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Battle in the Mitten: How Trump is losing appeal in Michigan and why polls are trending blue


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Courtesy Photos : Presidential candidates Donald Trump and Joe Biden.

The 2020 general election will be written into history as one of the most polarizing and impactful events of modern times.

While many elements seem unpredictable this year, political scientists are noticing a blue trend as poll numbers widen, especially here in Michigan. Another Republican flip, like in 2016, is becoming less likely.

On Nov. 3, voters will decide between Democratic nominee Joe Biden and President Donald Trump for the highest office in the country. Many issues from race to trade could influence how the battleground state will decide between the two candidates, as well as the current political climate.

On top of the presidential election, there is the U.S. senatorial race between Michigan incumbent Democrat Gary Peters and Republican challenger John James. This election could also mark the beginning of the end of the Baby Boomer voter block.

Polling and Michigan Flipping

Looking at the national polls, Biden has an ever-widening lead over Trump with voters. As of Oct. 14, Biden had a 10.4 percent lead nationally according to a FiveThirtyEight polling average. Biden had 52.3 percent over Trump's 41.9 percent.

In Michigan, Trump is not fairing much better. As of Oct 14, FiveThirtyEight has Biden up by 7.9 percent in an average of presidential polls. Biden had 50.6 percent of voters, with Trump having 42.7 percent. 

These polls support Grassroots Midwest CEO Adrian Hemond's projection for the Nov. 3 election. Grassroots Midwest is a nonpartisan political consulting firm based out of Lansing.

Hemond said he expects Biden to win Michigan. For him, the only remaining questions are by how much and if that will result in more down-ballot victories for Democrats.

Michigan remains a purple state that leans democratic, Hemond said . Vanguard Public Affairs President and Managing Partner TJ Bucholz agrees.

The Central Michigan University alumnus said 60 percent of Michigan voters vote for the Democratic or Republican candidate regardless of who is on the ballot. The remaining 40 percent of Michigan voters in the middle pose a challenge to political parties.

Hemond said a Republican presidential candidate rarely wins Michigan's votes. However, the party regularly wins state positions, such as secretary of state and the governor’s seat. 

“Voters here generally vote for the candidate that they think is the best and party affiliation is generally not as important,” Bucholz said.

Prior to 2016, the last time Michigan voted for a Republican president was for George H. W. Bush in 1988, according to 270towin.com.

Issues and Candidates

Hemond said this presidential race is not like the one in 2016. His reason: Biden generally polls better than Hillary Clinton did, especially in rural counties like Isabella County. Isabella County voted red in 2016.

Since Biden has experience chasing white, working-class voters when representing Delaware, he can reach out to them better than Clinton could, Hemond said. 

“Biden polls considerably better with non-college-educated, working-class, white voters,” Hemond said. “That does not mean that he is winning with them (over Trump), particularly with men. He is not, but he's not performing abysmally like Hillary Clinton did with that constituency.” 

This leads to a factor that may have affected the last presidential election in Michigan -- trade. David Jesuit, department chair of the Political Science department at CMU, said Trump spoke about the loss of manufacturing jobs to globalization and free trade. Trump spoke about renegotiating NAFTA and criticized Clinton’s support of it. Just addressing the issue gave Trump a base of support in Michigan, he said. 

Stance on trade might be one of the deciding factors for voters between the candidates, Bucholz said. 

“Trade is the only positive factor for a Michigan voter in Trump's favor because he's been anti-China, which generally plays well with Republicans,” Bucholz said.

Hemond also said the Biden campaign is focusing on the economic downturn from the coronavirus pandemic under the Trump administration.

Public opinion polling of Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic has been wretched for him, in Michigan and nationally, Hemond said. On the other side, he said the Biden campaign has been heavily criticizing Trump over his management of the pandemic.

Racial dog-whistling also played a role in Trump’s victory in 2016, Jesuit said. Trump's usage of immigrants as scapegoats for job losses as one example, he said. These dog whistles may have played a role in Isabella County pivoting to Trump after Barack Obama won the county in the previous two election cycles, he said.

“After (Trump) won the election, I and others saw somebody driving around with a neo-Nazi flag in the Menard’s parking lot,” Jesuit said. “(Trump) taps into that, whether or not he will admit it. White nationalists have picked up (on it).”

With the Black Lives Matter movement at a fever pitch, Bucholz said the movement will motivate more people to go to the polls this year. This will give a boost to democrats across the country.

Access and the nature of voting in Michigan is also a vastly different picture in 2020 than in 2016. In 2018, Michigan voters passed a ballot initiative that expanded voting access by ensuring straight-ticket voting, moving the voting deadline to 15 days before the election, among other actions.

The pandemic is allowing many people to vote absentee this election cycle, with about 350,000 ballots turned in as of Oct. 6, Hemond said.

“At this point, it's pretty much too late to persuade anyone,” Hemond said. “Everyone's mind is made up, that's reflected in the polling data.”

Jesuit said even though voters are not enthusiastic to vote for Biden, many people are excited to vote Trump out of office. This enthusiasm is higher with voters than it was with Clinton in 2016.

Senate & House races

The senate race between Peters and James might be a tricky spot for the Republican Party to gain a foothold. As of Oct. 11, Peters is up by 4.8 percent in a Real Clear Politics poll average. Peters is at 47.4 precent and James is at 42.6 percent.

On top of that, Peters has an incumbency advantage and has been consistently leading in the polls, Hemond said. The senate race is still in play, but John James’s chance to become senator depends on how many voters cast a ballot for Trump.

“If Joe Biden wins Michigan by five points or more, John James is a dead man walking,” Hemond said.

The Michigan house of representatives will be very close no matter which party takes control, he said. The democrats need about five or six seats to have a majority in the house, and Hemond is confident the party will flip two seats.

Generational switch

This election could have bigger implications than state politics and the presidency. With many top leaders in Washington D.C. like Nancy Pelosi, Mitch McConnel, Biden and Trump himself entering their mid-70s to early 80s, it’s safe to assume many of them won’t be leading the country by the end of the decade.

This leaves the 2020 presidential election in an odd place. This could be one of the final hurrahs of the Baby Boomer generation. Bucholz said the Baby Boomers will begin to take a step back in the next four years, with Generation X taking the reins in politics.

“This is going to be the last year that a Boomer will be at the top of the ticket,” Bucholz said.

This could influence policy direction moving forward. Bucholz said he sees Generation X steering the country to a more moderate political position away from the generally conservative Baby Boomer generation.

However, Hemond sees Generation X as “political nihilists,” and views this as more of a social problem.

“If nothing matters and nothing is real, I'm not sure how you predict what sort of outcomes that has for society,” Hemond said. “The few historical examples we have to point to are not encouraging.”

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