How suburbanites, college grads helped Biden edge Trump in Michigan

Joe Biden visited the state numerous times over the last few weeks. (Shutterstock)

President Donald Trump did everything he could to repeat his narrow 2016 Michigan victory Tuesday, but his quest appears to have been blunted by just enough suburbanites and college-educated voters who, after seeing him in office for four years, rejected his re-election bid.

Trump won Michigan by a razor-thin 10,704 votes in 2016. Fortunes reversed four years later, with the president trailing former Vice President Joe Biden by about 63,000 on late afternoon Wednesday, with 99 percent of precincts reporting.  Most of those uncounted ballots are in Democratic strongholds.

That small change in vote margin, representing a change of heart among less than 1 in 100 Michigan voters, could determine the presidency. Both campaigns were relying heavily on the state’s 16 electoral votes to help them reach the 270 electoral votes needed to reach the White House.


To try to win those electoral votes, Trump and Biden flexed muscles in different parts of the state.

Trump added to his 2016 margins in dozens of rural counties, but those gains were offset by  Democratic surges in Oakland and Kent counties — and dwindling margins in some of Michigan’s staunchest Republican counties including Livingston and Ottawa.

In Macomb County, where he received his most support, Trump’s vote margin fell to 39,000 on Tuesday from 48,000 in 2016.

He lost support of voters such as Beth Serafino, 57, who praised the president’s stance on immigration, trade and foreign relations but voted for Biden because of Trump’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Her neighbors in Warren, Michigan’s third-largest city, favored Biden by 10,000 votes, nearly double the margin the city gave Democrat Hillary Clinton against Trump in 2016.

“I don’t see how he can say 'don’t do any more testing,' ” Serafino said. “Just because there’s no testing doesn’t mean that the virus isn’t happening out there. That’s bizarre to me.”

The political shifts — some subtle, others not — helped push Biden into a slim lead in Michigan as votes were still being tallied Wednesday, in a state crucial to both candidates’ efforts to reach the 270 electoral votes needed nationally to become president.

Trump and Biden visited the state numerous times over the last few weeks, with Trump ending his campaign in the early morning hours of Election Day at Gerald R. Ford International Airport in Grand Rapids before thousands of cheering supporters.

Those Trump visits, which included a stopover at the Traverse City airport, propelled Republican turnout, said Brian Began, a Republican strategist with the bipartisan Grassroots Midwest consulting firm in Lansing.

“He mobilized his base, got people enthused and I think was able to attract a lot of people who don’t normally vote,” Began said. He attributed the president’s wider rural margins to “low-propensity” voters who turned out on Election Day. 

It wasn’t just Trump who rallied supporters in regions presidential candidates typically ignore, his children were also “all over the state,” Began said. 

“The way the whole Trump campaign looked, they never gave the hint that they were losing. They gave their supporters lots of reasons to believe that they were going to win and to motivate them.”


But overall, it was Democratic gains, both in Democratic-leaning counties and Republican ones, that gave Biden the lead he looks to hold onto.

Suburban Oakland County, the epicenter of 2018’s flip of several state House and U.S. congressional seats, was a bloodbath for Trump: Biden won by over 108,000 votes, more than double the margin Clinton won by in 2016.

It wasn’t just that Biden scored bigger victories in places like Royal Oak, Ferndale and Southfield, Trump saw his margins diminish in traditionally Republican suburbs such as Milford and Commerce townships.

The same trend was playing out in Kent County, which Trump won with just under 10,000 more votes than Clinton in 2016. But this year, townships and cities that had backed him strongly did less so this year, 

and Kent swung to Biden, who won the county by nearly 21,000 votes, a 30,000 vote shift.

Ada Township, just east of Grand Rapids, backed Trump by 14 percentage points in 2016, giving him a 1,100 vote edge over Clinton. He still won there Tuesday, but by just 4 points and 400 votes.

And Wyoming, just south of Grand Rapids, flipped from backing Trump by 3 points and 1,059 votes in 2016 to supporting Biden by 6 percentage points and 2,200 votes, a huge swing toward the Democrat. 

Grand Rapids, which gave Clinton a 27,300-vote win, favored Biden by nearly 40,000 votes.

Ongoing demographics shifts paved the way for Biden gains in suburban counties such as Oakland and Kent, especially among college educated voters and women, said John Klemanski, a political science professor at Oakland University. 

Kent County is changing as young people, young families and educated voters move to the growing region, he said. “It’s not the old Calvinist conservative Republican area that it was 20, 30 or 40 years ago.”

Those gains offset hundreds of improvements for Trump in small townships and cities across much of northern Michigan, the Thumb and the south central part of the state.

He typically won the same percentage of voters in these counties and saw his vote margins rise because of record turnout. But while he was adding 300 to 2,000 votes in those counties, Biden was adding 23,000 more votes in Washtenaw and 11,000 in Ingham.

In some counties that Trump won, he did so by smaller margins than four years ago, including Livingston, Ottawa, Midland and Emmet.

In Ottawa County, once considered one of the most reliably Republican counties in the country, Trump won with 60 percent of the vote, 21 points better than Biden.

But he got 62 percent in 2016 — and won by 31 points over Clinton. The shift saw Trump win by 7,500 less votes than he had in 2016.

Livingston County too saw the shift: Trump won there by 31 points and 31,300 votes in 2016 but by 21 percentage points and 28,800 votes on Tuesday, a drop of 2,500 votes.

The swings toward Biden appear to show that education is a predictor of Trump’s support: In the counties with complete results where Trump’s victory margins declined, most have a higher percentage of college graduates than the state average.

Over 32 percent of all adults in Ottawa, Grand Traverse, Livingston, Clinton and Emmet counties have a college degree, compared to the 28 percent statewide.

Trump won each, with 52 percent to 60 percent of the vote. But he got nearly 18,000 fewer votes in the five counties, making him have to pick up thousands more elsewhere to offset the margins he’s likely to see in Democrat’s big counties.

In the pro-Trump counties where he saw his margins grow, only one, Houghton, has more college graduates than the state average. His biggest gains were in places where fewer than 15 percent of adults have a college degree.

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Wed, 11/04/2020 - 5:47pm

On a positive note, Trump showed us all the places we need to implement laws to stop another nut like him from abusing presidential powers.

Wed, 11/04/2020 - 9:05pm


Cool minds prevailed
Wed, 11/04/2020 - 5:48pm

It wasn't difficult. Trump scared the bejeezes out of thinking, caring people.

Wed, 11/04/2020 - 9:08pm

Still can’t understand how the vote was so close in MI. How did Trump get so many votes?

Thu, 11/05/2020 - 4:06pm

Q-Anon dupes the dopes.

Don't support Trump
Wed, 11/04/2020 - 8:00pm

But I sure as heck don't support Biden. So sad how many people believe in a way too old, creepy (Possible pedophile), bumbling fool. Match him up with the condescending rhetoric queen Harris. Yay. What a great testament to the idiocy of the masses. USA is dead.

Begging to differ
Thu, 11/05/2020 - 4:09pm

"So sad how many people believe in a way too old, creepy (Possible pedophile), bumbling fool. Match him up with the condescending rhetoric queen Pence. Yay. What a great testament to the idiocy of the masses. USA is dead." Seems like you are talking LITERALLY about Trump/Pence.

Project much?
Thu, 11/05/2020 - 4:12pm

Didn't Trump say he used to walk into dressing room at Teen USA dressing room while girls were dressing/nude?

Wed, 11/04/2020 - 9:04pm

This is good for my state. So happy we saw through this guy!

Thu, 11/05/2020 - 12:31am

Finally Macomb county is irrelevant again. Hey, way to go electing Lucido the harasser as prosecutor. Classy!

Thu, 11/05/2020 - 8:46am

Biden may have taken the state (and most likely the presidency) but it's disappointing just how many people still voted for someone who spent the past 4 years sewing division and fear of the "other" and proving numerous times that he cared more about using the presidency for personal enrichment rather than improving the lives of everyday Americans.

Thu, 11/05/2020 - 3:29pm

How much money has he made as president compared to before he was president? You must have data on that, right?

Thu, 11/05/2020 - 9:33am

The only way biden will win is by people cheating for him. There are postal workers that should be losing their jobs because of what they have done with the mail in ballots.

Thu, 11/05/2020 - 4:15pm

Sorry, Trump, but you need proof, not just more BS. Can't you understand that there are ethical patriotic Americans that abhor Trump and his unpresidential behavior? Four years of blatant mob-style crimes.

Thu, 11/05/2020 - 4:21pm

Do you have any proof of cheating or is it still just a baseless claim?

Thu, 11/05/2020 - 4:39pm

Where is your proof? Nonsense. Get a life.

concerned American
Thu, 11/05/2020 - 9:36am

It's pretty obvious that something was going on in the East part Of MI with all those connected counties voting for Democrats. I agree that MI should have its votes recounted and that videos of polling places should be watched also , for when the polls were open to see if outside fraud and influence was occurring.

True American
Thu, 11/05/2020 - 5:17pm

You mean the cities and working people who saw through Trump's lies? You may not realize it, but the majority of Americans realize Trump did not keep his promises and he most definitely left us vulnerable to covid19.

William C. Plumpe
Sun, 11/15/2020 - 2:04pm

I know for a fact (My cousin's friend who saw it on the internet told her aunt who told my boss who told me so it's got to be true!) that aliens voted for Biden in the thousands! I don't mean illegal immigrants but extraterrestrials!
It MUST be true because Trump lost!

Thu, 11/05/2020 - 9:40am

My never ending gratitude to all the people of Michigan who got out and voted to make this win possible. I predict that Washington will be able to return to it's mission of administering the government's business quietly and with dignity. Of course there is still Mitch McConnell
to stymie progress.

Thu, 11/05/2020 - 3:23pm

What planet are you on? Biden and dignity don't belong in the same sentence. If that creeper gets the office, you'll eat those words, guaranteed.

Yes We Can!
Thu, 11/05/2020 - 5:18pm

Yes, God Bless America and all the beautiful children of God who voted for Biden.

Thu, 11/05/2020 - 9:44am

Little by little, the ideology of this country is changing from one of a democratic republic to one with many socialist ideas. Talks of defunding police have dipped into some talks of defunding the military. Questions on why we have an electoral college have led to calls to change to a straight democracy for elections. Calls to do away with fossil fuels and fuel powered transportation methods are great, but transition must keep pace with available technology and economics. Joe Biden may be able to lead this country, but will it really be Joe Biden pulling the strings? The democratic leader of the House has already proposed changing the 25th amendment to allow Congress to also play in removing a sitting president. Joe Biden's back-up is one who was rejected by her own party before the first vote of the 2020 primary elections.

If people thought the years of Donald Trump were tumultuous, the years under Joe Biden may be as bad or worse. Many blame Trump for the COVID pandemic, but there are many things that Trump did right, like closing the borders sooner rather than later, and forcing the development of vaccines and therapeutic drugs. And Trump did respect the concept of a democratic republic with governors having sole authority over actions within their own states. Those sly little founding fathers, were, in my opinion, a lot smarter than we give them credit for.

Thu, 11/05/2020 - 4:36pm

"many things that Trump did right, like closing the borders sooner rather than later,"

No he didn't. He only blocked those traveling with a Chinese Passport who were coming from mainland China. The borders still open for everyone else coming from China.

"and forcing the development of vaccines and therapeutic drugs"

You can't be honestly think this is Trump's doing? The same Trump who spent months pushing an untested drug he called a "game changer" and a "miracle" that eventually failed clinical trials? The same Trump who told people not to worry and it will go away before Easter or that it will go away with warmer temperatures but privately told reporters it is way worse than the flu? The same Trump who asked if there was a way to get disinfectants and sunlight into the body to treat Covid?

"And Trump did respect the concept of a democratic republic with governors having sole authority over actions within their own states."

Except his rage tweets telling his followers to "LIBERATE MICHIGAN" and also threatening to withhold federal funding for states who refused to listen to Trump who wanted states to go against the CDC's (and his own White House) guidance.

Remember all of the times that Trump said "I might not agree with Governor Whitmer but it's well within her authority to lead Michigan as she sees fit." If you don't remember, it's because that never happened. Instead Trump constantly attacked her to the point where people protested lockdowns by displaying effigies hanging from nooses and signs that read "Hail Whitler." All culminating in a failed plot to kidnap/murder a sitting governor.

Get real
Thu, 11/05/2020 - 5:19pm

Trump is an authoritarian who won't even count our votes.

Charlie Day
Thu, 11/05/2020 - 6:00pm

Well spoken. We are a predominantly Democratic family, and most of us including our kids voted for Trump this year for the precise reasons you state - We saw Trump as the FAR lesser evil of two evils (though we don't actually think Trump is evil - He's just a very purposefully abrasive person). Even though we are Democrats, we would still die for the principles that our founding fathers and and ancestors fought and died for. Socialism/communism is the antithesis of a democratic republic, and we will not let it happen. So all of you hardcore trumpsters out there just know that there are some democrats willing to right right along side of you.

Thu, 11/05/2020 - 9:23pm

Conservatives have NEVER considered this a democratic republic. It's a Republic! Don't ya know? The problem with that is that so is North Korea, Iran, and the Chicoms!

A Republic is any Governmental body that is NOT Theocratic. In other words, any government system that isn't ruled by Kings. What does that say to the religious amongst us?

A republic is a form of government in which the country is considered a "public matter", not the private concern or property of the rulers. The primary positions of power within a republic are attained through democracy or a mix of democracy with oligarchy and/or autocracy, rather than being unalterably occupied.
I am going to argue that YOU like socialism. And you will know you do when I am done. Whether or not you accept it or acknowledge it is not my fault.

Would you like to replace your mail box with a toll booth? USPS is a constitutionally obligated service where rural delivery is subsidized by urban and sub urban people paying the same rate to send mail to the any area. Ask any rural area if they like the mail.

On the other side of that, we should privatize ALL of our roads. That's where the toll booths come in.AS a matter of fact, let's get rid of our Socialist public schools, And the socialist PUBLIC FUNDING OF THEM. NO socialist voucher for you! Then we could defund the police and have the vaunted Private sector sell their protective wares to those who can afford it.

I understand why we have an EC. But when you try to strong arm the public while you are the minority, while shafting minorities of color? (because we are about to hear again that the constitution protects the rights of the minority against the majority) That is called hypocrisy. Especially when you run roughshod over the minority as soon as you are in the majority.

WE should have been transitioning from fossil fuels for the last 40 years. There is only party that has put road blocks against it. Were you the ones telling us we shouldn't replace the horse and buggy with an automobile a hundred years ago? Maybe if we had invested and researched....we would be where we need to be to not replace them totally...........but hemp oil can and Will replace oil for plastic development. And it might just be biodegradable, while also being highly reproducible. How do you plan on replacing the oil once it's gone? Will future generations look back at our decadence while they are in the dark with whale oil lamps? Does that you make you feel bad? Does it make it feel like you failed future generations? You know, the ones you don't want to leave debt to, but you know you will, because you have become accustomed to a certain standard of living? Andi it is ALL based on DEBT! It's called a Credit card...........because in accounting, there are debits and credits. When you owe? It's a credit....until you pay it then you get to enter a debit into your ledger.

Kamala Harris wasn't rejected by her party any more than any of your failed candidates were. Ted Cruz is still a senator........isn't he?

NO ONE blames Trump for the pandemic. If you could show me that is true, I would be greatly grateful. What people are complaining about is the ONLY thing YOU can point to that he did is close off travel from China...............but he didn't close off all travel!

What's True

A restriction on foreigners traveling from mainland China took effect on Feb. 2, 2020, but thousands of Chinese and foreign nationals from Hong Kong and Macau entered the U.S. in the three months following. Thousands of Americans and foreigners still arrived in the U.S. on direct flights from China after the restrictions were imposed.
What's False

There was no ban on travel from China’s administrative zones, as thousands of travelers managed to enter the U.S. from Hong Kong and Macau, regions also struck by COVID-19. Many travelers did not receive the same enhanced screenings for the virus as those required by Americans returning from mainland China.
What's Undetermined

Evidence from past studies and recent reports showed that travel control measures marginally delayed but did not stop the spread of pandemics, but there is little available proof that the February restrictions helped save thousands or millions of lives as Trump has claimed. Differing responses from experts and officials suggest that the full impact of this policy has yet to be determined.

The problem? Washington State had already been infected and so had Cali. And he didn't close off travel from Europe. That is where the strain that infected New York came from.

Also, people are blaming him for the way he reacted or should I say.........didn't react. And now? Go ahead, try to book a flight any where in the world from America. See how accepted your passport is!

If you understood what the founding fathers wanted, why do think this country runs for corporations?

Ask yourself whose tea the sons of liberty tossed off whose ships?

Ans: British East India Company tea. The Eleanor, The Beaver and the Dartmouth. All privately owned. So was it a revolt against the crown or a revolt against a crown that was in collusion with a crown backed monopolist?

You better bet those founders were smart!

Is this your idea of what the Founders thought? Or are you a Torrie?

Thu, 11/05/2020 - 3:45pm

Im not the only one calling B.S!!! We all know that the Democrats are cheating the votes in many states. This WILL end up in court. Socialist Comrade Biden Did NOT win Michigan and it will be proven. So Snowflakes dont get your panties in a wad, its NOT over yet!! ;)

Charlie Day
Thu, 11/05/2020 - 5:56pm

No way that college-educated people are dumb enough to vote for a chinese-owned pedophile w/a communist VP en masse. Recount or war is what I am hearing - This is going to be interesting! Definitely will need a lot of popcorn. We are democrats that voted for Trump and we know quite a few others who did the same after the Hunter Biden laptop files came out linking Joe directly to china, and the subsequent media blackout on it. We smell fraud on a massive scale!

Fri, 11/06/2020 - 1:36pm

Massive scale of fraud that the media claims is without evidence is what won Bidens edge. You people are all in on this and are horrible. I'll never vote in another election of any kind again. Not everyones vote counts.