A Tale of Two States
35 Pages Posted: 28 Aug 2013 Last revised: 29 Aug 2013
Date Written: August 26, 2013
At least since 2000, there has been a sharp increase in political activity surrounding elections for state supreme court justices. The amount of money being raised by candidates in some elections has skyrocketed. Television advertising has increased. Interest groups have been active players both as direct contributors and through independent advertising and activities. In fact these changes are far from universal. While these changes have occurred in some states they have not — at least not yet — occurred in others. This is clearly illustrated by the two neighboring states of Wisconsin and Minnesota. As I discuss in the following sections of paper, while Wisconsin has seen substantial changes, Minnesota has not. These two states have some similarities in terms of political culture, largely sharing what Daniel Elazar labeled a “moralistic political culture,” and have been two of the Midwestern states that have had generally liberal politics over the last 50 years, with Minnesota supporting the Republican presidential candidate only one time in the fourteen elections between 1960 and 2012 and Wisconsin supporting the Republican candidate five times in those same fourteen elections. One difference between the two states is in their economies; while both have strong agricultural sectors, Minnesota’s industrial base has been more technology-based while Wisconsin was more dependent on heavy manufacturing. As a result, Wisconsin has been more affected by the exit of heavy industry to nonunion states and to overseas locations. However, it is unclear why this economic difference would be reflected in the different patterns found in elections for the two states’ supreme courts. Thus, an intriguing puzzle is why these two neighbors have taken such different paths over the last 15 to 20 years. The bulk of this paper (which will be the first chapter in a book on state supreme court elections since 1946) describes the differences in how state supreme court elections have evolved in the two states. The paper concludes with a brief discussion of what might account for the differences.
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