By Becky McKendry
Although Barack Obama won Michigan with about 53 percent of the vote, many counties have shifted toward the Republican party when comparing the 2008 and 2012 elections.
Analysts often determine voter party preference by analyzing the Board of Education voting. Because voters have a tendency to know less about these candidates, they often vote for their party, indicating the voter’s affiliation.
Distinctly Democratic and Republican counties can be defined as those where more than 52 percent of voters voted for the respective parties in the Board of Education. By that measure, in 2008 there were 21 distinctly Democratic counties. That number shrank to nine this election. All of them turned “purple,” meaning that neither party had more than 52 percent of the vote.
“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 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 turnout so their control in some counties shrank.”
Aside from losing 12 counties that he had won in 2008, Obama won only one Republican county this year, Van Buren. In 2008 he won five traditionally Republican counties, including the large Kent County.
Shields said that he believed Obama’s ability to win such counties last election was another result of high turnout.
Democratic strategist Joe DiSano, of Main Street Strategies, said Obama’s cross-party success last election indicates 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.”
Despite the decrease in support as measured by counties won this election, Obama won the state comfortably. He won eight of the top 10 most populous counties in Michigan. The four counties Obama won with the highest percentages in both elections: Wayne, Washtenaw, Ingham and Muskegon. These four counties made up almost 40 percent of the total vote in 2008, and almost 35 percent in 2012.
Both DiSano and Shields said that the larger cities in Michigan reflect growing diversity on the national scale. They also agreed that this is 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.”
“The biggest problem for Republicans is these large counties like Wayne,” said Shields. “You’re not going to cure the problems that the Republicans have with groups like the African-American community in one election.”
According to DiSano, third party presidential voting, while down this election, might hold a key for the Republicans. While only about 1 percent of total presidential votes in Michigan were for third party candidates, DiSano said he believes that if Republicans adopted more views like the Libertarian party, they would have better success.
“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.”