- Counties: Ashland, Bayfield, Douglas, and Iron
- 2019 Population: 79,435 (1.36%)
- Average Vote from Region: 1.44%
- October 1, 2020 Voter Registration: 1.45%
- Race and Ethnicity: 88.47% White, 4.98% American Indian, 2.77% 2+, 2.04% Hispanic
- Ancestry: 26.63% German, 11.00% Norwegian, 10.48% Irish, 9.33% Swedish, 8.13% Finnish, 8.13% Polish
- Median Income: $46,137
- Post-Secondary Degree Attainment: 36.0%
As evident in the name, all four counties in this region make up the Wisconsin portion of the Lake Superior shoreline. This is the least populated region in the state with the lowest population density at 17 people per square mile. That said, the City of Superior, the largest municipality in the region, is the thirtieth largest in the state at 25,977. In fact, almost one third of the of the entire population of this region resides in Superior. Superior and Duluth, Minnesota make up the Twin Ports urban area in the far western part of Lake Superior. These two cities and their respective counties make up Duluth Metropolitan Statistical Area. Economically, maritime and shipping ventures are critical here. The Twin Ports together were the nineteenth busiest port as of 2002 and that jumps up to number seven if account for just foreign exports. Lake Superior is also notorious for large waves during annual fall storms that feature twenty feet waves with some over thirty feet having been recorded. This has resulted in a history of shipwrecks in the lake including the immortalized SS Edmund Fitzgerald. There is also a tourist element here, particularly in Bayfield County which is the gateway to the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.
In terms of the counties that make up this region, there are no other counties that would make sense to add here as there are no other Wisconsin counties that are on Lake Superior. As mentioned in the Eastern Northwoods, is some argument that could be made to include Iron county in that region. It would mean all counties that border the Upper Peninsula of Michigan would be in the same region and the major settlements in Iron County (Hurley and Montreal) are part of the buildup that includes Ironwood, Michigan. However, there are too many historical, demographic, and economic ties to the rest of the Lake Superior Shoreline region to make that switch.
One big connector is ancestry. Iron County and the rest of the Lake Superior Region is the most Scandinavian region in the state. It has the highest percentage of both Finnish and Swedish Americans in Wisconsin. When put together with Norwegian Americans, it is the only region in the state where Scandinavian Americans outnumber German Americans. The region is pretty white, but it does have the highest percentage of American Indians in the state at almost five percent. The median income is $8,473 lower than the state medium. Only the City of Milwaukee is lower. However, the percentage with a college degree is only 2.7% less than the state percentage.
- PVI: D+7
- Presidential Margins: Obama (08) +32% -> Obama (12) +28% -> Clinton +6%
- 2018 Margins: Evers +18% | Baldwin +24%
Early in Wisconsin’s history this area of the state was pretty swingy, but probably leaned slightly to the Democrats until the late Nineteenth Century. Afterwards the region was pretty solidly Republican until the 1932 Presidential Election. It was at that point this region attached itself to the Democratic Party. Probably one of the best definitions of a New Deal Democratic region of the county that still exists to this day. At the statewide level during this period this region was loyal supporter of the Wisconsin Progressive Party from its founding in 1934 until the start of its decline in 1944. It then became a swing region until the 1958 Gubernatorial election of Gaylord Nelson. It has then voted pretty consistently for the Democratic nominee ever since. That’s not to say it won’t occasionally go to a Republican when there is a landslide. Even in those landslides the region leans to the left of the state. Barack Obama did really well here, getting some massive margins in his two elections.
That all said, it looks like something might have changed in 2016 as all four counties saw massive swings to Trump. This region was not tailor made for Trump like some of the other more recent regions, but there are a lot of components that did make it favorable to him. It’s a very white and rural area with an industrial economy and a lower median income. Trump’s performance here is the best since Nixon’s in 1972. That said, there was a definite snap back in 2018 to the Democratic nominees. While they do not get back to the massive Obama margins, they got back to a point where I can pretty confidently rate this safe Democratic for the upcoming election. It is also a region were the difference between Baldwin and Evers was not massive. Biden’s objective here would be to get a margin over 20% here, while Trump would love to prove that 2016 was not a fluke. Even keeping the margin below 15% would be a win for Trump.
- 2019 Population: 15,562 (0.72%)
- Average Vote from County Percentage: 0.26%
- October 1, 2020 Voter Registration: 9,502 (0.27% of the statewide totals)
- PVI: D+9
- 2016 Presidential Margin: Clinton +12%
- 2018 Gubernatorial Margin: Evers +23%
- 2018 Senate Margin: Baldwin +32%
- Municipalities: City of Ashland (7,843) Clinton +26%
Ashland County has a solid working-class history, featured prominently in the ore dock that was built in Ashland harbor by the Wisconsin Central Railway. Iron Ore mined in the area would be loaded on to ships headed to other industrial ports in the Great Lakes where steel would be produced. This ended in the late 1960s. The Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Tribe of Chippewa Indians Reservation is also located here in Ashland County on the south shore of Lake Superior. Even with Trump’s big swing here in 2016, Ashland County is still pretty Democratic. Biden’s goal would be to get the margin back up to the mid-twenties. The Town of Ashland in the central part of the county is where I would look at on election day. The margin here was close to the statewide margin in 2016, but both Evers and Baldwin won here by at least over twenty-four points. Biden will want to not only win here but get the margin over twenty-five points. Biden will be on his way to a winning Wisconsin big if he’s getting over seventy percent of the vote in the City of Ashland like Tammy Baldwin did. Trump’s goal here would be to just limit the snapback that will in all likelihood take place here. Keeping Biden’s winning margin under twenty points would be considered a win.
- 2019 Population: 15,036 (0.26%)
- Average Vote from County Percentage: 0.33%
- October 1, 2020 Voter Registration: 11,592 (0.32% of the statewide totals)
- PVI: D+7
- 2016 Presidential Margin: Clinton +9%
- 2018 Gubernatorial Margin: Evers +20%
- 2018 Senate Margin: Baldwin +26%
- Municipalities: City of Washburn (2,036) Clinton +41%
Of all the counties in this region, Bayfield County is the most touristy of the bunch. The beauty of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore draws a lot of people to the cities of Bayfield and Washburn. That might be partially why this county had the smallest swing to Trump of the four counties in this region. Biden will still want to improve on Clinton’s margin here and even try to beat what Evers got. The place that I would keep my eye on when the results start to roll in next month is the Town of Oulu in the northwestern corner of the county. Trump got close to his statewide percentage here and the margins was close to matching the major 2018 elections. Biden will want to get a win in the Town of Oulu. If Biden is close to sweeping everything in thie county, like Tammy Baldwin was, he will be on pace for a large win. Trump’s goal would be to pick away a few more towns like Barksdale or Clover.
- 2019 Population: 43,150 (0.74%)
- Average Vote from County Percentage: 0.73%
- October 1, 2020 Voter Registration: 26,560 (0.74% of the statewide totals)
- PVI: D+8
- 2016 Presidential Margin: Clinton +8%
- 2018 Gubernatorial Margin: Evers +21%
- 2018 Senate Margin: Baldwin +26%
- Municipalities: City of Superior (25,977) Clinton +19%
Douglas County is the largest county in the Lake Superior Lakeshore region with 54% of the entire region’s population. The improvement that Trump was able to get here compared to Mitt Romney in 2012 was shocking. Trump did almost twenty-four points better! Based on the results from 2018, this is another county where I expect for there to be some significant bounce back for the Democratic nominee. Biden’s objective here will be to get over a twenty-five-point win here in Douglas County. The Town of Lakeside in the north central part of the county on Lake Superior is the sub-unit that I am going to be keying in on when votes start to come in. Trump won here by seven-points, but his percentage was close to his statewide percentage. Both major statewide Democrats won this town in 2018 and both margins were close to the statewide margin. Biden will want to win here. If Biden is winning some of the places that only Tammy Baldwin has recently won like the towns of Bennett or Gordon or the Village of Lake Nebagamon, he will win the state by an impressive margin. Again, like other counties in this region, Trump will want to just do his best to prevent the margin from getting out of hand. Keeping it to around fifteen points would be a about where Trump would want it.
- 2019 Population: 5,687 (0.10%)
- Average Vote from County Percentage: 0.12%
- October 1, 2020 Voter Registration: 4,337 (0.12% of the statewide totals)
- PVI: R+8
- 2016 Presidential Margin: Trump +24%
- 2018 Gubernatorial Margin: Walker +17%
- 2018 Senate Margin: Vukmir +5%
- Municipalities: City of Hurley (1,436) Trump +17%
As indicative in the name, Iron County was home to large deposits of iron. Half of the now inactive Gogebic Range is present in this county. The mining industry boomed here in the 1880s before it declined in the Great Depression and the last shipment of iron ore from the county left Ashland in 1967. There were some discussions of reopening mining in the region in the early 2010s, but there was massive push back due to health and environmental concerns. Eventually, it was deemed to be not profitable enough. At one point this was one of the most Democratic counties in the state, but since Obama’s thirteen-point win in 2008, this county has moved hard to the right. Romney barely won it in 2012 before it swung almost twenty-four points to Trump. Both major statewide Democrats lost here in 2018 as well. This is not an uncommon political trajectory for many other mining counties across the nation. When it comes to this year’s election, I would focus in on the Town of Anderson in western Iron County. The margin here has been very close to the statewide elections in recent elections. Biden will want to win the town. If Biden is winning either or both of the cities of Hurley and Montreal, he will be on pace to a double-digit statewide win. Trump’s goal here would be to sweep the state by winning the Town of Gurney, which was a tie in 2016, and push the margin here close to thirty-points.