Despite polls showing a narrowing race in Michigan between President Barack Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, the state will likely give its 16 electoral votes to Obama, according to University experts.
Officials said the election in the state — which has not given its electoral votes to a Republican presidential candidate since 1988 — will likely be closer than it was in 2008, when Obama won the state by 16 points.
Despite Romney’s recent surge in state-wide polls, experts said a combination of demographic factors, Obama’s support for the bailout of the Detroit automakers and a lack of home state support for the Bloomfield Hills native makes it likely that Obama will win Michigan.
Political Science Prof. Michael Traugott estimated that Obama would win by about five or six points, in accordance with the margin most statewide polls are projecting.
“There’s some difference on the size of the margin, but I don’t think it’s competitive or in danger of Obama losing,” Traugott said.
Over the last few weeks, polls in the state have fluctuated from a slight lead for Obama to a tie between the candidates.
On Sunday, the Democratic firm Baydoun-Foster released a poll conducted for Fox 2 News that showed Obama with 46.92 percent of the vote over Romney’s 46.56 percent — a 0.36 margin.
Similar polls have registered a lead for Obama around the margin that Traugott predicted. Public Policy Polling’s last survey of the state, released on Saturday, projected Obama holding a 52-46 edge over Romney, while a poll by the Detroit Free Press showed Obama with the same lead, 48 percent to 42 percent.
Traugott said in order for Romney to win Michigan, he would need strong voter turnout from cities like Grand Rapids and counties on the west side of the state.
He added he might also need low voter turnout from pro-Obama areas of the state like Detroit and Ann Arbor.
However, Traugott said the combination of high voter turnout among Republicans and low turnout among Democrats would be unlikely given polls showing high turnout among Democrats.
Political Science Prof. Michael Heaney agreed that it is possible for Romney to win the state, but noted Michigan is not a particularly influential state leading into Election Day.
“Michigan will not be a decisive state,” he said. “It’s like this third layer of icing on the cake.”
Heaney said he would advise voters to focus more on other, more critical swing states.
“It would be really hard for Obama to lose Michigan,” Heaney said. “My advice would be, don’t waste your time watching the presidential returns in Michigan. I would say, ‘Watch Virginia.’”
Heaney said the areas in the state to watch in particular are Oakland and Macomb counties, which Traugott said are filled with working-class workers who are not strong supporters of Obama, but are reluctant to vote for Romney.
In Macomb County, Republicans are more energized than they were four years ago, according to Cecil St. Pierre, the city council president in Warren, Mich., the county’s largest city.
“The ground game has swelled and cannot be compared to any other election,” he said, adding that the Republican victory center in Macomb County is always full.
Michael Taylor, the mayor pro-tempore in Sterling Heights, Mich., in Macomb County, wrote in an e-mail interview that Republicans there have been more active than in the last presidential election.
“At this point in ’08, conservatives seemed resigned to the fact that Obama was the inevitable winner,” Taylor wrote. “This year is a completely different story.”
Despite narrowing margins among the presidential candidates, neither Obama nor Romney has appeared in the state in the past few months. Romney most recently visited the state in August, while Obama has not appeared here since April.
Vice President Joe Biden and Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan have campaigned in the state more recently. Biden held a rally in Detroit on Labor Day, and Ryan spoke at Oakland University on Oct. 8.
The campaigns have also dispatched surrogates to the state in the final weeks as polls have revealed a tightening margin for Romney. On Saturday, Obama campaign adviser Broderick Johnson and former University football player Cato June, along with U.S. Sen. Carl Levin (D–Mich.) and U.S. Rep. John Dingell (D–Mich.), advocated for Obama at the campaign’s Ann Arbor headquarters.
Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. John McCain (R–Ariz.), the Republican presidential nominee in 2008, campaigned for Romney in Royal Oak, Mich. last week. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R–Va.) held a rally for Romney at a football tailgate last month.
Romney’s wife, Ann Romney, also visited Grand Rapids for a campaign appearance two weeks ago.