East Lansing votes deep blue; student precincts less certain

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When Donald Trump was projected winner of Michigan in the 2016 presidential election, it was the first time a Republican presidential candidate won the state since 1988. Ingham County, one of just eight Michigan counties that voted for Hillary Clinton on Nov. 8, favored her with a clear majority of 60.2 percent compared to Trump’s 32.8 percent.

East Lansing City Clerk Marie Wicks was expecting her city and county to support Clinton.

“Nothing about our results is surprising, but I was surprised by Michigan’s results,” Wicks said. “Cities and the universities just vote more blue than rural areas.”

In 2012, East Lansing registered about 2,500 new voters, while this year, Wicks said the city registered around 7,000. The higher registration, according to Wicks, came from U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont getting young Americans interested in politics, and a sizeable push from the Michigan Democratic coordinated campaign.

Aaron Stephens, who was the co-president of the Students for Sanders East Lansing group and later an organizer for Michigan Democrats on campus, said student participation was way up compared to the 2012 election.

“I believe we had around 70 percent turnout [on campus], which is outstanding. In 2012, I think there was something like 39. That turnaround is outstanding.”

The data agrees with Stephens. According to final Ingham County results, the mean turnout across East Lansing’s five campus precincts is 71.75 percent.

Stephens added that high voter turnout is something his party was prioritizing this election.

“I think one of the biggest things that people need to look for is participation,” Stephens said. “Whatever change you’re looking for is coming from participation… We didn’t care who someone was voting for, we were just looking for participation.”

Breaking down each of East Lansing’s 17 precincts gives a closer look at possible city and campus demographics. For example, Hillary Clinton won every precinct in East Lansing, but her closest contest was in Precinct 14 at IM Sports East on the MSU campus. In Precinct 14, Clinton won 63.2 percent of votes to Trump’s 29.4.

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Clinton’s message didn’t resonate with MSU students quite as well as it did with other East Lansing residents. On average, 72.6 percent of voters in the 12 precincts off campus voted for Clinton, while an average of 66.9 percent of voters on campus voted for Clinton.

Abby Kiesa, of the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) at Tufts University, specializes in youth voting trends. She said that East Lansing’s support for Clinton was high but not unexpected.

“It would not be surprising that Secretary Clinton received strong support from a student-heavy or university-heavy area,” said Kiesa. “Nationally, we saw an estimated 55 percent of young people support Clinton, 57 percent in Michigan statewide, which was higher support than older groups.”

Still, why did fewer on-campus voters cast their ballot for Clinton compared to off-campus voters and East Lansing residents? It’s hard to say for certain. East Lansing election results suggest that roughly 6.12 percent of on-campus voters supported Jill Stein or Gary Johnson, while only 4.62 percent of voters off campus supported the two third-party candidates.

Despite saying Ingham County results were unsurprising, Wicks said she thought on-campus precincts would have had a little more support for Clinton.

Mark Grebner, who just won a county commissioner seat in Ingham County’s 8th District, said young people support third-party candidates largely from idealism.

“Young people aren’t thinking about running the country,” Grebner said. “They’re not concerned about the real nitty gritty details of tax law, and abortion and paving roads and if the post office functions properly. You know, all the boring parts of government.”

Regardless of political affiliation, Stephens is just happy youth participation was up this election.

“The election got a lot more people involved, and that’s a really good thing,” Stephens said. “I’ve had a lot of people reach out to me who want to know the next step. And that’s an amazing thing. These aren’t people with political majors or anything, they’re just people that want to get involved.”