How Donald Trump can come from behind and win Michigan

President Donald Trump arrived at the Muskegon County Airport in theatrical fashion on Oct. 17. Fans roared when his incoming flight was announced via air traffic control audio, and again when Air Force One touched down and circled the tarmac before parking for Trump to emerge. (Bridge photo by Jonathan Oosting)

LANSING – It’s déjà vu all over again in Michigan, where Republican President Donald Trump is down in the polls but predicting victory in an election that is little more than a week away. 

Four years after his razor-thin win here, Trump and his family are barnstorming the battleground state in hopes of a late surge that could help him win a second term. 

The odds are not great for Trump, who is planning to return to Michigan on Tuesday for 2 p.m. rally at Capital Region International Airport in Lansing. 

  • As of Monday, Democrat Joe Biden was leading recent Michigan polls by an average of 8.1 percentage points, according to Real Clear Politics. 
  • Among the 14 Michigan public opinion surveys released this month, Trump led only one by a single percentage point. In one of the most recent, Fox News had Biden up 12 points.
  • The latest FiveThirtyEight forecast pegs Biden’s win probability at 94 percent in Michigan.

But Michigan elections experts aren’t closing the door on Trump, who outperformed the polls in 2016 to win Michigan by 10,704 votes over Democrat Hillary Clinton. Bridge Michigan asked some of the state’s leading political consultants and pollsters how Trump could do it again. 


Trump is ‘saturating’ the state

The president’s path to a Michigan victory relies on “engaging and connecting with the grassroots across the board, and that's what they're doing,” said Jenell Leonard, a Republican consultant with the Marketing Resource Group in Lansing.

She said it’s important for voters to see “a strong leader out there,” and recent Trump campaign stops are “energizing the base.”

In the past two weeks, the president campaigned in Muskegon; Vice President Mike Pence was in Grand Rapids and Oakland County; Eric Trump traveled to Novi, Lansing and Clinton County; Lara Trump campaigned in Freeland and Hanover; Ivanka Trump toured Alto and Donald Trump Jr. campaigned in the Upper Peninsula. 

“The Trump campaign has just been saturating Michigan,” Leonard said. 

Digging deeper in Trump country

The Trump campaign isn’t just blanketing Michigan, it’s going to areas he won in 2016 in an attempt to build on those gains, said John Sellek, a Republican strategist with Harbor Strategic Public Affairs in Lansing. 

Last month, for instance, Trump spoke in the Thumb region, where four years ago he became “the first Republican to win Saginaw and Bay counties since Ronald Reagan did in 1984,” Sellek said. “So he’s pushing that zone hard.”

The strategy isn’t just about turning out the same voters again, Sellek said. It’s about “pushing deeper” into counties Trump flipped in 2016 to try to find more like-minded residents who either did not register or did not vote four years ago. 

“That is how Trump wins Michigan,” Sellek said, by “building bigger margins in those counties.”

He noted the Trump campaign also appears to be taking a new tact in advertising: A commercial now airing in Michigan features a local senior citizen discussing how Medicare Advantage rates dropped in recent years and warning that Democrats could move the country toward “socialized” medicine.

After months of trying to figure out how to win back suburban voters, the Trump campaign now appears to instead be trying to focus on senior voters in an attempt to “peel people back from the Democrats,” Sellek said. 

First-time voters 

Democrats are projecting confidence, but Republican efforts to recruit first-time registered voters “does give us pause,” said Greg Bowens, a Democratic consultant with Bowens & Co. in Grosse Pointe. 

“That’s the only way [Trump] wins: If he gets the people who aren’t polled, and many of those are likely new voters.”

He noted Trump has continued to draw large crowds, including this month in Muskegon, a sign of continued enthusiasm for the president from his base. The president appears to speak to “folks who have not been engaged in the political process all that much before,” Bowens said. 

“It's just kind of crazy stuff, but if those are new voters who have been registered, then the question becomes whether or not it’ll be enough,” he said. “We kind of take it for granted that most of the people in this state who are voting age are registered.”

Biden is no stranger to gaffes

Trump is “running out of time” and “the only thing that could potentially happen is if Joe Biden had a major, major screw-up… and things just eroded completely for him,” said Bernie Porn, a pollster with EPIC-MRA in Lansing. 

His most recent poll, released Oct. 12, showed Biden with a nine-point lead over Trump. And the president has not done himself many favors since then, Porn said, pointing to subsequent surveys showing similar margins.  

He noted Trump has continued to attack Whitmer, who has significantly higher favorability ratings than the president here, and more recently Dr. Anthony Fauci, “who is trusted more than anyone else in terms of dealing with the coronavirus.” 

One week out from the 2016 election, the Real Clear Politics polling average suggested Clinton was leading Trump by 7 percentage points in Michigan. 

But Porn noted 2020 surveys show a much smaller percentage of undecided voters who could break late in either direction. 

Trump may need another October surprise

For Trump to pull off a Michigan upset again, “you would need to see just historic levels of turnout in what are the reddest areas of the state,” said Democratic strategist Adrian Hemond of Grassroots Midwest in Lansing. “Because relatively fewer people live in those areas, you would need to see really, really high turnout there.”

While Trump has tried to win back suburban women with warnings that Antifa activists could storm their neighborhoods, that appears to be a lost cause, Hemond said. Instead, the president should focus on winning back college-educated men who supported him in 2016. 

“College-educated women are long gone,” Hemond said, “but he did well with [college-educated men] in 2016, and he’s not now. So he would need those numbers to stabilize.”

Four years ago, Trump benefited from what Hemond called “external events” late in the campaign, including FBI Director James Comey’s Oct. 28 letter informing Congress that the Bureau was resuming its Hillary Clinton email investigation because of new evidence. 

Trump needs something like that to happen again, Hemond said. 

“He’s got a very, very narrow path in Michigan, and I don’t see how he gets it done without [an October surprise]. Wikileaks, or like they’re trying to roll their own, so to speak, with this Hunter Biden Ukraine thing. But it’s pretty low rent.”

Election Day surge

Republicans “have got to get to the polls on Election Day,” and they have to “drive up margins beyond anything we’ve ever seen in rural Michigan” for Trump to win here, said pollster Richard Czuba of the Glengariff Group Inc. 

He noted a record number of Michigan voters are expected to vote by absentee ballot this year given the global pandemic and a new state law. And recent surveys suggest that trend will benefit Biden. 

Democrats are requesting absentee ballots more frequently than Republicans, “and there has to be a pretty good chunk of those that don’t return their ballots” for Trump to triumph, Czuba said. 

“It’s really threading the needle at this point because we're seeing how these absentees are coming in,” he said. 

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

If you learned something from the story you're reading please consider supporting our work. Your donation allows us to keep our Michigan-focused reporting and analysis free and accessible to all. All donations are voluntary, but for as little as $1 you can become a member of Bridge Club and support freedom of the press in Michigan during a crucial election year.

Pay with VISA Pay with MasterCard Pay with American Express Donate now

Comment Form

Add new comment

Dear Reader: We value your thoughts and criticism on the articles, but insist on civility. Criticizing comments or ideas is welcome, but Bridge won’t tolerate comments that are false or defamatory or that demean, personally attack, spread hate or harmful stereotypes. Violating these standards could result in a ban.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.


Tue, 10/27/2020 - 8:59am

Trump is trying to manufacture an October surprise by pushing the Hunter Biden laptop narrative which has more holes than Swiss cheese. Thankfully, not even conservative news outlets like the Wall Street Journal are willing to push such an unverifiable farce.

Also, before the comments about polling accuracy and "LoOk At WhAt HaPPeNeD iN 2016!" start rolling in:
1) The polls in 2016 weren't off by as much as people think (especially in Michigan) and Trump's victory fell within a normal polling error.
2) One area the polls were off was education; the polls did not account for people without a college degree favoring Trump. The bulk of pollsters have adjusted their models and surveys to factor education in this time.
3) There were a lot more undecided voters in 2016 than there are today. A larger pool of undecided voters and neither Trump nor Clinton polling at over 50% meant the race was essentially a toss-up. In order for Trump to win Michigan, he would not only have to win over all of the undecided voters but would have to get 4%+ of Biden voters to jump ship.
4) And finally, neither Trump nor Clinton were especially popular among voters. Both had negative net favorability ratings meaning more people disliked than like them. This time around Biden has a positive net favorability rating while Trump still has a negative net favorability.

All that said, Biden being "heavily favored to win" still doesn't mean he's guaranteed to win. Trump could still win Michigan, although doing so would be an underdog pulling of a surprise upset.

Tue, 10/27/2020 - 11:36am

"1) The polls in 2016 weren't off by as much as people think (especially in Michigan) and Trump's victory fell within a normal polling error."

Except for Trafalgar's 06 November 2016 poll, all the publicly released late polls of Michigan showed Hillary winning beyond the pollsters' self constructed margins of error; candidate differentials of 4% or more, margins of error 4% or less. Free Press, Gravis, PPP, and Mitchell were all wrong.

What leads you to believe that the pollsters now have it right in 2020?

Tue, 10/27/2020 - 2:17pm

So what are these holes you speak of? Please be specifc, just stating this talking point isn't evidence of such.

Wed, 10/28/2020 - 9:46am

The fact that the story hinges on a legally blind repair man claiming he is certain the person who turned in the laptop was Hunter Biden because of a Beau Biden foundation sticker. Even though the repair shop is in Delaware and Hunter Biden lives on the West Coast.

The fact that the repair man gave a copy of the drive to Rudy Giuliani before contacting the FBI. How did he know to contact the president's personal lawyer?

The fact the Senate GOP released their report on the findings of their Hunter Biden investigation in September and did not mention anything about the claims made in the NY Post article. If Giuliani knew about this last summer, why did he wait until weeks before the election to release it?

The fact the repair man was unclear during an interview whether he contacted the FBI first or if the FBI reached out to him first.

And finally, the fact that Giuliani refuses to let independent journalists examine the hard drive or the actual email files to verify their legitimacy. The emails provided were a PDF and anyone in IT knows it's incredibly easy to create a PDF of a fake email. The real evidence is in the header information to prove IP addresses and routing information but nobody has seen that info.

This doesn't even touch on Giuliani's consulting work with a company named "Fraud Guarantee" around the same time this was happening and that two men associated with that company were arrested for campaign finance violations while attempting to flee the country. Or the fact that dozens of former intelligence officers and intelligence experts point out that this trove of information has all the hallmarks of a foreign government's disinformation campaign. Or the fact that no questionable payments show up on Biden's taxes and his VP schedule doesn't show a meeting ever taking place. Or the fact that no ethical repair shop would ever rifle through personal files, especially for a water damaged computer. Standard repair shop procedure for an abandoned computer is to wipe the personal data and sell it.

Is that enough or do you want me to go on? Why are Trump supporters so convinced this story is legit but any questionable dealings surrounding Trump with significantly more evidence are discounted as "fake news"? Ivanka received Chinese Trademarks after a meeting with Xi Jinping and her father. Jared Kushner failed to disclose foreign dealings on his security clearance form but still received Top Secret Clearance after Trump intervened. Don Jr. willingly received hacked Clinton emails from a Russian lawyer. Mike Pence stayed at a Trump property in Ireland even though his meetings in Dublin were 180 miles away.

Tue, 10/27/2020 - 2:27pm

Would you site your sources on the Biden Laptop? Joe has not denied that truth of the laptop data. He just says its a smear campaign. If the laptop contents were not true and accurate, Joe denying the validity of the laptop should be the talking points vs. its a smear campaign.

Wed, 10/28/2020 - 10:00am

Here's a breakdown from NPR why they and many other news organizations aren't covering the story:

Also NBC has reported that the FBI is investigating whether the material came from a foreign power's disinformation campaign:

Here's a story about how Giuliani was trying to get the WSJ to publish the story:

Literally the only news organizations that are pushing this story are ones that are extremely pro-Trump and are known for pushing a lot of false stories and conspiracies.

jan d
Tue, 10/27/2020 - 9:01am

I'm not real fond of how the messanger delivers his message, but I like the results of the last three + years and I like the message now. I want democracy, not socialism.

I call BS
Tue, 10/27/2020 - 12:55pm

Is a 6-3 Supreme Court with the last two justices confirmed on purely political grounds democracy? I don't think you despise socialism (roads, parks, police, fire, libraries, etc.) as much as you love fascism, Trump's way or the highway. Anyway, be careful what you wish for.

Tue, 10/27/2020 - 8:45pm

You do realize that the roads, parks, fire, libraries, etc. were developed and maintained by the 'fruits' of the 'tree' of capitalism.
You may want to consider what you wish for, when you look at what the socialists are doing to Minneapolis, Portland, Seattle, and other cities built by capitalism. I notice that the socialists ['liberals', 'progressives'] seem to quickly turn on there own when someone doesn't say or do everything in the right way. You may want to start watching over your shoulder for that friend or neighbor that has a similar political view, just in case while your eating out next time you don't raise your hand at the right moment or you don't say the right words the right way, and especially if you think something they say could be said in a better way.
Trump may fire people for not performing to his standard, but he isn't like the 'progressives' and Hillary conjuring lies out of whole cloth to put his opponents in jail.

Wed, 10/28/2020 - 10:06am

Yeah, look at how far socialism got Sweden, Norway, and Finland...

Trump isn't pushing for democracy, he's pushing for authoritarianism and plutocracy. Look at how many of his family members have high level government positions and how much the wealthy benefitted from his tax cut.

Thu, 10/29/2020 - 8:48pm

Before you start touting the socialism successes in Sweden and the other Scandinavian countries, I encourage you watch "Sweden: Lessons for America? A personal exploration by Johan Norberg".
I believe you maybe surprise that they have schools of choice [vouchers] which are dominated by private schools, that the retirement funds are privatized, that the tax rates are lower for wealthier, they are a reverse of the progressive we have here. This came about after their try at socialism failed badly for the all that weren't wealthy and they public voted for the changes.
Socialism proved to be both a disincentive to individuals, to organization, and performance of the government organizations across the country decline.
Even in our own country what accountability do government organizations have, when are the incentivized to be creative, take risks to improve services and results? What is there structurally in socialism that incentivizes improving public benefits, public success, personal success? The military have their incentives to expand their budgets [and that is easiest to do when promoting new technology], consider the internet, the GPS, the phones, computers [mass availability], for they did the early work but all the broad public uses, speed, size, and every other metric has been achieved by individual entrepreneurs taking person financial risks and receiving financial rewards.
Watch that documentary from Sweden so you are better armed when you want to talk about socialism vs capitalism.

Tue, 10/27/2020 - 10:08am

He could cheat like he did last time with the help of Ronna Romney and Bill Schutte but they're not in the picture this time. Over 75,000 uncounted votes in Wayne county last time plus numerous voting machines that suddenly stopped working helped Trump become an illegitimate President.

Tue, 10/27/2020 - 10:26am

Trump is not a strong leader, or really any kind of leader at all. He is vain, vindictive and vastly more of a poster boy for the seven deadly sins than he is a christian. I am a republican who is bitterly disappointed in a party that has lost all ideals and decency.

No surprises
Tue, 10/27/2020 - 12:50pm

The photo says is all. The pandemic is spreading and Trumpists are out en masse packed without masks, without regard to their fellow human beings worshiping Trump like the people of North Korea worshiping their God-leader. It's clearly a cult following like the classis Stockholm syndrome.

BYE DON 2020!
Tue, 10/27/2020 - 2:56pm

Trump "coming from behind", is that code for disrespectfully arriving an hour late in Lansing? I'm watching the live stream and those poor fools are in freezing drizzly cloudy weather jumping up and down to keep warm while their "king" arrives at his leisure an hour late! God only knows how early they had to arrive for the gift of seeing his majestic presence. He has no respect for his loyal congregation at the church of Trump. Wonder if the Tumpists will be dancing to the Village People. It's such a dreary looking pathetic event.

Wed, 10/28/2020 - 5:36am

You will never convience the branch covidians that Trump will keep them safer and that he has and will do a better job on the economy than their leader and his running mate who were picked to lose with. And people really like Trump and not voting for him because they have to but because they want to.

Dump Trump
Tue, 10/27/2020 - 3:05pm

The MC at the Trump rally in Lansing warms up the crowd telling them that supporters usually chant "We love Trump" at his rallies. The dog whistles really are foghorns. Trump tells the people what they are supposed to chant! Trump is still on our taxpayer funded Air Force One which he uses to campaign waiting for better weather. LMAO

Stomach Turning
Tue, 10/27/2020 - 3:26pm

Trump keeps repeating that he was Man of the Year in Michigan. Not so. Lies lies lies.

Did Trump Win Michigan’s ‘Man of the Year’ Award?

He's promoting Ivanka for president, AGAIN. This is just a game, reality TV, for Don.

The Don had the audience chant "We love you" on cue.

His shtick never changes. He always says the exact same things at EVERY rally for months now.

All that said, gotta respect the product, the hair product, working hard in the rain.

MarySue E
Tue, 10/27/2020 - 3:30pm

Watching the Lansing rally. So depressing.

Ha Ha
Tue, 10/27/2020 - 4:00pm

In Lansing, Trump's still talking while people are leaving.

Biden Harris 2020!
Tue, 10/27/2020 - 4:14pm

Trump doesn't seem to notice or care that the people at his rally are leaving while he speaks. He's determined to finish his talking points, bless his heart. LOL

Tue, 10/27/2020 - 4:19pm

Trump stumps in Lansing, the Dow Jones tanks.

Tue, 10/27/2020 - 4:53pm

You can't have a carnival without all the "rubes" and Michigan has plenty of those!

Tue, 10/27/2020 - 5:22pm

Now the suckers are waiting in Wisconsin for the late president.

Ann Weller
Wed, 10/28/2020 - 7:51am

The word is "tack," not "tact."