The Wisconsin recount of the results of the presidential election, initiated by the Jill Stein campaign, could inadvertently validate the Donald Trump campaign’s narrative that the election was won by a substantial turnout of the electorate in rural areas. In the state which has voted consistently Democrat in national elections since 1984, this year’s results were both unexpected by pollsters, and also surprising to many experts on election day. While the Green Party of Wisconsin is scheduling training of observers for the recount, President-elect Donald Trump is speaking directly though Twitter, and insisting that the election results will stand.
Hillary Clinton conceded the election when she called me just prior to the victory speech and after the results were in. Nothing will change— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 27, 2016
The President-elect has also made claims of significant voter fraud, and is engaged in a social media back and forth with reporters he claims are biased. The purpose of the recount, according to the Green Party of Wisconsin, is to verify the integrity of the election’s results. It could just as easily validate the narrative surrounding the surprise victory of the candidate who ran as an outsider and in an unconventional way.
Among the many reasons for President-elect Trump to embrace the recount in Wisconsin, three are most compelling. First, the Wisconsin recount could, theoretically, support claims of voter fraud. According to the Wisconsin Elections Commission, 2016 was the first time a presidential vote was held under the new voter identification law in the state. After four years of legal challenges, the law was ruled constitutional and placed into effect in Wisconsin in April 2015. Regardless of political arguments, election officials enforcing a new law can make mistakes, or unevenly apply the law. That means that a recount could expose potential voter fraud, or the appearance of impropriety, and validate or strengthen Trump’s social media claims.
Second, polling in Wisconsin prior to the election set an expectation of a Hillary Clinton victory. From mid-October onward, the Clinton Campaign enjoyed an average seven-point lead in the polls. The last presidential poll in Wisconsin was taken by the Remington Research Group two days before the election, and that poll indicated that Clinton had an eight-point lead in Wisconsin.
That poll is significant because of Remington’s processes. According to their website, the Remington Research Group relies heavily on Interactive Voice Recording (IVR) calls to eliminate polling bias. By the company standards, IVR calls that only go to landline phones make up 80 percent of the representative sample, while only 20 percent is taken by calls to cell phones. The company states that it balances that approach with other weights, but one could argue that the sample could appear skewed demographically because nearly half of the adult population in the U. S. uses only cell phones.
The twist is that older populations, who tend to be the primary users of landline telephones, also tended to be the bastion of Trump’s supporters. A poll that had a potentially greater reach among an older demographic should have, to some degree, skewed to his favor. It didn’t. Polls alone do not warrant a recount in Wisconsin, but if the President-elect is looking to exploit a perception of bias, a Wisconsin recount result in his favor could demonstrate at the very least the inefficacy of current polling techniques.
Finally, the actual results so far in Wisconsin fully support the narrative that rural voters did swing the election. Looking at the county by county map, one can see that Clinton fared well in the cities of Madison and Milwaukee and a few other counties, but the majority of the state voted for Trump. In several of the rural counties, Trump won by 20 to 30 points. This neatly supports his campaign’s narrative of the energizing of previously disengaged voters in rural areas.
By choosing to either dismiss or distract attention from the Wisconsin recount, the President-elect will miss an opportunity to solidify his claim to a mandate. A recount in his favor could also validate his campaign’s narrative about an outsider taking an improbable path to victory. With Hillary Clinton joining the request for a recount in Wisconsin, this would give Trump an unquestionable victory in the state and disarm his detractors, should the recount bear out the initial results.
A recount rarely does little more than create an expensive verification of already legitimate results. With this Wisconsin recount, he could pivot away from the election and focus on his ambitious agenda. He is likely going to be the President of the United States.
The Wisconsin recount probably will not change that, but it could prove that the Trump campaign was savvy enough to understand its voters.
[Featured Image by Mark Lennihan/AP Images]