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Wisconsin Voters Say Both Sides Must Move Past Contentious Election

NOEL KING, HOST:

Wisconsin was a swing state again this year. Joe Biden won it by about 20,000 votes, which is almost exactly the same number that Donald Trump won it by four years ago. So Wisconsin is deeply divided. How does the state move on? Here's NPR's David Schaper.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: There's this thing in Wisconsin; maybe you've heard of it. It's called Wisconsin nice.

KATHY CRAMER: Wisconsin nice is this behavior of avoiding conflict, generally.

SCHAPER: Kathy Cramer is a political scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

CRAMER: I can remember numerous times growing up, people would say things like, yeah, you just stay away from politics, sex and religion. Just don't talk about those things (laughter), you know?

SCHAPER: I do know. I went to college there and - this is true - one of my first roommates said those exact words to me as we were moving into the dorm.

CRAMER: Wisconsin nice meant that if you didn't get along with someone politically, you still got along with them. You just didn't talk about politics.

SCHAPER: But Wisconsin nice was already disappearing a decade ago when Republican Scott Walker was elected governor and immediately slashed union rights for most public employees. And the state's political divide grew even wider after Trump took office. That might be why at this sidewalk cafe in downtown Kenosha, many seemed more eager to talk about the unseasonably warm weather than politics. And those enjoying this rare 70-degree day in November say they're feeling...

JOEY MORALES: A sense of relief.

SCHAPER: ...Thirty-four-year-old Joey Morales says he really feels that Kenosha - and the whole country - have been on edge.

JOEY MORALES: I feel like there's so much hate, and people have been pushing each other away. There's a sense of division, and the country needs to come together and rebuild.

JASMINE MORALES: I mean, we're still boarded up. You can still see it here in Kenosha.

SCHAPER: Thirty-one-year-old Jasmine Morales points to plywood on storefronts all around downtown Kenosha months after the police shooting of Jacob Blake and subsequent protests that turned violent, with two demonstrators shot and killed and a third seriously wounded. She had hoped this election would heal some of those wounds.

JASMINE MORALES: With everything, all the unrest and everything that's happened, this should bring us together.

SCHAPER: But that may be difficult to do here. After winning Kenosha County by just 238 votes four years ago, President Trump won this county by nearly 3,000 votes this year, and that's with a significant increase in voter turnout. It's surprising to many here after a summer of racial strife. Southeast Wisconsin has some of the nation's widest racial inequities by virtually every measure.

TIMOTHY THOMPKINS: Biden may win this election, but that hasn't changed America's heart of the deep-seeded systemic racism.

SCHAPER: Timothy Thompkins is a member of the Kenosha Coalition for Dismantling Racism. He says you can't have a serious talk about the political divisions here without discussing race.

THOMPKINS: America needs to heal from its inside. Elections don't do that. People do that beyond the elections.

SCHAPER: But in the more conservative western end of Kenosha, many Trump supporters are not yet ready to look past the election.

JIM COLLETTI: I honestly think somebody's put the kibosh in - somehow the numbers are wrong. Trump should have won Wisconsin.

SCHAPER: Jim Colletti is outside of the world-famous Brat Stop, a place where people returning from weekend trips up north stock up on beer, sausage and cheese. He's sitting at a picnic table enjoying his brat.

COLLETTI: I think it's all a scam. There's too many inconsistencies with the election.

SCHAPER: Inside at the Brat Stop's bar, some other Trump supporters express concerns about the nation's deep political divide. Here's 61-year-old Terry Beal.

TERRY BEAL: They need to find a way to come together for the good of the people. Right now, the country has been in turmoil for the whole year.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SCHAPER: Beal is sipping beer and playing a dice game with her friend Mary McNigh, who is even more pessimistic.

MARY MCNIGH: I just don't think people are - they like being mad. They like having something to argue about.

SCHAPER: McNigh and Beal agree that, in a way, the nation's political divide really reflects us. And even in Wisconsin, it appears that many people just don't want to be nice about politics these days.

David Schaper, NPR News, Kenosha, Wis. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.