Polarization and party future: UW experts make predictions for RNC in Milwaukee

Posted at 3:18 PM, Jun 12, 2024

MADISON, Wis. — Protests, polarization, voter outreach, and the future of the Republican Party. Political experts from UW-Madison on Tuesday shared their expectations for the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee.

The convention is set to bring tens of thousands of people to the city this July. City officials estimate the event could generate upwards of $200 million in revenue, though some economists put that number much lower.

Barry Burden, who leads the Elections Research Center, said research shows that party conventions don’t have much effect on voter turnout in the states where they’re hosted. What the RNC could do, Burden said, is increase polarization in battleground Wisconsin.

“The main effect seems to be that it makes Democrats in surrounding counties more Democratic, so it boosts the Democratic vote in those places, and makes Republicans in surrounding counties more Republican,” he said at a luncheon hosted by “It sort of polarizes the local electorate I think by just putting more attention on the campaign and having them kind of elaborate and think about it a bit.”

Protests are expected to come along with that polarization. Debates over where protests can take place and how have already taken center stage in the buildup to the convention.

Among the biggest news coming out of the convention will be former President Donald Trump’s running mate. Trump has said he plans to pick his vice presidential candidate in Milwaukee.

Susan Webb Yackee, director of the La Follette School of Public Affairs, said whoever Trump chooses could become the next face of the Republican Party’s MAGA faction.

“We know that President Trump – if elected – would not be able to run again… setting up his VP to be the Republican potential candidate, you know – the keeper of the Trump movement going forward,” she said.

The Associated Press reported last week that the Trump campaign was vetting at least six candidates for the role, including Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum and Ohio Sen. J.D. Vance.

As for messaging, Yackee and Burden are predicting convention speeches centered on the border and the economy – top concerns among likely Republican voters – as well as related issues including fentanyl and crime.