Swing State Series - Michigan

Swing State Series - Michigan

Votes win elections, not polls. And you can’t vote if you don’t register. Last October, I built a voter model (CE-VM) and showed how registrations in Michigan were trending in favor of the President. Elevated registrations are actually occurring in 2016 Republican counties, a phenomenon being repeated in Michigan and across the Rust Belt. The fever pitch hatred of the President is real, but it is concentrated in areas where Joe Biden is certain to win. And the economies of the Rust Belt are outperforming their coastal peers, at least as far as unemployment goes. They are more likely to give the President a pass on his botched handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. There is at least a 50% chance that the President sweeps Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, and potentially win Minnesota. With those states lost, Biden’s path to victory would not exist.

Michigan Population

Last year, I argued that the Michigan electorate may have permanently changed to Republican. If that is right, Democrats have a tall order to flip the state back to Blue. Recall, that of the 207 U.S. counties that flipped from one party to the other from 2008 to 2012, only 23 reversed back in 2016. (Source: Townhall.com, Guardian).

And consider that President Trump may have created a new generation of “Trump Democrats”. Consider the 12 counties that flipped to the GOP in 2016. In 8 of them, President Trump received more votes than President Obama did in 2012. This is only partially explained by higher turnout.

In Michigan, there are more people in counties that voted Republican than Democrat in 2016. Of course, 12 counties flipped to Red from 2012 and could flip back. But the starting point favors the President:

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And registrations suggest the same picture.

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But it’s not just population. You see the problem for Democrats. More registrations in Republican counties (yes, they could flip – more on that later). The two largest Democratic counties, Wayne and Oakland, represented 30% of registered voters in 2016 and currently 30% of the state’s population. However, these two counties account for only 22% of newly registered voters.

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On the other side of the aisle, the top 2 Republican counties, Macomb and Kent, are punching above their weight.

So the challenge for Democrats is not just to drive turnout in traditional strongholds, but also hope that all of these registrations in flipped counties are planning on voting Democrat.

What About the Economy?

The economy is a COVID-19 story here in 2020. And the Rust Belt is holding up better than many coastal states.

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Projecting October Registrations

Final registration data is collected in October. New registrations are certainly coming in at a faster rate than in 2016. Last fall, my CE-VM model projected that 7.745M voters would register in Michigan by October 2020. As of July, Michigan has hit that number, with 7.748M registrations. This faster trend seems helpful to Joe Biden, as conventional wisdom suggests greater energy for his campaign.

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if the registration pace holds, we can expect Michigan to have ~7.911M registered voters this election season.


2016 is the New Norm

As discussed last year, and made clear by latest registration data, if 2016 county voting preferences persist, 2020 would be another narrow 16k vote victory for the President.

Wayne County Turnout Surge

Unlike last year, when total July 2019 registrations were below July 2015 registrations, things look better for Democrats. July 2020 registrations in Wayne County are 1,342,761 versus 1,313,408 in July 2016. So more people are registering. But even more will be required. Simply projecting out likely October 2020 registrations, and Wayne County returning to the Democrat/Republican/Independent mix of 2012 won’t be enough. The President would still squeak out the victory.

Late registration and turnout surge in Wayne will be crucial to make up the gap.

Flip Tossup Counties Lost in 2016

As discussed last year, there are four counties that flipped to GOP in 2016 where Trump garnered fewer votes than Obama (Eaton, Gogebic, Isabella, Saginaw). Democrats could attempt to reverse these four by attracting lost indepdents back into the fold. Currently, the CE-VM model projects increased turnout in these four counties. Yet driving all independents back to Democrats also won’t be enough:

To win these counties, Democrats are going to have to take votes back from the GOP. Another tall order.

Any opinions or forecasts contained herein reflect the personal and subjective judgments and assumptions of the author only. There can be no assurance that developments will transpire as forecasted and actual results will be different. The accuracy of data is not guaranteed but represents the author’s best judgment and can be derived from a variety of sources. The information is subject to change at any time without notice.