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Analysis: Trump voters stayed home, aiding Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s re-election

 Donald Trump
Former President Donald Trump endorsed Tudor Dixon for governor, but she did worse in Tuesday’s election than the GOP’s 2018 nominee, Bill Schuette. Some blame ‘Trump only’ voters. (Joseph Sohm / Shutterstock.com)
  • Michigan had a record turnout, but there’s evidence Trump voters loyal only to the former president didn’t cast ballots
  • The drop in votes for Trump to Tudor Dixon was pronounced
  • Other trends aren’t as obvious, including a supposed bump in youth participation.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer won a decisive victory on Tuesday, easily beating Republican Tudor Dixon. Among the constituents she may want to thank: Trump voters who didn’t vote.

Turnout almost always goes down in midterm elections. But Tuesday, Whitmer got 86 percent as many votes as fellow Democrat President Joe Biden in 2020, while Dixon got 73 percent as many as Republican President Donald Trump that year.

 

In every county, Republican votes fell farther than Democrats, despite Trump’s endorsement of Dixon and his Oct. 1 trip to Warren to campaign for her.

“I know people who would crawl through broken glass for Trump,” said Jamie Roe, a Republican political consultant. 

“Would they come out for the other candidates? They didn’t on Tuesday.”

Part of the Democrats’ success lay in what else was on the ballot — abortion — but also demographics of typical voters, said Matt Grossmann, director of the Institute for Public Policy and Social Research at Michigan State University.

Proposal 3 to enshrine abortion rights in the state constitution passed by a wide margin. Polls show it helped drive voters to the ballot, and benefited Democrats who support abortion rights. 

Grossmann said the 30 percent of Michigan voters with college degrees are more likely to vote in every election such as midterms — and more likely to identify as Democrats. 

Roe said he thought the inclusion of Proposal 3 would help Republicans by boosting turnout of conservatives — especially ethnic Catholic communities in Macomb County where he lives. 

Yet Proposal 3 passed 55-45 in Macomb County, doing better than Whitmer did in winning the county.

“As it turned out it wasn’t (a Republican advantage),” he said. “That was a massive turnout advantage for (Democrats).” 

Record turnout

Tuesday’s statewide turnout of 4.48 million voters was the highest ever for a gubernatorial election, exceeding the previous high in 2018, when 4.25 million voted. However, as a percent of active registered voters, it was lower: 61.6 percent Tuesday compared to 66.9 percent in 2018.

Turnout was up in 74 of the state’s 83 counties and Whitmer ended up winning by 10 percentage points and 467,000 votes — both wider margins than in 2018 when she beat Attorney General Bill Schuette to become governor.

But turnout in Detroit, where Whitmer got 95 percent of the vote, actually fell, from 191,529 in 2018 to 171,635 this week. However, the city’s population has been declining for years.

Age and gender details on who voted statewide aren’t yet available; no public exit polling was done in Michigan and the state has not analyzed its voter rolls yet, a spokesperson for the Michigan Secretary of State told Bridge Michigan.

The long lines at college campuses may have looked like a youth surge, but it’s not clear if that signals an increase, Grossmann said. He said he worked to register students for a couple of weeks before the election but most waited until Tuesday to register and vote. And college students are more likely to vote than others their age, he said. 

A Bridge Michigan review of East Lansing voting data showed that 55.6 percent of registered voters cast ballots in 2018, slightly more than the 55.2 percent on Tuesday.

‘Trump-only’ voters?

Whitmer won after a tumultuous term that included the coronavirus pandemic and her controversial restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of the disease. And it came while inflation was soaring across the country; both were considered recipes for a Republican win.

But voters who helped Trump carry Michigan in 2016 and come within 154,000 votes of doing so again in 2020 didn’t show up in large numbers to vote against Whitmer, a frequent target of Trump when he was president.

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In Macomb County, the state’s third most populous county, Trump got nearly 264,000 votes in 2020, and he won the county by 9 percentage points over Biden.

On Tuesday, Dixon got 179,259 votes in Macomb County — 10,300 more than Schuette in 2018 but 20,000 fewer than Whitmer. Diixon lost the county by 5 percentage points.

Grossmann said it may be evidence of voters who voted for Trump and Whitmer, as well as  “Trump-only” voters — those who only show up when Trump is on the ballot.

Roe agreed, saying Republicans have to learn to communicate better to those voters to lure them to the ballot box. “We have to find a way,” he said.

Michigan Democrats know this pain well. President Barack Obama collected  nearly 2.9 million votes in 2008. Two years later, Democrat Virg Bernero, running for governor, received fewer than half of Obama’s total and lost big to Rick Snyder, the Republican.

Obama won again in 2012 — and Democrats got beaten decisively again in 2014 in the Michigan governor’s race.

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