As southeast Michigan heads to the polls for the most terrifying presidential election ever, we try to figure out what color our region is and why it matters.
“I don’t know shit. Do you know shit?” That’s what Tim Kiska, who’s been monitoring elections in the Mitten for more than 40 years, tells BLAC during some quick armchair analysis – though, to be clear, Kiska and several other election experts in the area will track every election down to dogcatcher, if voters actually got to decide it – about metro Detroit’s potential voting pattern next month.
Times used to be where you could count on certain cities to deliver big wins along party lines. Detroit has had a Democratic mayor for nearly 50 years, and of course all of the city’s representatives have been blue as well. You knew certain Macomb County suburbs would bleed red. You know Oakland County, save maybe a few enclaves, as a whole would turn red.
But the times, they are a-changing. Demographic shifts in the region have brought more likely Democratic voters into Republican strongholds. And no longer is there a clear line between black Democrats and white Republicans. In between is a growing Latinx population, heavily courted by both Dems and the GOP, disillusioned millennials on both sides, white progressives switching sides, #GirlIGuessImWithHer black youth, immigrant populations caught in the crossfire and new Detroiters who aren’t registered to actually vote in Detroit. If it’s any wonder why we don’t know shit, it’s because metro Detroit in 2016 looks unlike any other iteration of the area before it, and nobody knows exactly which way we’ll go.
We can, at the very least, fathom a guess. We asked political observers for insights into 10 crucial voting demographics across the region and how they’re feeling. In other words, you know how you’re voting, but who’s your neighbor voting for?
White Macomb County voters: Blue collars in the red zone
Macomb County sticks out as the only area in southeast Michigan that looks like it may unquestionably side with GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump. The candidate had a six-point lead over Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in a July poll conducted for the Detroit News.
Some point to Macomb’s history as the home of the “Reagan Democrats” – mostly white working-class Dems who put their faith in Republican Ronald Reagan to pull the country out of the economic crises of the 1970s. Trump has a similar economic appeal to blue-collar voters, says Jamie Roe, a Republican consultant who lives in Macomb Township.
Roe says Trump’s message on trade has serious resonance in Macomb because its manufacturing industry has been hurt by foreign competition and many jobs have gone overseas. And the strong military presence with Selfridge Air National Guard base and defense contractors play well into Trump’s message on rebuilding the military, he adds.
Most Reagan Democrats have long-since switched to the Republican Party and aren’t a swing constituency anymore, says Inside Michigan Politics editor Susan Demas. The county is held up as an example of how Trump is winning over blue-collar voters, but that holds true mostly with white men – not other demographics, she says.
Although Macomb’s population has become more diverse in the last several years, it’s still mostly white and has a long history as a place where people flee from Detroit, Demas said.
“I don’t think we can have a discussion about Macomb without noting that clearly racial resentment and sexism are in play as well,” she says, adding that she thinks some Macomb voters are responding to Trump’s anti-immigrant and alt-right messages.
Yet Demas also cautioned against using a broad brush to paint Macomb voters, who voted for Democrat Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 and have poor views of Republican Gov. Rick Snyder’s performance.
– Melissa Anders
Black Macomb County voters: Minorities among the majority
Macomb County’s growing black population is expected to side with Clinton, but it may not be enough to tip the county’s scales in favor of the Democratic nominee.
Black residents accounted for 11.4 percent of Macomb’s population in 2015, up nearly 3 percentage points since 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. About 82 percent of the county is white, and recent polling shows a slight edge for Trump – an anomaly in southeast Michigan.
The black population is almost uniformly Democratic in and out of Macomb, says Vincent Hutchings, political science professor at the University of Michigan.
“If the numbers are increasing and if there is a division, as there may well be among whites in this county, then blacks could help tip the balance … but that’s a lot of ifs,” he says.
Trump’s negativity over Black Lives Matter and his retweeting of white supremacists are not signaling that he’s a great alternative for black voters, says Inside Michigan Politics editor Susan Demas. Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton have been especially popular with black voters, which should also help Hillary Clinton’s case, she adds.
– Melissa Anders
Black Oakland County voters: The great blue hope
Over the years, Oakland County has grown increasingly Democratic, though not overwhelmingly: 53 percent of Oakland County voters cast their ballot for President Obama in the last presidential election.
Cities like Pontiac, Southfield and Oak Park that have majority black populations have helped the county’s overall black population climb to just over 14 percent. (Oakland County was less than 5 percent black during the 1980 Census.)
But the increased diversity in the county isn’t the only factor that has caused the county to shift more blue.
“I think (race) is only part of it,” says Kiska, an associate professor at University of Michigan – Dearborn. “I think Oakland County women have started to vote more Democratic.”
This change, Kiska says, is partly due to the fact that the Republican Party has grown more conservative in recent years.
“The moderate Republican Party played quite well in Oakland County. But as time goes on, it has turned off a fair number of women,” he says.
“Politics is played within the 40-yard lines: You’re going for people more in the middle. That’s particularly true in Oakland County, and there are a lot of people that look at Donald Trump and go, ‘Eh, that’s not what the party is about.’ That’s probably going to play big time in the county.”
– Alana Walker
White Oakland County female voters: Red-faced confusion
Are upper-middle-class white Republican women turned off by Trump and his misogynistic disposition? Undoubtedly some are, but local Republican leadership maintains that any disagreement on the candidates have been smoothed over.
Pamela Williams, secretary of the Oakland County Republican Party and chair of the 9th District Republicans, says, “I don’t think the division is as big as people want it to be. The demeaning comments are a turnoff for some women, but he’s gotten better after getting the nomination. And if there are any women turned off, they are more than offset by the new voters that are excited about his campaign.”
Williams had been supporting Kasich, and traveled to the Republican National Convention as a Kasich delegate, and recalls there being contention within the party about getting behind Trump. But she also saw the masses of Trump supporters, including women. “He’s getting people to vote and to be involved. These are the people you normally don’t see at conventions. These are T-shirt-and-jeans people, not the business people. The people are so pro-Trump because they are anti-establishment. And there are women in the crowds just as much as men.
“I think for me seeing Trump’s daughter is reassuring,” she says. “She is a well-spoken, smart and beautiful woman. She grew up with him and his personality and she turned out great. She should be campaigning with him more because she speaks well for him.”
Wendy Lynn Day of Howell in Livingston County was part of a movement to change the rules within the Republican Party to allow a roll-call vote so that those who opposed Trump could be on record as doing so. “At convention, a group of folks across the country worked to try to bring some transparency to the process of adopting the rules. We worked to ask for a roll-call vote on the rules, which would’ve let people have the chance to voice their opposition to the RNC consolidating more control at the Central committee level.
“As for Mr. Trump, I don’t support the derogatory comments he has made towards anyone. I understand why people have chosen to support him. My faith is not in any man, or woman for that matter, but in the principles and freedoms this country was founded on,” Day says. “I believe in human dignity, personal sustainability, and opportunity for all. Those beliefs transcend any one election, candidate, and even political party. We may be in for a rough couple of years. But as long as those core values exist in the hearts of men and women, all is not lost. And as a Christian, I know that the Bible says, 365 times, to not fear. And I will not fear. Fear will not drive my vote. Fear will not drive my decisions. I am sad that this election seems to be bringing out the worst in many of us. Both conventions were hard for those not supporting the eventual nominees. But there are good people, on both sides of the aisle, who just want to do what’s right for our state and for our country.”
Nationally there are over 100 powerful Republicans publicly against Trump, including former New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, former special assistant to President George W. Bush Myriah Jordan, former Assistant Secretary of Defense Mary Beth Long and former U.S. Treasurer under George W. Bush Rosario Marin, who, the New York Times reported, says, “He’s insulted me, the people I love, the community I represent.”
– Crystal A. Proxmire
College-age voters: Bern, extinguished
With just two words, Bernie Sanders won the hearts of college students everywhere: Free tuition. And who can blame them? Most students graduate from college crippled by thousands of dollars in student loan debt, and college tuition prices have steadily increased over the years.
But even with Sanders out of the race, it’s not stopping some voters from feeling the Bern. And even after the Vermont senator threw his support behind Clinton, there’s still a strong “Bernie or Bust” population that says they’ll never be with her.
Some are turning to third party candidates like Green Party nominee Jill Stein or Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson, but some are grappling with whether to vote at all this election.
“Students are still not very excited about Hillary,” says Genevieve Meyers, assistant professor of political science at University of Detroit Mercy. “They don’t trust her. I think that will all change when Bernie Sanders goes on the campaign trail. If he talks to them, they might be convinced to go to the polls. If not, I’m afraid it will be very, very bad for the Democratic candidate.”
– Alana Walker
Southwest Detroit voters: Feeling red, sometimes blue
The upset over the prospect that Trump could take the Oval Office this election is especially apparent in Southwest Detroit.
Though a racially, ethnically and religiously diverse section of town, the majority of the population there is of Mexican heritage. While a good 20 percent of Latinx voters identify as Republicans, this time around, the support is decidedly more blue.
Particularly vocal in Southwest as of late have been a number of Mexican immigrants put off by Trump’s racially charged platform. When the divisive candidate suggested that Mexico pay to build a massive wall separating the two nations, a pair of Mexican business owners took to a Trump protest outside the Fox Theatre, armed with their own wall with “This is your fucking wall. Send me the bill” spray-painted across it.
In August, when Trump made a second stop in Detroit at the Great Faith Ministries International, in what many believed to be a feigned effort to appeal to black voters, the Tacos El Caballo food truck departed from its usual space in a parking lot on Springwells Avenue as part of the #TacoTrucksOnEveryCorner movement to show just how the immigrant community contributes to the local economy.
These acts of rebellion (which have both enjoyed viral popularity across the country) aren’t so much acts in support of Clinton as they are a means of doing whatever is necessary to keep Trump out of office.
We spoke with Stephen Neuman, a senior advisor for the Michigan coordinated campaign in Clinton’s Detroit office. He says organizers are finding it necessary to point out the polarizing comments her opponent has made about Latinxs, immigrants, Muslims and other Americans of color.
It’s not enough to point out what Clinton will do as president, but also to remind voters of the “hateful and divisive language” Trump has spewed throughout his campaign, Neuman says.
– Serena Maria Daniels
Dearborn voters: Immigration bringing solidarity
Although it’s not a majority Muslim city, Dearborn does have the highest concentration of Arabs outside the Middle East. Either way, Dearborn has been known as a “no-go” zone by Trump supporters.
East Dearborn has an approximately 80 percent Arab population, which has been strongly Democratic for the past three elections. Even though West Dearborn’s predominately white population has swung red in the past, Hassan Jaber, chief executive director and officer of ACCESS (Arab Community Center for Economic & Social Services), says he does not think it will this year.
“I think historically, Arab-Americans are voting now more than ever. We will see a larger turn out this year because people know what’s at stake,” Jaber says. “They care about social justice issues, education, economy, small business issues – and they care about immigration.”
Jaber predicts the west side will be leaning towards Clinton because even they “have concerns of the anti-Muslim comments made by the Trump campaign.” He says the city not only thrives on its small businesses but the collaborative community behind them. “The city is becoming more and more diverse, and (everyone) really has concerns of accepting immigrants and diversity.”
– Sarah Rahal
Downriver voters: Fading red
Tim Kiska has been doing election night projections since 1974. This time, his job is a lot harder.
“Nobody really knows how this thing is going to play out,” he says. “Downriver’s going to be absolutely fascinating on a lot of different levels. You just don’t know. We’re in such different world this election cycle – it’s unlike any other.”
Downriver was hit hard in the early ’80s by bad economic times, according to Kiska, and many residents remember a time when, as Trump professes, America was great.
Kiska believes that Trump still has some work to do if he’s going to “clean up Downriver.”
He worked out some significant stats comparing three Downriver suburbs – Riverview, Trenton and Allen Park – from the March 2016 primary and weighed them against the 2012 primary.
In Riverview, Trump picked up 24 percent percent of the total primary vote. In 2012, Obama garnered 3,394 votes there in 2012 to Mitt Romney’s 2,660 out of a total of 6,101.
In Trenton, Trump picked up 22 percent of the total primary vote in March 2016. In 2012: Obama notched 5,323 votes compared to Romney’s 4,905, out of a total of 10,320.
And in Allen Park, Trump picked up 22 percent of the total primary vote. In 2012, Romney did 6,769 to Obama’s 8,189 out of 15,115.
Survey says: Trump’s support among Downriver Republicans lags.
– Cornelius Fortune
The ‘New Detroit’ voter: Do they even count?
Let’s say your favorite billionaire buys a building and puts a trendy bar at the bottom, an art alley on the side and a bunch of “luxury” – we’ll say luxury loosely, here – apartments on top of it all, and rents them out to a bunch of freshly minted college grads who are so rah-rah Detroit, they’re willing to do everything it takes to be a part of the city’s renaissance. Sounds like a nice deal, right?
Except far more than likely, they’re all about Detroit except for their address. It’s not new news that many apartment buildings in the downtown core are stocked with an influx of new residents, but it may be surprising that few of those addresses have active Detroit voters.
Blame it squarely on car insurance rates, which are much lower in every city not named Detroit. “Most people who do buy in the city switch over, but it’s the rental market that’s harder to switch,” says Melanie McElroy, who has worked as a political consultant in the city for most of her career.
As former director of Common Cause, McElroy spent part of her time trying to convince young Detroit residents like herself to switch their address to the city limits. Many don’t, and the unintended consequence means skewed voting trends in the city and those other suburbs. They can’t vote Detroit, “but are they making the right decision in their hometowns if they’re not as connected with the politics there anymore?” McElroy asks.
It’s not exclusive to downtown’s new crop; let’s not act like some of your cousins haven’t been getting over with Southfield addresses for years. But in a part of town with a rapidly changing demographic, it does make voter trends harder to track.
– Aaron Foley
Grosse Pointe voters: There goes the neighborhood
JeDonna Dinges’ ballot may be secret, but she doesn’t mind showing it around.
“There’s nothing to discuss, honey,” says the 53-year-old owner of Margaux & Max, a women’s clothing boutique newly relocated to Ferndale. “Hillary could be in a casket and I’d still be voting for her.”
Where she lives, in Grosse Pointe Park, such a declaration once might have drawn an indulgent smile from nearby Republicans. Of course, there have always been Democratic voters in the five Pointes, but they didn’t reach critical mass. Until they did.
Grosse Pointe Park first tipped blue for a presidential candidate in 2004, when John Kerry bested George W. Bush by 139 votes. Obama repeated in 2008 and 2012, and there’s good reason to believe Clinton will continue the trend in the Park – if only in the Park.
And yes, this is the same Pointe where the closing of Kercheval Avenue to through traffic in 2014 was seen as an effort to wall off the city’s business district from Detroit incursions. Where are all these Democrats coming from?
The streets around that very business district, it turns out. Housing in the area known as the Cabbage Patch is affordable and has seen a diverse influx of owners and renters in recent years, including Dinges, who confesses she looks around for Trump signs, to know “which of my neighbors is cray-cray.”
Could other Pointes follow? Tim Bledsoe, political science professor at Wayne State University and a former Democratic state rep from the area, says he has his eye on Grosse Pointe city to go next.
“Ted Cruz and Donald Trump are not the candidates of college-educated Grosse Pointe Republicans,” Bledsoe said. “This is the Pointes leaving the Republican Party.”
– Nancy Derringer
|Hillary Clinton||Donald Trump|
YOUR VOTE MATTERS
Voters of color, especially black voters, may be asked to take extra precaution at the polls this year by various voter-activism groups. The reason? Dirty tactics to scare voters away.
Political consultant Melanie McElroy, who works for Michigan United, tells a story of how goons told Detroit voters at some polling locations that if their house is in foreclosure, they were not allowed to vote. That, of course, isn’t true.
Here’s exactly what you need to know for Election Day:
- If you are not currently registered to vote in Michigan, you have until Oct. 11 to do so.
- If you are unsure where you are registered or where your polling location is, visit mi.gov/vote to find out. You can search by your name and birthdate or by your driver’s license number.
- If you are a convicted felon, you can still vote as long as you are not currently serving time.
- Many voters are confused about proper identification. While you may be asked to identify yourself, if you do not have photo ID with you, you can sign an affidavit at your polling location to vote. Acceptable forms of photo ID include a driver’s license, federal- or state-issued photo ID, U.S. passport, military ID, student ID or a tribal identification card.
Melissa Anders is a Brussels, Belgium-based freelance journalist and Michigan native with more than 10 years of experience covering Michigan business, politics and community news.
Serena Maria Daniels covers the restaurant scene for the Detroit Metro Times and is a freelance journalist who writes about the intersection of culture, politics, food and identity.
Nancy Derringer is a writer and editor based in metro Detroit.
El de Vito is a metro Detroit designer and illustrator.
Aaron Foley is editor of BLAC Detroit.
Cornelius Fortune is a Detroit-based writer and editor.
Crystal A. Proxmire is editor and publisher at Oakland County 115 News, based in Ferndale.
Sarah Rahal is a metro Detroit writer from Dearborn and a former BLAC intern.
Alana Walker is associate editor of BLAC Detroit.