What if Hillary Clinton Had Gone to Wisconsin? Presidential Campaign Visits and Vote Choice in the 2016 Election

Christopher J. Devine 1
  • 1 University of Dayton, Department of Political Science, Dayton, OH, USA
Christopher J. Devine
  • Corresponding author
  • University of Dayton, Department of Political Science, Dayton, OH, USA
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  • Christopher J. Devine is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Dayton, in Dayton, Ohio. He is the co-author of The VP Advantage: How Vice Running Mates Influence Home State Voting in Presidential Elections (with Kyle C. Kopko, Manchester University Press, 2016), and has published research on topics including political parties, ideology, and the US presidency.
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Hillary Clinton’s failure to visit the key battleground state of Wisconsin in 2016 has become a popular metaphor for the alleged strategic inadequacies of her presidential campaign. Critics who cite this fact, however, make two important assumptions: that campaign visits are effective, in general, and that they were effective for Clinton in 2016. I test these assumptions using an original database of presidential and vice presidential campaign visits in 2016. Specifically, I regress party vote share on each candidate’s number of campaign visits, at the county level, first for all counties located within battleground states, and then for counties located within each of six key battleground states: Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin. The results of this analysis do not clearly support either of the assumptions made by Clinton’s critics. In general, none of the presidential or vice presidential candidates – including Clinton – significantly influenced voting via campaign visits. However, Clinton is one of only two candidates – along with Mike Pence, in Ohio – whose campaign visits had a significant effect on voting in an individual state. Specifically, Clinton’s visits to Pennsylvania improved the Democratic ticket’s performance in that state by 1.2 percentage points. Also, there is weak evidence to suggest that Clinton might have had a similar effect on voting in Michigan. It is unclear from this evidence whether Clinton also would have gained votes, or even won, in Wisconsin had she campaigned in that state. But two conclusions are clear. First, Clinton’s visits to Democratic-leaning battleground states did not have the “backfiring” effect that her campaign reportedly feared. Second, Donald Trump did not win in Pennsylvania, Michigan, or Wisconsin as a direct result of his campaign visits to those decisive states.

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