Michigan is a toss-up state again after favoring Democrats for a generation

Michigan has only 16 electoral votes among the 538 in the Electoral College that decides the U.S. presidency. But the state is expected to be a key battleground for Democrats and President Donald Trump. (Shutterstock image)


Michigan is sometimes called a “purple” state –  neither Republican red nor Democratic blue – and is considered one of about 12 perennial swing states that can decide presidential elections.

In 2016, state voters narrowly supported Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton, after favoring a Democrat in every presidential election since 1992. The state, along with Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, propelled the Republican businessman to the White House.

Michigan voters don’t register by party, but polling indicates about 45 percent of voters lean Democratic and 38 percent lean Republican.

Most of Michigan’s 83 counties lean Republican, but population strongholds of Detroit and most of its suburbs, Lansing, Flint and other cities favor Democrats. Since 1982, Democrats and Republicans have alternated control of the governor’s office.

Twelve counties switched support from Barack Obama to Trump in 2016: Bay, Calhoun, Eaton, Gogebic, Isabella, Lake, Macomb, Manistee, Monroe, Saginaw, Shiawassee and Van Buren. Most, but not all of those counties, have experienced population losses, were hit hard by the recession and have fewer college graduates, as a percentage of adults, than the state average.

State government makeup

Michigan has divided government for the first time since 2010. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer led three women Democrats to sweep the top statewide offices during 2018 elections, topping a ticket that included Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and Attorney General Dana Nessel.

Republicans outnumber Democrats in the House 58 to 52 and in the Senate 22 to 16. The GOP has controlled both chambers since 2011 and the Senate since the mid-1980s. 

The 2018 elections swept several more Democrats into office, tightening the margins in the Legislature. 

Michigan’s Supreme Court justices are nominated by political parties but run as nonpartisan on the ballot. The court is comprised of four justices were backed by Republicans and three, including Chief Justice Bridget Mary McCormack, who were nominated by Democrats.

2020 elections

All 14 of Michigan’s U.S. representatives and one senator, Democrat Gary Peters, are up for re-election on Nov. 3.  

All 110 seats in the state House of Representatives are also up for election, though 22 members won’t be able to run again due to term limits, leaving those races without an incumbent. The state’s other U.S. senator, Debbie Stabenow, a Democrat, is not up for re-election.

Michigan’s congressional delegation reflects the state’s political diversity, with six Republicans, seven Democrats and one Independent: Jack Bergman, R-Watersmeet (District 1); Bill Huizenga, R-Zeeland (District 2); Justin Amash, I-Cascade Township (District 3); John Moolenaar, R-Midland (District 4); Dan Kildee, D- Flint Township (District 5); Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph (District 6); Tim Walberg, R-Tipton (District 7); Elissa Slotkin, D-Holly (District 8);  Andy Levin, D-Bloomfield Township (District 9); Paul Mitchell, R-Dryden Township (District 10); Haley Stevens, D-Rochester Hills (District 11); Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn (District 12); Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit (District 13); Brenda Lawrence, D-Southfield (District 14).

Peters is running for re-election for the first time and faces businessman John James in a race that The Cook Political Report considers a toss-up. 

Two other races are closely watched nationally: Slotkin and Stevens are seeking re-election for the first time in districts that had been led by Republicans, and could be close races, according to Cook.

The state is expected to lose one congressional seat after the 2020 Census.

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