Sawyer, the county that sees clearly

For more than half a century, Sawyer County in northern Wisconsin has performed the same miracle every four years: in every presidential election, it votes for the future winner. Its inhabitants – today numbering around 16,000 – voted with as much enthusiasm for a bad actor as for a dubious businessman; for a black nerd than for a Texan cowboy. Democrat or Republican, it doesn’t matter: the county is not watching. But he is clairvoyant.

Politically representative, however, the county is not demographically representative. It is populated almost exclusively by whites (76%) and Indians (17%). Geographically too, it is at the margin: the Canadian border passes a little further north, somewhere in the middle of Lake Superior. Mexico is far away, and the few Latinos are busy making tacos at the county’s only Mexican restaurant, in Hayward, the main town. But all the same: after having chosen Barack Obama twice, Sawyer County voted for Donald Trump in 2016.

An electoral feat

The reasons for this repeated electoral feat since 1964 remain a mystery. But this county is not the only one: a handful of others are doing just as well in the country. They are called “bellwether” counties – literally, the bell-carrying sheep, the one who leads the flock. This small platoon holds its leader, at the other end of the country: in New Mexico, Valencia – just as unrepresentative demographically, since almost 60% of its population is Hispanic – has posted an impressive flawless performance since the election of Dwight Einsenhower, in 1952.

Twelve years later, when Sawyer County began its great streak, the country was in the cold war, and feared the Soviets. Today, it is the Covid-19 that is scary. The infinitely small managed to make its way through the forests to the Canadian border. At Hayward gas stations, to avoid contagion, we advise you to put on gloves to refuel. Perhaps it will also be necessary to equip on November 3, to calmly tap your choice on the machines. And carry on the tradition of Sawyer County.


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