Donald Trump won Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin by fewer than 400,000 votes in 2016, but in every case the margin was dwarfed by registered voters who didn't cast a ballot for president at all in 2016 or voted third party, and that margin was dwarfed by those who stayed home. Getting those voters back onto the Democratic side as a way to remove Trump has to be the top priority.
One of the biggest surprises in 2016 was how many voters declined to even cast a ballot for president: More than 75,000 Michiganders who went to the polls didn’t vote for president at all — more than double the number in 2008.
“That’s an amazing number,” said Susy Heintz Avery, a former Michigan Republican Party chairwoman and co-director of the Michigan Political Leadership Program at Michigan State University.
Of those, nearly half — more than 35,000 voters — were from counties won by Hillary Clinton. The state hadn’t backed a Republican nominee since 1988.
Voter apathy may explain part of it, with people turned off by either Trump or Clinton, who did little outreach in the state. Democratic consultant Joe DiSano also said, “It was a question of people thinking it was a foregone conclusion (that Clinton would win). They thought it was taken care of … There’s no question she should have done more on the ground (to get out the vote).”
In 2020, expect both sides to take nothing for granted, regardless of what the polls say.
“The get-out-the-vote effort is going to be huge in 2020 … Bigger than we’ve seen in a long time,” said Heintz Avery. The question is how many of those missing voters are ready to support the Democratic nominee against the president, or if, in the end, they decide to sit it out again.
Clinton did almost as well in Detroit as President Barack Obama did in 2012, winning 95% of the vote in the majority black city. But Clinton got about 47,000 fewer votes in the city than Obama did.
“Obviously African American votes in the cities … were a key loss for Clinton,” said Matt Grossmann, director of Michigan State University’s Institute for Public Policy and Social Research.
Amid criticism that Clinton took those predominantly Democratic votes for granted, party officials say that’s unlikely to happen again.
Democrats have more than a dozen organizers on the ground in Detroit and are training even more, pointing out that health care protections remain as uncertain as ever and that Trump has tried to gut programs that help pay for development efforts in urban centers. The Trump campaign, meanwhile, is running ads in newspapers and on radio in Detroit touting the administration's record and launching “Black Voices for Trump.” The campaign says Trump's presidency has greatly helped minority voters by lowering the unemployment rate and notes the president has also enacted criminal justice reforms,
In the 2018 midterm elections, Detroit’s turnout was up 10 points from the previous midterm, a trend that could greatly help Democrats if it holds. But Grossman says the party needs to motivate black voters, not simply expect them to turn out.
“Hillary Clinton managed to convince white voters she cared a lot about racial minorities and their concerns, but it was not enough to mobilize African American voters,” he noted.
Black voters in Philly, Detroit, and Milwaukee are going to make the difference in those three critical swing states, and they will make the difference in Florida and NC too. That's why voter suppression efforts in those five states have been specifically targeted at black voters. That's how Republicans were able to win huge state legislature majorities in all of those states.
It's the black vote, guys. Stop pretending "working-class white voters" are the key to anything.