.6% increase in turnout over 2020 amongst voters over the age of 65. 
  • Vote share by race and ethnic groups was more comparable to 2020 presidential numbers than to 2020 Supreme Court numbers, suggesting that registration efforts in the 2020 presidential election and beyond have made a lasting impact on the electorate.

Vote Share by Race

Race April 2020 November 2022 April 2023
African American 1.9% 2.8% 2.2%
Asian 0.3% 1.2% 1.1%
Caucasian 95.3% 93.6% 94.7%
Hispanic 0.6% 1.9% 1.6%
Other 0.1% 0.2% 0.2%
Uncoded 1.9% 0.3% 0.3%

Broad Coalition 

  • Modeled unaffiliated voters increased their vote share by over 7%, proof that moderates broke toward Protasiewicz, helping to put her over the finish line.
  • African American vote share increased by 0.3%, AAPI vote share increased by 0.8%, and Hispanic vote share increased by 1.1%. 
  • Furthermore, AAPI vote share increased in all but two counties, with Dane County (+2%) and Milwaukee County (+1.2%) seeing the most growth. 

So, it wasn’t just an energized Democratic base that delivered the victory for the liberal justice. It was a statewide effort from independents, Black voters, AAPI voters, and more that delivered Justice Protasiewicz her seat on the state’s highest court. This is what happened in Ohio earlier this month and sets the terms of the debate headed into the 2024 election. And this didn’t just happen by accident: it was the hard work of groups like the Wisconsin Democrats, allies in organized labor and pro-abortion organizations that made it possible.

The 10 point victory – in a state where elections are often decided by razor thin margins – is yet another example of the GOP’s extremist politics rearing its ugly head for the party. That’s not to say there isn’t work to be done for Democrats. As we continue toward 2024, make sure you’re tuned into @TBonier and @TargetSmart for all the latest.