STURGEON BAY Wis. — As the country inches closer to what could be one of the most polarizing presidential elections in 2024, the list of swing counties in Wisconsin known to elect both Democrats and Republicans in statewide races is shrinking.

What You Need To Know

  • Wisconsin is home to two bellwether counties: Door and Sauk

  • Door County has correctly backed every president for more than two decades including Donald Trump in 2016 and Joe Biden in 2020
  • The near-evenly split county politically has only deviated from the winner of the presidential election in one election since 1980; it voted for George H.W. Bush for president in 1992 instead of the electoral college winner Bill Clinton

In Wisconsin, only two such counties remain: Sauk and Door. Despite the perceived pressure of being known as one of the most predictive counties in the country, let alone the state, locals will tell you lake life in Sturgeon Bay is great.

“It’s a place to come and relax and enjoy the water,” said Chandell Johnson, a longtime resident of Sturgeon Bay.

The water surrounding the city is Lake Michigan, a major draw to the area. Tourism is not just the city’s biggest economic driver, it’s also the county’s.

“It's this best kept secret,” said Bill Mann, another Sturgeon Bay resident. “It really has a lot to offer. It's beautiful.”

This small city inside the modest county has an even bigger secret: It’s the state’s premier bellwether.

“Door County is a complicated, interesting swing county because it has a lot of tourism,” said Barry Burden, the director of the Elections Research Center at UW-Madison. “So, you know, a lot of part timers who live there part of the year, people who are into environmental tourism, arts and those kinds of things that tend to be more Democratic. But also some real working class communities, a lot of white voters, older voters, which tend to skew Republican.”

The near-evenly split county has correctly backed every president for more than two decades including Donald Trump in 2016 and Joe Biden in 2020.

Johnson, a conservative voter, said he believes transplants could explain the county’s swing state of mind.

“I think that's where a lot of that comes from,” she said. “People that come up here for the weekends and a lot of them have moved up here year-round after a while.”

Mann's story is similar. He’s a Democrat from Milwaukee who moved to Sturgeon Bay five years ago.

“I've been coming up here for 50 years, farmed as a younger boy with my grandfather and just enjoyed it,” Mann said. “We never thought we could really afford to be in Door County, but we found a home right on the lake that met all of our needs.”

Mann is used to bright blue politics in the metro area but he said he found an interesting dynamic in this purple part of the state.

“From what I've seen, it's a lot of folks that have good conversations politically and intellectually and are willing to share thoughts, which I think is great,” he said. “It also educates me on what's important to people and what's their basis for why they believe in a in a certain cause or why they might be voting a certain way.”

That civil discourse can also be rare at a time when political divisions run deep. But both Mann and Johnson said they’ve seen neighbors in the county around elections disagree without being disagreeable.

“Everyone has their choice in what they believe,” Johnson said. “And that's just the way we like to keep it.”

With 2024 on the horizon, folks in this predictive county said they’re less sure what might happen this time.

“I'm anxious more than anything,” Mann said. “With all the turmoil going on and the craziness that's happening right now, it's really unfortunate what's happening to our United States.”

After seeing Trump lose in 2020, Johnson said it’s hard to see Republicans getting a favorable outcome in 2024.