By BECKY McKENDRY
Capital News Service
LANSING — Although Barack Obama won Michigan with about 53 percent of the vote, many counties shifted towards the Republican Party compared to the 2008 presidential election.
Analysts often determine party preference by analyzing state Board of Education results. Because citizens tend to know less about those candidates, votes are often based on party label, indicating the voters’ own leanings.
Distinctly Democratic and Republican counties can be defined as those where more than 52 percent voted for their respective parties’ Board of Education nominees.
By that measure, there were 21 distinctly Democratic counties in 2008.
That number shrank to nine this year.
“I don’t think it had anything to do with message so much as it was a spinoff, coattail effect from the presidential campaign” in 2008, said Republican Tom Shields, president of the Lansing-based consulting firm Marketing Resource Group.
“In 2008, there was a much larger turnout, and high turnout usually benefits Democrats. This year, they didn’t have as high a turnout so their control in some counties shrank,” Shields said.
Aside from losing 12 counties that he’d won in 2008, Obama took only one GOP county this year, Van Buren. In 2008 he won Kent and four
other traditionally Republican counties.
Shields said Obama’s ability to win such counties four years ago was another result of high turnout.
Democratic strategist Joe DiSano, of Main Street Strategies in Lansing, said Obama’s cross-party success in 2008 reflects the wide reach of his message.
“The president had that new car smell in 2008,” DiSano said. “He was able to connect with voters in a way that had never been done before.”
On Nov. 6, Obama still carried the state comfortably, including eight of the top 10 most populous counties.
The four counties Obama won with the highest percentages in both elections were Wayne, Washtenaw, Ingham and Muskegon. They accounted for almost 40 percent of the total vote in 2008 and almost 35 percent this year.
Both DiSano and Shields said that Michigan’s larger cities reflect the growing population diversity evident on a national scale. They also agreed that trend creates a huge problem for the Republican Party.
“In presidential races, Michigan has been solidly blue because of these large, diverse cities,” DiSano said. “This is something the Democrats can lean on.”
And Shields said, “The biggest problem for Republicans is these large counties like Wayne. You’re not going to cure the problems that the Republicans have with groups like the African-American community in one election.”
“The demographics in Michigan and nationwide are changing,” DiSano said. “Where diversity is present, like large cities and university towns, they’re overwhelmingly Democratic.
“The Republican party has marginalized these populations for a long time. They need to evolve or die,” he said.
And according to DiSano, third-party presidential voting – although down this election — might hold a key for the GOP.
While only about 1 percent of Michigan’s presidential votes went to third-party candidates, DiSano said he believes that if Republicans had adopted more views like the Libertarian
By BECKY McKENDRY