President Barack Obama’s decision to come to the University of Michigan only a day before the election, coupled with other recent Democratic and GOP visit, suggests that Michigan’s role in this presidential election may be a bit different than usual.
For the past six elections, Michigan has maintained a consistent Democrat majority. However, this year, there have been suggestions from the beginning of the campaign season of the potential for a shift in the state toward the Republican party. Polls tightened even as Tuesday approaches, with the current RealClearPolitics aggregate poll putting Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton at about three points ahead of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.
At the same time, polls in the 2012 election also suggested a narrowing lead between Obama and former Republican nominee Mitt Romney ahead of the election. Despite being within five points of Romney in the weeks before the election, Obama won the state by a 9.5 point margin.
Along with Obama, other Democratic politicians and candidates spoke at the rally, including Larry Deitch (D) and Denise Ilitch (D), candidates for the University’s Board of Regents, as well as Reps. Debbie Dingell (D–Mich.), Brenda Lawrence (–Mich.), Sandy Levin (D–Mich.) and Sen. Gary Peters (D–Mich.).
Republicans, too, have realized the potential Trump has to turn Michigan red. The candidate has spent a significant amount of time in the state in the days leading up to the election. In the past week, he has made two stops in the state, with his running mate Gov. Mike Pence (R–Ind.) making three. There have been several other stops in the state by his children Ivanka, Eric and Donald Trump Jr.
On Monday, both Clinton and Trump visited Grand Rapids, Mich. on their last day on the campaign trail, while Obama aimed to get out the vote at the University.
But regardless of the tight polls and uptick in visits, the likelihood of anything a GOP win remains low, according to pollsters and experts. The FiveThirtyEight election forecast, created by combining polls from across the country with historical trends, Monday night put Clinton with a 78.1 percent chance of winning the state.
Political Science Prof. Vincent Hutchings, who is an expert in voting behavior and elections, said though polls are tight currently, there is a low likelihood that Trump will pull through.
“I doubt it will be a blowout here in Michigan, but I nevertheless expect the Democrats to win here as they have for the last several presidential elections,” Hutchings said. “I understand why Trump is trying to flip the state, and why Democrats are trying to counter those efforts, but it seems to me that there’s a very low probability that the state will go Republican this year.”
Aaron Kall, the University’s director of debate and an election expert, estimated that Democrats have a 75 percent chance of winning the state of Michigan.
“Early voting has now concluded in several battleground states, so it makes sense for Clinton to spend much of her Sunday and Monday in states where a plurality of the voters won’t vote until Tuesday,” Kall said. “These are the places she should be making her closing argument in person. Democratic officials have said off the record they are concerned about Michigan, but they are likely saying this to make sure voters remain enthusiastic and actually show up at the polls on Tuesday.”
Kall said he foresees the Clinton campaign strategy as focused on holding Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, so there is no way for Trump to win — even if he were to win traditional swing states.
Coming to Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan at this point in the race is particularly notable in itself. The most recent Michigan Daily poll of students for a three-way race with Clinton, Trump and “other” put Clinton as the winner by a broad margin of 87 percent to 13 percent in support of Trump.
Volunteers of all parties on campus — including heavy efforts from the Democrats in particular — have also emphasized the student vote. Michigan Daily polling data shows 93 percent of students are registered to vote, though students on average usually turn out in lower numbers.
Hutchings said the appeal to college students is mixed because while younger people vote at lower rates, on average people who are more educated vote at higher rates.
“The student vote has some significance especially for the Democrats,” Hutchings said. “Historically, younger people are less likely to vote but turnout is also associated with high education. So, college students will turn out relative to young people without a college education and this year this demographic is trending Democratic.”
Hutchings said for Clinton, where every little bit counts, these student votes could mean a lot overall.
Kall reiterated his point that Democrats may be more interested in energizing the young population through visits like Obama’s, rather than concerned about losing the state as a whole.
“The millennial vote is becoming crucial to the overall election,” Kall said. “These voters overwhelmingly favor Clinton, but are sometimes apathetic about voting.”
During his remarks Monday, however, the president largely stuck to local to state issues rather than student issues.
He devoted a lot of time to addressing the concerns of Michigan voters — not just students. Though his speech touched on issues of student debt, it also focused on unions and the resurgence of the auto industry, issues not always on the forefront of students’ minds but on the minds of many Michigan residents overall.
“Since we’re in Michigan, take a look at what (Trump) said about the auto industry,” Obama said in the speech. “Now, remember, when I came into office, the industry was flat on its back. And we made some tough decisions to bring workers, management, everybody together in order to revitalize the industry. Just last summer, Donald Trump said ‘You could have let it go bankrupt, frankly.’ ”
He noted that, had the auto industry crashed in Michigan, it would have cost residents millions of jobs. For the Universiy student body, composed of almost half out-of-state students, these issues might have been less salient. According to Michigan Daily polling, many students overall intend to vote in Ann Arbor rather than absentee.
Overall, Kall said while Democrats campaigning heavily in states like Michigan at the tail end of the election is out of the ordinary, it could be for reasons like energizing voters, not because of legitimate concerns.
Hutchings agreed, saying Obama campaigning in Michigan is probably in response to the attention Trump is giving to the state rather than due to a legitimate threat of it flipping.
“In the case of Trump, he has to flip at least one ‘blue’ state — in addition to winning all the battleground states — in order to win tomorrow,” Hutchings said. “Because Michigan is relatively close, he and his team are focusing here and a few other places. I think this is probably why the Democrats have responded as they have with Obama and former President Bill Clinton coming to Michigan.”