It's Just Politics
2:36 pm
Fri August 24, 2012

Red state? Blue state? Taking a look at Michigan's (political) identity crisis

It's a "swing-state" edition of It's Just Politics this week. The big political question in the mitten-state currently seems to be "Is Michigan a true battleground - a swing state - in this year's presidential race?" You certainly would not be blamed for thinking so considering all of the campaign love that Michigan got this week.

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta - Friday, August 24th, 2012

Vice President Joe Biden was in Detroit on Wednesday, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was in West Michigan yesterday campaigning on behalf of fellow Republicans Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan and, just today, Governor Romney and Congressman Ryan visited Commerce Township.

Are we a (politically) fickle state?

This level of attention would seem to suggest that Michigan is a battleground state alongside  those perpetual swingers: Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania and Colorado. There are certainly reasons to believe why this could be the case, even though Michigan has gone for the Democratic nominee in the last five presidential cycles. But, if you look back even further, the five cycles before that, Michigan voted for the Republican presidential candidate every time.

It would appear that we are a fickle state. Michigan may be blue, but it elects Republicans in statewide races all the time: Governor Rick Snyder, Attorney General Bill Schuette and Secretary of State Ruth Johnson – just to name a few. And, even while Democrat Jennifer Granholn was governor, Attorney General Mike Cox and Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land were both Republicans.

Interestingly enough, Michigan’s record tilts more heavily toward sending Democrats to Washington D.C.. Senators Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow are, of course, Democrats. And, in this election cycle, Republican Senate nominee Pete Hoekstra hopes to alter that trend, like Spence Abraham did –albeit for just one term – in 1994.

What do the polls say?

In this year's race, President Obama’s generally been given the edge in most polls in the state, even though Mitt Romney was born in Michigan and his father was governor here. But, just because he can claim "native-son" status, the Romney name does not always equal ballot magic. Romney's brother, Scott Romney, lost his reelection bid to the Michigan State University and his mother Lenore Romney failed in her U.S. Senate bid back in 1970. A former sister in law, Ronna, who ran with the Romney name also lost a Senate race.

A poll was released this week by Foster McCollum White and Associates for the Fox TV station in Detroit that gave Romney a four point lead over President Obama; and a slight lead for Pete Hoesktra over Senator Debbie Stabenow.

But, then, another poll was released this week that put President Obama and Senator Stabenow in the lead. So, it begs the question - which poll is right? The reality is there’s no objective measure for regular folks to use to judge the credibility of a poll. The only reality to compare it to is… other polls.

Is Michigan a swinging state?

So, aside from the polls - the question remains: are we a swing state or not? It would seem if the presidential campaigns didn’t think Michigan was relevant to them in November then they wouldn't be spending so much time here. But, one can argue that there are a whole lot of other reasons why candidates visit a place. Certainly, persuading voters is a big one. Keeping the base energized is another - especially in a year like this when it seems like most people have made up their minds who they want, or who they don’t want in the White House.

Also, these rallies can be coordinated with fundraising trips. California and New York are not contested states but candidates will fly in to deliver a speech and collect the money that pays for national TV ad buys. Metro Detroit and Grand Rapids have enough money to make a trip worthwhile – book ended by some campaign appearances.

Never gonna give you up

It would also seem that even if Romney didn't think he could win Michigan that he still wouldn't give up on the state the way John McCain famously did four years ago. McCain had a "connection" to Michigan based on his 2000 establishment-shaking Republican primary victory over then-Texas Governor George W. Bush. But, Mitt Romney was born here, still has family here, and the optics of a Michigan exit would presumably be devastating.

Meanwhile, the very respectedFiveThirtyEight blog (one of our personal favorites) rates each state’s chances of going for either Romney or Obama based on following a set of public opinion surveys of each state. Currently, Michigan is at an 89.6 percent probability of going with President Obama and a 0.9 percent chance of being the state that decides the election. But, of course, that can quickly change. After all, it’s voters, not pollsters who will have the final say.

So, swing-on voters... swing-on.