How Trump Won Michigan

Ben Rosenfeld, News Editor

On Tuesday, November 8th, Donald J. Trump won the presidential election in what some are calling the biggest Presidential upset since Bush v. Gore in 2000. Similar to the election 16 years ago, Trump managed to win the electoral college, yet did not gain the popular vote. However, perhaps the most shocking result that came from the election was Trump’s victory in Wisconsin and Michigan, two states which the Republicans had not won together since 1984. Trump’s upset victory in these two states, combined with a Democratic inability to win Southern states such as North Carolina and Florida, resulted in an extremely close, though controversial win for Trump.

As many political analysts have reported, the biggest surprise occurred in Michigan, where Trump was able to flip districts which had previously been controlled by Democrats. According to Todd Spangler of the Detroit Free Press, Hillary Clinton’s biggest problem “was that where Trump underperformed Romney, she underperformed Obama’s 2012 showing too. She did better than Obama’s vote totals in only five counties — Washtenaw, Kent, Ottawa, Leelanau and Grand Traverse — and in them only by small percentages.” Altogether, Trump flipped 12 counties which Barack Obama won handily in the 2012 contest. As voter statistics point out, Trump gained less votes nationally than Republican nominee Mitt Romney had in 2012, yet still managed to win the electoral college. This reveals a driving force behind the election, especially in states like Michigan, voter turnout. In larger counties in Michigan, like Wayne and Macomb, traditionally left-leaning demographics failed to turn out for the Democrats. On the other hand, Trump’s core base of supporters showed up in much larger numbers. In post-election coverage, analysts have argued that due to the projection of a safe victory for Clinton, fewer of her constituents actually showed up to vote.

Nonetheless, the biggest change from previous years came in the white population, in a shift which won a large portion of the working class for the Republicans. According to Nate Cohn of The New York Times, “the bastions of industrial-era Democratic strength among white, working-class voters fell to Mr. Trump,” even though these were easily held by Obama in his two races. Many of these working-class voters live in the states which Democrats failed to hold on election day, such as Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan, and this tipped the scale towards the Republicans. Wilkes-Barre and Scranton, for example, were two Pennsylvania cities where the Republican nominee campaigned frequently, hoping to gain favorability among blue-collar workers.

Much of the reason for this favorability lies in Trump’s political differences from past Republican candidates. Unlike Mitt Romney, for example, Trump based his entire campaign around a rejection of the political establishment. This appealed to a large group of voters, since many people have seen the establishment as a cause of recent economic hardship. However, as Trump begins to build up the members of his cabinet, reactions to the appointment of Washington insiders like RNC Chairman Reince Priebus to the position of Chief of Staff may anger Trump’s election supporters.

Overall, this shift in the party affiliations of the white working-class could have wide-ranging effects on the future of the two-party system. Just as past candidates have expanded their constituencies by moving away from identity politics, the Democratic Party’s most effective course of action following Trump’s election will most likely be to focus on the full range of potential Democratic voters.