When you think of the perfect state for Donald Trump, Wyoming probably isn’t your first thought, and not just because the state ranks with Delaware on the list of states many Americans forget about when trying to list all the states. But it was his best state in 2016, and there’s no reason to think it won’t be this time.
Why? What makes Wyoming the paragon of Trumpiness? Sure, it’s a very red state. The last time it chose a Democrat was 1964. A Democratic candidate has only done better in Wyoming than nationally twice. And last time was 1916. Hillary Clinton wasn’t going to compete. Still, this was the most red (+48) compared to the country Wyoming has ever been.
Let’s see why Wyoming was and likely remains the perfect storm for Trump’s success:
2016 Results: Donald Trump 67.40%, Hillary Clinton 21.63%, Gary Johnson 5.13% (R +48)
That wasn’t a typo. A major party candidate got just over a fifth of the vote in a presidential election.
2020 Polls: There are none. Another indication of how uncompetitive Wyoming is.
Key Historical Shifts: In Wyoming’s first ever presidential contest (1892), Republican Benjamin Harrison narrowly defeated Populist James Weaver. The Democrat Grover Cleveland wasn’t even on the ballot. Supporters figured Weaver has the better chance of defeating Harrison in the state. This was the height of the agrarian populist movement, Free Silver, and all of that. Weaver won 5 western states that year (NV, ID, CO, KS, ND.)
The pattern was already set. Wyoming voted mostly like a western state, but a little more pro-Republican. When Democrats and Populists nominated William Jennings Bryan and his pro-silver platform in 1896, he swept the region, including Wyoming, despite losing the election. However, where Bryan won almost 80% of the vote in Idaho and Montana, he was limited to 51% in Wyoming.
Bryan gave it another try four years later, and lost Wyoming while winning Idaho and Montana. You get the idea. It’s always been the most hospitable western state for Republicans. After Bryan, four other Democrats have found success in the region. Woodrow Wilson (1912, 1916), FDR (1932, 1936, 1940, 1944), Harry Truman (1948), and LBJ (1964).
In each instance, excepting 1944, Wyoming voted for the Democrat. However, it was almost always by smaller margins than the Democrat managed in their overall national victory. The biggest exception was 1916, when Wilson was +10 in Wyoming. In 1948, Truman had an almost identical result as his 4 point national win over Thomas Dewey.
There’s a reason it was those two years. Wilson’s 1916 campaign relied on running against involvement in The Great War. His slogan was “he kept us out of war.” While he’d declare war against Germany about a month after inauguration to his second term, at the time it was persuasive and Wyoming is traditionally isolationist, so Wilson made the state bluer than in any other election.
Truman’s 1948 campaign was one of the most populist in American history, and he’s the last Democrat to sweep the Mountain time zone without it being part of a national landslide. Given that Trump is the least internationalist Republican nominee or president in several generations, and likely the most populist ever, it’s not a shock that he would resonate well.
He does best with white voters. Roughy 85% of Wyoming identifies as White, non-Hispanic on their census survey. Voters with a bachelors degree are less likely to choose Trump. Wyoming ranks 41st in percentage of residents with a 4-year degree. What about income? Wyoming does decently, 21st in median household income. Generally speaking, lower state income is a positive indicator for Trump. There’s an exception though. When voters have a high income despite not having a degree, particularly if self-employed, they tend to heavily favor Trump.
That’s Wyoming. The self-employment rate is in the top 10, and the gap between placement on the income list and education list is the greatest. Whether you focus on demographics, nature of the state economy, historical party preferences, or populism/isolationism, the state is made to order for Trump.
Ways Biden Could Improve on 2016: We don’t have any data to back this up yet, but Biden could do a few points better just by being Not Hillary. In most states, he’s running ahead of her support among older white people and non-college white people. If forced to guess, I’d say this won’t help as much in Wyoming as elsewhere as Biden is clearly internationalist in his words and record. He’s pro-Union, but not populist, and that’s backwards from what sells in Wyoming.
Perhaps surprisingly, Bernie Sanders would probably be the recent Democratic candidate who would do best here. Yes, he’s far left, but in a populist way, and doesn’t favor international entanglements. Socialist Eugene Debs did better in Wyoming than most states during his various presidential campaigns in the early 1900s. As we’ve seen, the state is fundamentally similar in outlook over a century later.
Ways Trump Could Improve on 2016: Not that he needs help here, but Gary Johnson did grab 5% of the vote last time as a Libertarian. We don’t know how many of those were Republicans who couldn’t stomach Trump or Independents/Democrats who were Never Hillary. Given how antithetical to Wyoming the Democrats campaign is/will be, having some of those Johnson voters get Trump past 70% is very possible.
Outlook: With absentee/mail voting, we may not know much on election night. I can guarantee we’ll know who won Wyoming.