Charting the politics of Michigan

Tuesday, November 6, 2018 - 11:25pm

Charting the politics of Michigan

Charting the politics of Michigan Buy this photo
Willa Hua

An election is nothing more than a snapshot of the electorate at a given time. Nevertheless, the results of the 2018 midterm elections in Michigan help form a wider story of the shifting political sands of the state and the nation. To help conceptualize today’s election results, the Statement Magazine has charted out how Michigan’s political map has shifted in three pivotal elections and how control of local and statewide offices has changed beginning in 2000. To see the full 2-page spread of our project, please pick up a print edition of the Daily.

 

2000: Bush v. Gore

Amid a close national race where Texas Gov. George W. Bush ultimately prevailed, Vice President Al Gore edged out Bush in Michigan by five percentage points. Gore’s victory in the state was powered by strong margins out of Detroit, and traditionally-Democratic industrial and rural areas largely on the east side of the state, including Macomb County. On the same night U.S. Rep. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., beat incumbent Sen. Spencer Abraham, R-Mich., for Michigan’s Senate seat by two percentage points in a much closer race. Democrats retained control over Michigan’s seats in the House — holding 10 out of 16 seats.


 

2008: The Obama Coalition

Though Republicans had early hope for contesting Michigan, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., ultimately had a decisive win in the state, beating Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz, by nearly 17 percentage points. In his victory, Obama carried not only historically Democratic areas, but also swept many predominantly white, working-class areas in rural and Upper Peninsula counties. The turnout of the voting age population for the election was 66 percent — almost four percent higher than the national rate and eight percent higher than 2000.


2014: Two paths 

In a hotly contested race, Governor Rick Snyder (R) secured reelection by four percentage points with a map that would somewhat resemble Donald Trump's winning map two years later. Yet on the same night, Democrat Gary Peters (D) beat Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land (R) for Michigan's open senate seat by thirteen percentage points with a map that resembled Obama's coalition from six years ago. The 2014 midterms would signal that although Michigan had drifted to the right since Obama's election, many of its voters retained their old Democratic affinities.


2016: Shattering the Obama Coalition

Republican businessman Donald Trump took the nation by surprise by narrowly winning many Midwestern states, including Michigan where he beat former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton by 11,000 votes out of 4.8 million votes that were cast in the state. Trump’s victory was built on flipping historically Democratic industrial strongholds in regions such as Macomb, Saginaw and Bay counties — many of which had voted for Obama only recently — and relatively weak voter enthusiasm in Detroit. Clinton had a relatively strong showing in upscale and educated areas such as Ann Arbor, but this was not enough to overcome Democrats’ historically weak performance in Michigan’s rural areas.


In the 2016 presidential election, Democratic support in traditionally-Democratic blue collar areas collapsed, as seen in counties such as Genessee (Flint), Bay and Macomb. However, Clinton was able to improve on Democrats' historical performance in relatively affluent suburban communities such as Washtenaw and Oakland Counties. This trend even held in affluent Republican areas, such as Kent and Ottawa Counties outside of Grand Rapids.

County-level presidential margins in Michigan

County-level presidential margins in Michigan Buy this photo
Willa Hua