Updated: Jul 3
Despite my earlier claims, I do think that this upcoming Presidential Election will be a close one. I am not the first to wonder if we could see an Electoral College tie this time around. As a result, any state, any delegate, could swing the election. This is the first article in the State Spotlight series, in which different TPIN writers will be looking into a specific state’s role in the upcoming Presidential Election.
Michigan lies in the north-west of the United States, bordering four of the five Great Lakes (Erie, Huron, Michigan & Superior). In the Electoral College, Michigan is a relatively large state in terms of EC delegates, offering 16, joint 6th in the United States, tied with Georgia. However, unlike Georgia, Michigan represents a true battleground state. In the past ten Presidential Elections, Michigan has gone to the Republicans five times and the Democrats five times. Only four out of those ten times, have Michigan not elected the eventual winning party of the election. In my opinion, Michigan holds the keys to this election’s eventual winner, and if I were able to find out who is to win Michigan, I would be putting a lot of money on that person becoming the President.
Perhaps more interestingly, this upcoming election puts Michiganians in a difficult electoral position. The state opted for the Democratic Obama-Biden ticket in both 2008 and 2012 (+16.4% majority in 2008; +9.5% majority in 2012) but flipped to the Republican Trump-Pence ticket in 2016 by the slimmest of margins (+0.3% majority). Given the presumptive Democratic nominee is Joe Biden, who is known for repeatedly name-dropping Barack Obama, and the Republican Presidential incumbent is Donald Trump, this state is undoubtedly an eminently winnable state for both parties, and a valuable one at that.
It would be a foolish position to start from, to argue that Biden simply needs to overcome a 0.3% Republican majority in the 2020 election. In the past four years, opinions of Trump will have shifted, some becoming more positive, others becoming more negative. To get a precise picture, the most accurate information available to us is through polling data.
The RCP Poll Average shows that currently, Biden seems to hold a fairly solid lead over Trump in the state; certainly not a foregone conclusion though. Add to that, the fact that in the previous election, Hillary Clinton held a decent lead over Trump, with the final electoral results seeing a 3.9 swing towards Trump. Assuming the same swing in this election, the RCP Average would still dictate Biden take the state, but only by a slim margin.
It is hard to draw any major conclusions about Michigan based on that polling, without making some assumptions on the repetition of history, which would be foolish. So, instead, let’s take a look at President Trump’s approval rating in Michigan. According to Morning Consult, Trump is currently polling at -10 net approval in Michigan. Since taking office, his approval rating as decreased 18 points overall.
However, many commentators and academics have posited that a minority of Trump voters will likely vote for him in 2020, despite their disapproval and dislike for his actions. This comes with a variety of reasons, but the overriding consensus being that they feel it is better to have an outsider in the White House, than a Washington D.C. careerist.
In lieu of approval ratings for Biden in Michigan, we must turn to the next best information – arguably more concrete than approval ratings: Primary results. In the 2020 Democratic Primaries in Michigan, Joe Biden astonishingly managed to carry every single county, whilst also picking up a majority of the votes (52.93%). Compared to the same Primaries in the 2016 cycle, the 2020 Michigan Primaries demonstrated Joe Biden’s ability to win over Michigan voters. In 2016, of the 83 counties in Michigan, Sanders beat Clinton in all but 10 of them, whilst falling 0.33% short of a majority of votes in the State Primaries. The clear Sanders sympathies in 2016, coupled with the Michigan electorate’s overwhelming preference for Biden in 2020, gives Democrats cause for optimism in Biden's ability to win over working-class voters.
Looking at demographics, White Americans make up the largest portion of Michigan with 79.3%. Next, Michigan’s African American population sits at 14.1%, making it the 14th largest state in the U.S. for size of African American population. Hispanic people constitute 5.2% of Michigan's population, with Asian Americans at 3.4%, Multiracial individuals at 2.5%, (Native) American Indians at 0.6%, Pacific Islanders at <0.1% with individuals of another race occupying a further 1.5%, according to the 2010 United States Census.
The importance of demographics cannot be overlooked when analysing elections, particularly states in Presidential Elections. The Democrats are well known for their electoral coalition, which generally includes women, people of colour, young people, urbanites, graduates, the poor and immigrants. Counter to that, the Republican coalition generally consists of rural citizens, the elderly, the well-off and Evangelical Christians. However, some voters can fit into two of these categories; often two categories that generally belong to both party’s electoral coalitions. For example, someone can be poor, but live in a rural area, and would thus fit into both electoral coalitions. Part of why Trump was so confoundingly successful in 2016 was become he swayed more poor, working-class voters away from the Democratic Party and towards the Republicans.
However, in 2016, black voter turnout fell nationwide. Whether the ongoing #BlackLivesMatter movement will inspire an increase in African American voter turnout at the next election, remains to be seen. If that increase is to happen, it could cause major issues for Trump’s electoral hopes in Michigan. On the other hand, if he acknowledges the importance of retaining Michigan and the other high-value midwestern states, he could well go on to triumph in 2020 as well. On balance, I think it is far too early to make any conclusive predictions on who will take Michigan, but looking at how things currently stand, I would tentatively call it Biden's to lose. That said, a Trump victory in Michigan come November is by no means improbable.
What we know for sure is that this election will take an entirely different form to other elections that have preceded it. With the COVID-19 pandemic still ongoing, the protests over George Floyd’s murder, and other issues that are certain to rear their head in the coming months, we will certainly be watching history being written right before our eyes.