Wisconsin residents don’t follow blindly, whether they’re voters or cows.
Last week, a cattle drive was called off when 50 cows, rather than take orders from cattlemen, decided they’d rather destroy a soybean field. Try to push around Wisconsinites, be they bipedal or bovine, and we’ll push back.
It’s hard to understand why a Dodge County farmer thought the herd would march as directed along 15 miles of county highways from Lebanon to Juneau. Maybe he didn’t, and was in fact secretly filming a comedic scene for “City Slickers 3.” This much we know: Wisconsinites don’t mindlessly do what they’re told.
Independence is valued here, making individual behavior difficult to predict. National media have descended on America’s Dairyland recently in hopes of understanding an electorate that voted for both Barack Obama and Donald Trump. Observers figure where Wisconsin goes, the nation may follow: They want to know whether we’ll go Democrat, go Republican, or go to the nearest soybean field.
Cheeseheads are making political experts’ heads spin, as 64 percent were critical of Trump’s conduct in a recent poll, yet 77 percent of those who voted for him said they approved of his job performance. They say he’s making America great, even as he makes America grate.
Wisconsin had elected seven consecutive Democrats for president before flipping for Trump. He took the state by 0.7 percent over Hillary Clinton who, in an act of campaign management malpractice, didn’t bother to visit. None of the dozens of polls conducted in the months leading up to the election had Trump winning the state, which tells you two things. First, that Wisconsin voters are, like their cattle, unpredictable. And second, that 90 percent of polls are 100 percent useless.
It speaks volumes about Wisconsin’s independent streak that its U.S. senators are Democrat Tammy Baldwin, the first openly gay member of that chamber; and Republican Ron Johnson, a business magnate who is the quintessential old, rich white guy.
Because we sway from red to blue, analysts try to call us purple, a label we reject due to professional football allegiances. They have flocked to Wisconsin — rather than pulling a Hillary and ignoring us — in hopes of finding out why Trump won here. And in hopes of predicting where America might go from here.
So far, they’re baffled. They can’t figure out how the same voters who supported Democrat Russ Feingold for the U.S. Senate last fall also swung to Trump. Or why our idea of “dress clothes” is a Packers shirt that has sleeves. Or why cows roam the highways.
Only 25 percent of Wisconsinites polled by NBC News and Marist said Trump’s conduct has made them proud. His approval rating is only 33 percent. Yet 77 percent of people who voted for him approve of his job performance.
Maybe spending some time in the state will help the experts make sense of Wisconsinites’ way of thinking. Sometimes we can’t make heads or tails of it ourselves. Why do we call off school due to severe winter weather, then break out snowmobiles and sleds to spend the day out in those very elements? Why are we the only people on Earth who drink brandy old-fashioneds? And why does state law give livestock the right of way on highways?
I think I can answer that last one. We know our cows, like our voters, tend to follow their own path. You can try to guide Wisconsinites, but you’re best off planning for them to exert their independence. We’re not much for the herd mentality.