56 Years of Michigan Presidential Politics

I had a long series about the Path to Win (or Lose) today’s Michigan. This is more about the past and how it got here. Originally, I was going to write a PVI by county in Michigan like we’ve seen in other states, but I decided to go this route instead. I’m not a huge PVI believer, and I didn’t want to co-opt someone else’s project if it was being planned. My work has always been more about vote spread or percentages. I feel combining both of those gives the best picture of what goes on in a state.

Michigan has fluctuated politically over the years, but has generally been for the most part a competitive state outside of US Senate (for various reasons ranging from timing to a failure to adequately contest the seats). I only concentrated on Presidential results here for time reasons, but the state’s results have been as follows at the top of the ticket.

1960-D, 1962-D (Swainson),1964-D,1966-R (Romney), 1968-D, 1970-RINO (Milliken),1972-R, 1974-RINO, 1976-R, 1978-RINO, 1980-R, 1982-D (Blanchard) ,1984-R, 1986-D, 1988-R, 1990-R (Engler), 1992-D, 1994-R, 1996-D, 1998-R, 2000-D, 2002-D (Granholm), 2004-D, 2006-D, 2008-D, 2010-R (Snyder), 2012-D, 2014-R, 2016-R.

I think the term RINO is overused, but Milliken was (rightfully IMO) kicked out of the Grand Traverse County GOP for his democrat endorsements over the years.

  • US Senate Seat 1 since 1960 – Patrick McNamara (D) elected in 54, died in office 1966, Bob Griffin (R)  (appointed by Romney and won full term in 1966, lost in 1978), Carl Levin (D) won in 78, retired with 2014 elections. Gary Peters (D) won open seat in 2014. Levin and Peters are the only two Senators in my lifetime, and I’m a year and a half away from turning 40.
  • US Senate Seat 2 since 1960 – Phillip Hart (D), elected in 1958 and retired in 1976. Don Riegle (D), elected in 1976, retired in 1994 after scandal. Spence Abraham (R), elected in 1994 wave, defeated in 2000. Debbie Stabenow (D), elected in 2000 and still in office. I’ve only had three Senators in my lifetime from this seat.
  • D’s took the congressional majority in MI from 1974 until 2002. R’s then held it until 2008, then took it back from the D’s in 2010 until today.
  • R’s held the State Senate since the 1984 recalls over the Blanchard tax increase. D’s nearly took it in 2006, but candidate quality saved us.
  • R’s took the State House in 1994, tied in 1996, took it in 1998 until 2006, then took it again in 2010 until today.

While competitive, there was a D leaning in the 1960’s largely due to only a few counties (The UP, Macomb, and a much larger Wayne County). It moved to the right significantly federally (Milliken however was a very liberal [not moderate] “Republican”) throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s with Detroit’s population loss and Macomb/Oakland county’s rightward shift in that period. In the 70’s and 80’s the state level leaned D while the federal level leaned R. After 1988, there was a significant leftward movement federally, although a rightward shift on the state level with the John Engler years.

Population shifts are telling. Detroit had 1.7 Million people in 1960. Wayne County had 2.67 Million people in 1960. Today, Detroit has under 700,000 and Wayne County is down to 1.8 Million. Oakland County had 700,000 in 1960 and has 1.2 Million now. Macomb had 400,000 in 1960 and has 870,000 now. Livingston had 38,000 in 1960 and has 187,000 now. Lapeer had 41,000 in 1960 and has 88,000 now. Washtenaw County has 172,000 then and 365,000 now.

The early 90’s recession and Bush tax increase did a number on this state causing a major move to the left (and Perot) on the federal level. A lot of union retirees/workers upnorth moved a lot of once solid R counties towards the left. Even Wexford County (one of the more GOP Counties in the state) voted for Clinton. In addition, while white flight moved Oakland toward the Republicans in the 80’s, black flight (and Southfield white flight to formerly GOP areas) moved it rapidly towards the democrats. Mike Dukakis won Southfield by 5000 votes. Barack Obama won Southfield by 35,000 votes. That city of less than 100000 votes moved the county 30,000 votes toward the D’s. However term limits and Engler’s reforms (and 2 weak D candidates) helped on the state level during this period.

The bleeding was stopped temporary in the early 2000’s, but there was a D lean then. The state moved more leftward federally again with the Obama years although Granholm’s era heavily damaged democrats quite a bit outstate and overall in state elections. North Michigan started to move back home after 25 years. Ask Trump if that’s a big deal.

There is still some ticket splitting, but less so in my state. Closer to home, my county has voted R more often than not going back to the Civil War D’s however have won in my county downticket in the 70’s, 80’s and even parts of the 90’s. Unadilla (to today), Putnam (up to 2000s), Conway, Green Oak (at least in 70’s), and even Brighton Twp have elected D’s probably in my lifetime.  Frank Kelley won countywide on multiple occasions, even outside of the 1986 Bill Lucas campaign that was a disaster worse than 1996, 2006, and 2008. Today, there’s only one D township official in my county in historically D Unadilla, and it is someone often unopposed who has been there 20 years. The D’s last had a county commissioner seat here in the early 90’s in a then D leaning part of the county.

Today Michigan has the most self-packing since the 1960 election. Gerrymandering gets the blame, but most of the “blame” goes to self-packing into 65%+D areas.


1960:Kennedy – 51%, Nixon 49%, won by 67,000 – JFK won the state despite winning only 13 counties and only winning four counties in lower Michigan. The UP was very D leaning in those days.

The only four counties JFK won in lower Michigan were:

  • Wayne – 66% – won by about 379,000 – Some things never change in Michigan politics, and that starts with the D’s dependency on Wayne County margins to win
  • Macomb – 63% – won by about 43,700 – This is when Macomb started really catching pundit’s attention as most suburbs were Republican in those days.
  • Bay – 52% – won by about 2100
  • Monroe – 51% – won by about 1077 – Monroe votes with Macomb a lot, but never gets the same hype.

Nixon’s best five county by raw vote differential will surprise some

  • Kent – 61% – won by about 34,000 (not a surprise)
  • Oakland – 54% – won by about 26,000 (not a surprise if you know traditional MI migration patterns)
  • Ingham – 63% – won by about 23,000 (surprised me)
  • Ottawa – 75% – won by about 22,000 (not a surprise)
  • Kalamazoo – 64% – won by about 18,500 (somewhat surprising)

By percentage, the counties are less surprising.

  • Missaukee – 80% – Rural Dutch County in North Michigan.
  • Osceola – 76% – Same area as Missaukee County, although not as Dutch
  • Ottawa – 75% – Usually the number 1 GOP county in the state.
  • Sanilac – 73% – The most GOP county in the thumb
  • Gratiot and Oscoda – 72% – Oscoda not a surprise. Gratiot’s always been a tough one for me to read.


In the 1960 census, a lot of today’s base R counties have much smaller populations. Livingston County for example had about 16,000 voters total. Detroit also had 1.6 million people at that time. Republicans had 394,000 votes in Wayne, over twice as many as their 2nd highest (Oakland, with 162,000).  Interestingly, Nixon was able to win areas Republicans never win anymore – Washtenaw, Genesee, and Muskegon Counties. Washtenaw being there surprised me a lot, but that shift to the D’s really started to show in 72, although ex-UM football player Gerald Ford bought some time there. The UP was strong for Kennedy, as it was for most democrats up until the 2000’s. Many of those counties are base counties today, but two of those are base D counties today.


1964 – LBJ – 67%, Goldwater 33%, won by 1.1 Million. – Goldwater only won three counties, Missaukee, Ottawa, and Sanilac – three of the counties you always see go GOP. This is also the last time my county went D for president. Michigan was like most of the rest of the country here. It was a massacre here and not much more needs to be said.


1968 – Humphrey 48%, Nixon 41%, Wallace 10%, won by 220,000

Humphrey only won 18 counties, 6 of which in Lower Michigan, but he won the state by a big margin. I’m not sure who Wallace hurt more with his 3rd party votes. Michigan isn’t a southern state, but there are a more white Southern transplants here (many settled downriver, Monroe County, the City of Detroit, Hazel Park, Burton, and in Ypsilanti) than people think with the auto industry jobs. A lot of Northern anti school busing folks also voted for Wallace.  Humphrey’s best five counties by differential are:

  • Wayne – 63% – won by about 384,000
  • Macomb – 55% – won by about 51,500
  • Genesee – 46% – won by about 11,200 – This was when the Flint area really started to move more D.
  • Monroe – 48% – won by about 3,200
  • Bay – 50% – won by about 2,600
  • The other D lower Michigan county was Lake County


Nixon’s best five by differential are:

  • Kent – 54% – won by about 24,000
  • Ottawa – 68% – won by about 21,000
  • Kalamazoo – 54% – won by about 13,400
  • Berrien – 51% – won by about 11,000
  • Jackson – 54% – won by about 9600


By percentage:

  • Ottawa, Missaukee – 68%
  • Sanilac – 66%
  • Huron – 65% – I’m still shocked Bill Clinton won Huron County
  • Osceola – 64%

Interestingly, Oakland County was about 45/45 at that time, barely won by Nixon.

1972 – Nixon 56%, McGovern 42%, won by about 500,000

Nixon won all but four counties. Wayne (Detroit), Washtenaw (Ann Arbor), Lake (Baldwin), and Delta (Escanaba area). Delta County until the 2000s had a very strong democrat tradition. Lake County has a strong D tradition as well, although Trump won it. Wayne County is Wayne County and always has been. This is where Washtenaw (and other college towns) really started making their left wing turns. Ford’s football ties help hold it off some with Washtenaw for awhile, but it voted for McGovern. McGovern’s four are:

  • Wayne – 53% – won by about 79,000 – If Wayne doesn’t go 275k+ for D’s it’s over before it is started.
  • Washtenaw – 52%, won by about 4800 – Washtenaw’s D shift begins
  • Delta – 50%, won by 356 – Yellow dog UP county until 2000
  • Lake – 49%, won by 16 – Poorest county in the state

Nixon’s best 5 areas by vote differential:

  • Oakland – 64% – won by 118,000 – Oakland starts being the SE Michigan R base from around 72-88. Migration is the biggest support factor – which also leads to its R downfall later.
  • Macomb – 63% – won by 65,000 – This is really the first signal with Reagan Democrats after being a D stronghold in the 60’s.
  • Kent – 59% – won by 36,000
  • Ottawa – 72% – won by 27,000
  • Berrien – 68% – won by 25,000 – Berrien has a lot of moderate R’s. The margin of winning there is usually dependent on how many Benton Harbor residents vote.

Livingston County is 16th in vote differential (9200). It’s up to slightly under 25,000 total votes in 1972. It is starting to become more of a base county.


Nixon’s best 5 by percentage

  • Sanilac – 73%
  • Ottawa – 72%
  • Missaukee – 72%
  • Osceola – 70%
  • Eaton and Allegan – 69% – Eaton surprised me a little because I’m quite familiar with today’s Eaton County, but the Lansing area didn’t move far to the left until the Clinton era.


1976 – Ford 52%, Carter 46%, won by about 200,000

Home state was a big deal here. Ohio went for Carter, in a rare case of Michigan going more R than Ohio. Carter won seven counties in lower Michigan and 8 counties in the UP. Carter’s best five were:

  • Wayne – 60%, won by 200,000
  • Genesee – 52%, won by 8900
  • Bay – 52%, won by 2800
  • Monroe – 52%, won by 2600
  • Gogebic – 61%, won by 2400 – Most D county in the UP give or take Marquette

The other lower Michigan Carter Counties were Ogemaw, Arenac, and Lake. Unions (Corrections, UAW commuters, and retirees) caused the rise of the D’s in NE Lower Michigan, especially Arenac and Gladwin Counties. This shows up more in the 90’s.

Ford’s best 5:

  • Oakland – 59%, won by 80,000
  • Kent – 67%, won by 68,000 – Native son
  • Ottawa – 74%, won by 33000 – Almost a native son as Ottawa is split between GR and Holland metros
  • Ingham – 56%, won by 19000
  • Kalamazoo – 59%, won by 18000

Ford’s best 5 by%

  • Ottawa – 74%
  • Mecosta – 69% – Somewhat surprising to me. Ford must have special appeal to Big Rapids or Ferris St. It’s an R county today outside of the college town, but not by this margin.
  • Kent – 67%
  • Allegan – 66%
  • Eaton and Grand Traverse – 64%

Livingston moved up to 13th in vote differential (about 7000) with slightly under 32,000 total votes. People are starting to move out that way. My parents did in 78.


1980 – Reagan 49%, Carter 43%, won by 250,000

Reagan was the perfect Republican match for this state generally acceptable to all factions except the most liberal R’s (Milliken and Anderson types). In 1980, he took all but 9 counties, losing 4 in lower Michigan. Carter’s 5 best were.

  • Wayne – 59%, won by 206,000
  • Genesee – 49% – won by 12,000
  • Washtenaw – 44%, won by 2300 – Without Ford on the ticket, this wasn’t going R anymore. John Anderson also took a lot of votes there.
  • Gogebic – 51%, won by 870 – Yellow Dog
  • Delta – 48%, won by 330 – Yellow Dog until 2000s

The other lower Michigan Carter county was not surprisingly Lake County.

Reagan’s best 5 were:

  • Oakland – 55% – won by 88000 – The 80’s was where Oakland really got its former reputation.
  • Kent – 55% – won by 40,000
  • Macomb – 52% – won by 34,000
  • Ottawa – 68% – won by 33,000
  • Berrien – 61% – won by 19,000

My county broke into the top 10 in vote margins with 12,400 vote margin and 60%. While Macomb County has the Reagan Democrat reputation, it’s not just there. Monroe, Bay, Genesee, Saginaw, Muskegon, Arenac, and Ogemaw had a lot of them as well.

Reagan’s best 5 by percentage:

  • Ottawa – 68%
  • Sanilac – 67%
  • Hillsdale – 66%
  • Huron – 65%
  • Missaukee – 64%

No surprises there.

1984 – Reagan 59%, Mondale 40%, won by 730,000

Mondale only won four counties.

  • Wayne – 57%, won by 129,000
  • Gogebic – 58%, won by 1550
  • Iron – 50%, won by 91
  • Keewenaw – 51%, won by 29

Reagan’s 5 best :

  • Oakland – 67%, won by 156,000 – 60%+ in Oakland is impressive, even then.
  • Macomb – 66%, won by 96,000 – 60%+ in Macomb is impressive. Getting 60%+ in Macomb AND Oakland with different political cultures, then and now? Only Reagan or a horrible D candidate does that.
  • Kent – 67%, won by 71,000
  • Ottawa – 80%, won by 45,000 – Even in Ottawa County that’s impressive.
  • Kalamazoo – 64%, won by 26,000

My county was 9th with a 21,000 vote spread – and 74% for Reagan. The 31,000 votes overall these days in my county is about what D’s get however in a bad year now.


Reagan’s 5 best percentages.

  • Ottawa – 80%
  • Hillsdale – 77%
  • Missaukee – 76%
  • Sanilac – 75%
  • Livingston, Allegan, Branch – 74% – That’s the first time my county was on a top list. Branch County is next to Hillsdale in the middle of Free Soil Country and was/is a base county.


1988 – Bush 54%, Dukakis 46%, won by 290,000

Dukakis took 16 counties, 7 of which in lower Michigan. His best 5 are:

  • Wayne – 60%, won by 158,000
  • Genesee – 59%, won by 34,000
  • Bay – 57%, won by 7500
  • Washtenaw – 52%, won by 6800
  • Marquette – 57%, won by 3700

The other lower Michigan Dukakis counties are Lake, Arenac, and Saginaw.

Bush’s best 5:

  • Oakland – 61%, won by 109,000 – This was probably where Oakland was at Peak R in relation to the state (solid 8pt win, but not the blowout overall 1984 was). In 1990, Southfield was about 1/3 black. Dukakis won it by about 5000 votes (instead of the +30KD spread there now). Farmington Hills just west of Southfield was probably still a base R, at worst lean R city at that time. Troy (wasn’t trouble until 2008) was probably in the 60%+ range, and I’m sure Novi (wasn’t trouble until 2008) was as well. Royal Oak wasn’t yuppieville then either, but a more blue collar moderate suburb. While there’s less outer Oakland County R votes in areas like Lyon Township then compared to today, I think much of the outer Oakland vote today is cannibalized from folks in inner-Oakland back then who moved out. Inner Oakland R’s then were largely replaced by Detroiters today. There’s also a growing Asian population in places like Troy and Novi today.
  • Macomb – 60%, won by 63,000 – Reagan D’s stayed with R’s here. Dukakis in a tank at the Warren plant was a disaster move still talked about today. That was his attempt at getting the Macomb vote. It backfired in a bad way and sunk Dukakis’s chances here.
  • Kent – 64%, won by 58,000 – I think this may be the last year the City of Grand Rapids went R. It started to go dem again like it was in the 70’s.
  • Ottawa – 76%, won by 43,000
  • Livingston – 69%, won by 17,600 – My county first makes a top 5 for vote spread. This vote spread is about 1/2 of what the vote spread is today.

Best 5 by percentage:

  • Ottawa – 76%
  • Livingston – 69%
  • Hillsdale – 68%
  • Missaukee – 68%
  • Allegan – 67%

These are looking like what top 5% map is today outside of the Trump election.

1992 – Clinton 44%, Bush 37%, Perot 19%, won by 320,000

Bush I’s tax increase and the Perot populist movement did a ton of long term damage to Republicans in Michigan. Between the trade agreement proposal that became NAFTA that was a big issue, the tax increase, and overall economic uncertainty, we took a beating. Bill Clinton also had an absolute gift of communication and later was given short term credit for the SUV boom during the late 90’s period (and long term blame for NAFTA). Clinton’s best 5 Counties were as follows.


  • Wayne – 60%, won by 280,000 – R’s always lose Wayne County big, but that’s the first 275K level loss since the 1960’s when Wayne County had many more people.
  • Genesee – 53%, won by 57,000 – Perot took a ton of votes here.
  • Washtenaw – 53%, won by 32,000 – Clinton accelerated the trend that Reagan and Ford slowed down.
  • Ingham – 46%, won by 17,700 – Ingham was open to some Republicans until around 1990. Bush barely won it against Dukakis. Reagan did well. East Lansing (and later Meridian Twp) stampeded left. Ingham is now one of the D’s 4 best counties every election.
  • Saginaw – 45%, won by 11,800 – Bay usually was in this spot, but Saginaw slipped ahead of it. They vote very similar overall although slightly different coalitions (Saginaw has more base R votes, but more minorities cancelling them out).


Clinton’s best 5 by percentage:

  • Wayne – 60%
  • Washtenaw/Genesee – 53%
  • Ontonagon/Gogebic/Iron/Schoolcraft/Lake – 52%

The real story however was how many previously R leaning counties turned into D leaning counties, particularly in North Michigan.  Clare. Gladwin. Alpena. Roscommon, Etc. I think a lot of this was due to union retirees moving Up North. Even Wexford, Osceola, Kalkaska, and Huron Counties went for Clinton. Seniors in Michigan were Clinton’s biggest base, and North Michigan (and the Thumb) had and still has a lot of retirees. Bill Clinton won 49 counties out of 83. The college areas are now gone for good as well. Ingham, Washtenaw, Kalamazoo, and Isabella. Marquette always was D, but it didn’t flip when the rest of the UP did.


Bush’s best 5 were:

  • Ottawa – 59%, won by 35,000 – Perot did a number here, although it was short term.
  • Kent – 48%, won by 33,000 – Perot again did a number. Bush recovered numbers here, but R numbers dropped later
  • Oakland – 44%, won by 27,000 – The vote spread was cut by 3/4 over 1988. This was also the last time R’s won an Oakland presidential election. Bush II nearly did it in 2004 fighting to a near draw, but Oakland was no longer a base county here and no longer an R county in 1996.
  • Macomb – 42%, won by 17,000 – Clinton didn’t sell here in 92, but it flips back to the D’s in 96 with the SUV boom.
  • Livingston – 45%, won by 9700 – By my standards after 1988, that’s a loss more than a win. Terrible showing for my county. D’s actually made some big inroads here in the 90’s until we moved back to the right in the 2000s. The fact that a 4 digit spread was the 5th best for Bush shows what a bad year it was for us.


Bush’s best 5 percentages:

  • Ottawa – 59%
  • Kent – 48%
  • Allegan/Missaukee – 47%
  • Livingston – 45%

Perot’s showing showed how unpopular the R’s were here at that time. It gets worse

1996 – Clinton 52%, Dole 38%, Perot 8%, won by 500,000

This was the year where we lost a lot of the suburbs. Suburbs aren’t monolithic, but all types of suburbs moved left here – the upper middle class and affluent suburbs that aren’t social conservative like Farmington Hills that the pundits proclaim as the typical suburb moved left. The working and middle class populist suburbs like Fraser and St Clair Shores that don’t get the hype also moved left. The rural areas were even rougher for us, but those were trouble in 92 as well. In shore, Clinton kicked our arse up and down the state winning 61 counties. This was arguably worse than 2008 here as the damage was more widespread geographically and less concentrated, and on par with 2006’s bloodbath (the worst where I was personally involved). Arguably only 1986 was worse in my lifetime. My congressional seat flipped that year too to Stabenow to add insult to injury.

Clinton best 5:

  • Wayne – 69%, won by 329,000 – Wayne County’s keeps losing population, but gets worse spreads for us. The percentages from here on out are closer to 70% than 60%.
  • Genesee – 61%, won by 57,000 – If nothing else, Genesee County is usually very consistent (Trump exception)
  • Washtenaw – 59%, won by 33,000 – Ann Arbor goes deep blue now, and it’s burbs now also go blue.
  • Macomb – 50%, won by 31,000 – The Reagan Democrats go back to the D’s. That 50% was with Perot on the ticket.
  • Oakland – 48%, won by 22,000 – Clinton flips Oakland and keeps it flipped to this day.

To give an idea how bad it was, Ingham didn’t make the list and was a 20,500 D spread as well.

Clinton’s best 5 by Percentage

  • Wayne – 69%
  • Genesee – 61%
  • Washtenaw/Lake – 59%
  • Marquette/Schoolcraft – 57%

Dole’s best 5:

  • Kent – 54%, won by 35,000
  • Ottawa – 64% won by 34,000
  • Livingston – 51%, won by 8000 – D’s gained ground in vote spread and it’s Dole’s 3rd best? That tells you how bad this election really was. Dole even visited Livingston County right before the election. It wasn’t enough to save Dick Chrysler, the first Livingston County Congressman we had in a long time (since Winans?).
  • Allegan – 54%, won by 6500
  • Berrien – 48%, won by 3600


Dole’s best 5 by percentage:

  • Ottawa – 64%:
  • Kent/Allegan – 54%
  • Livingston – 51%
  • Leelanau/Missaukee – 50%


2000 – Gore 51%, Bush 46%, won by 217,000

I always thought Bush was a bad fit for Michigan and bombed here in 2000 to someone that should not have won the state, but after the damage of 92 and 96, I think Michigan was more D than its reputation was then (albeit less D than its reputation was a month before Trump’s election). In retrospect, while Bush was a bad fit for East Michigan, he was a good fit for West Michigan. The UP starts to go our way a bit, and even longtime D areas like Delta County finally flip. Most of the UP counties flipped for good with the exception of 2008 when McCain publicly quit the state. Oakland narrowly went D, as did Macomb that year.


Gore’s best 5:

  • Wayne – 69%, won by 307,000 – The machine.
  • Genesee – 63%, won by 53,000 – Also the machine.
  • Washtenaw – 60%, won by 34,000 – College towns really start to move left.
  • Ingham – 57%, won by 22,000 – Same story as Washtenaw
  • Saginaw – 54%, won by 9700 – The machine again.


Gore’s best 5%

  • Wayne – 69%
  • Genesee – 63%
  • Washtenaw – 60%
  • Ingham – 57%
  • Muskegon – 55%

All university or UAW machine areas.


Bush’s best 5

  • Kent – 59%, won by 53,000 – Bush really did well in Kent County’s suburbs. I saw some diminishing returns out of here post 2004, but I’m wondering now if Kent County just had a lot of “Bush Independents.” Bush was a great fit for Kent (and Ottawa) County.
  • Ottawa – 71%, won by 49,000
  • Livingston – 59%, won by 16,000 – A lot of the old 1980’s Oakland GOP vote is now here. Outside of the 08 McCain quitting disaster, this was also the last time R’s were under 60% here for presidential elections. Bush had 44,000 votes here. Reagan in 84 had about 32,000.
  • Allegan – 63%, won by 13,000 – Fast growing area in Dutch country increasing the spread there.
  • Grand Traverse – 59%, won by 8000 – Fast growing area as well and the suburbs of Traverse City are strongly R (City is D).


Bush best 5 by%

  • Ottawa – 71%
  • Missaukee – 66% (Dutch rural county up north)
  • Allegan – 63%
  • Barry/Hillsdale/Ontonagon – 60% – Interesting to see a UP county on this list, especially one on Clinton’s list.


2004 – Kerry 51%, Bush 47%, won by 165,000

Bush made a fairly strong play to win Michigan, and I think there was some shenanigans going on in Detroit and a couple of other places that may have caused Kerry’s win. Kerry only won 15 counties, so most of the rural areas that voted for Clinton went back home. Macomb County flipped to Bush and Oakland was fought to a near draw narrowly going for Kerry.


Kerry’s top 5:

  • Wayne – 69%, won by 342,000 – The machine.
  • Washtenaw – 64%, won by 48,500 – The college towns were lost in 92, but stampeded left starting in 04.
  • Genesee – 60%, won by 44,500 – Bush made some inroads here.
  • Ingham – 58%, won by 22,100 – Bush did better in Lansing, but worse in East Lansing and Meridian Twp.
  • Muskegon – 55%, won by 9000 – The machine again.


Kerry’s top 5%

  • Wayne – 69%
  • Washtenaw – 64%
  • Genesee – 60%
  • Ingham – 58%
  • Muskegon – 55%


Bush’s top 5

  • Ottawa – 72%, won by 56,500 – Dutch county (Ottawa/Kent/Allegan) was Bush’s best area.
  • Kent – 59%, won by 54,300
  • Livingston – 63%, won by 25,000 – 9000 vote spread improvement over 2000. Population growth helped us. Bush was the first R to get 50,000 votes here. Romney got 60,000 8 years later, and Trump got 65,000 after that.
  • Allegan – 63%, won by 15,000
  • Grand Traverse – 59%, won by 9200


Bush top 5%

  • Ottawa – 72%
  • Missaukee – 68%
  • Livingston/Allegan/Hillsdale – 63%


2008 – Obama 57%, McCain 41%, won by 840,000

This should have been about a 8-10% loss, not a 16% loss. That doesn’t sound like it matters much in the grand scheme of things, but it does matter downticket and is a reason I support a 50 state strategy. That probably would have saved Walberg’s district that year. While there’s argument on worse overall results (1986, 1996 or 2006 for example) McCain ran the worst campaign I’ve even seen. His people announced publicly that he quit my state. Romney did the same thing in 2012 privately (which did hurt us some), but he never publicly quit. Karl Rove’s mouth running hurt us in 2012 more than Romney, and took a probable 6pt loss into a 9pt loss. That was Rove though, not Romney. Michigan will tighten up late if there’s a serious contest. It doesn’t always result in a win (2002 went from double digits in polls to 4% loss – saving the state house/senate), but sometimes it causes upsets to happen, as John Engler in 1990 and Donald Trump in 2016 both found out.

Obama took 46 counties, which was the most since Clinton’s rampage in 96.


Obama’s best 5:

  • Wayne – 74%, won by 440,000 – Even in Wayne County, that’s unreal.
  • Oakland – 56%, won by 96,000 – That’s the D’s standard in Oakaland
  • Washtenaw – 70%, won by 76,600 – D’s actually exceeded this spread in Washtenaw in 2018
  • Genesee – 65%, won by 71,500 – Obama got the white working class votes here, but that doesn’t fit the media narrative
  • Ingham – 66%, won by 48,000 – This was enough for Obama to win my congressional district. Luckily Mike Rogers was a strong incumbent.

Obama did well across Michigan in 08, but he especially did well in places with a lot of minorities and in college areas. At least four of those five fit the mold for minority or college populations, and you can make the argument for Oakland there as well although it’s minority percentage is lower than Wayne or Genesee Counties.

Obama’s best 5%

  • Wayne – 74%
  • Washtenaw – 70%
  • Ingham – 66%
  • Genesee – 65%
  • Muskegon  64%

McCain’s best 5

  • Ottawa – 61%, won by 32,500
  • Livingston – 56%, won by 13,000 – Our worst showing since Dole. The housing market crash killed us along M-59. While we “won” that area, it wasn’t by enough.
  • Allegan – 54%, won by 6000 – South Allegan moved hard against us. North Allegan was still solid.
  • Barry – 54%, won by 3000 – Barry County has 70,000 total.
  • Hillsdale – 55%, won by 2500 – When a rough year in Hillsdale makes the spread list, that says it all. Hillsdale County has 46,000 total people.

McCain’s best 5%

  • Ottawa – 61%
  • Missaukee – 60%
  • Livingston – 56%
  • Hillsdale – 55%
  • Allegan/Barry/Antrim/Osceola/Luce/Keweenaw – 54%


2012 – Obama 54, Romney 45, won by 450,000

“Let Detroit go Bankrupt” was never forgiven. Beyond that, I’ve said a lot about this race over the years and my thoughts about Romney as a candidate in the Path to Win (or lose) Michigan. I don’t need to rehash it again. Union members and supporters widely disliked Romney with a passion.

Obama’s best 5:

  • Wayne – 73%, won by 382,000
  • Washtenaw – 67%, won by 64,500 – I did think Romney would have done less worse in Washtenaw, but that area is so reflexively partisan these days. Snyder did well there, but he’s from there.
  • Genesee – 63%, won by 57,000
  • Oakland – 53%, won by 52,500 – Romney was supposed to make a play for Oakland. He’s from there. His results weren’t much better than Trump’s although he cut McCain’s deficit by almost 1/2.
  • Ingham – 63%, won by 35,500


Obama’s best 5%

  • Wayne – 73%
  • Washtenaw 67%
  • Genesee/Ingham – 63%
  • Muskegon – 58%


Romney’s best 5:

  • Ottawa – 66% – won by 45,400
  • Livingston – 61% – won by 22,800 – Bleeding stopped from 08, The vote spread was not quite as good as Bush04’s spread, but the 60,000 votes set a record.
  • Kent – 53%, won by 22,500 – Obama won it in 08 as Grand Rapids stampeded left after 2004.
  • Allegan – 59%, won by 10,300
  • Midland – 57%, won by 6,500 – Romney was a good fit for Midland. R’s do well there, but he did better than most.


Romney’s best 5%

  • Ottawa/Missaukee – 66%
  • Livingston/Hillsdale/Luce – 61%


2016 – Trump 47%, Clinton 47%, won by 10,700

This changed the map. I did go back and updated the Path to Win (or Lose) Michigan to add the Trump numbers as a comparison.

Clinton’s best 5:

  • Wayne – 66%, won by 290,000 – This was the worst since 1992 for D’s in the county. Unlike Bill, Hillary didn’t have any rural appeal whatsoever. She also didn’t do as well in many of the suburbs, despite pundit narrative. Underperformance of turnout combined with “big league” struggling in Livonia, the Downriver suburbs, and the airport suburbs meant trouble. Her overperformance in Grosse Pointe and the far western suburbs doesn’t make up for that. Keeping the margin under 300K is a “loss” for Hillary. Most D’s can win with 275K-300K margins in Wayne. She couldn’t.
  • Washtenaw – 68%, won by 78,000 – Ann Arbor and its suburbs almost saved the day for Hillary by its overperformance, even by D standards. This is SJW and feminist D central. It wasn’t enough, but Washtenaw did its job and more for Hillary.
  • Oakland – 51%, won by 54,000 – As rough as Trump did in PARTS of Oakland, overall it’s only slightly worse than Romney in a county where he’s a terrible cultural fit. Hillary overperformed and underperformed both in Oakland depending on the area. Novi was big for her. Waterford was the opposite.
  • Ingham – 60%, won by 35,000 – Clinton overperformed in East Lansing and Meridian Twp, but not Lansing. In the end, it evened out for Hillary by vote spread.
  • Genesee – 52%, won by 18,600 – It may be among the best 5 counties in terms of vote spread, but by D standards, that’s terrible. It’s like the 1996 numbers for R’s in Livingston County. This is a “loss” for D’s, much as Kent County this year was a “loss” for R’s even through Trump won it. Most of the Flint suburbs flipped to Trump, even normally 60%D Burton.


Clinton’s best 5%

  • Washtenaw – 68% – This is the first time since I don’t know when that Wayne County wasn’t number one for the D’s.
  • Wayne – 66%
  • Ingham – 60%
  • Kalamazoo – 53%
  • Genesee – 52%


Trump’s best 5

  • Macomb – 54%, won by 48,300 – This was an Obama county twice. The Reagan D’s came back home in a big way.
  • Ottawa – 62%, won by 43,500 – Not great for Ottawa, but he did what he needed.
  • Livingston – 62%, won by 31,300 – While our % isn’t as impressive as other counties this year, the vote spread was a record, as was the 65000+ votes for Trump. Western Livingston loved Trump. Eastern Livingston tolerated him. All of that 31K was needed as well.
  • St Clair – 63%, won by 24,500 – normally a light red county although one that Bill Clinton and Obama 08 won, its views are in line with Macomb on a lot of things, but is more conservative.
  • Lapeer – 67%, won by 17,000 – This is a county to watch and it’s becoming a base county, but it’s not usually by this margin. I always thought Lapeer had the potential to be the next Livingston County. I saw some of that in 2004, but the housing market hit hard there.


Trump’s best 5%

  • Missaukee – 74% – Trump did great up north.
  • Hillsdale – 71% – I was a little surprised at Hillsdale and expected a higher 3rd party vote, but the area away from the college is very populist. Trump won the city 2-1, but got 75%+ numbers outside of it.
  • Sanilac/Montmorency/Oscoda – 70%. – NE Michigan Counties are now on that list.

Much of Michigan’s recent history I covered in “The Path to win or lose Michigan” so I won’t rehash it.

What’s interesting is how full circle back to the Free Soil roots the rural areas have gone after Clinton’s monster gains there. If those votes stay with Trump – and many of them have trended that way, this is a great sign for the R’s. If Bay and Saginaw Counties flip, even better, although I’m not counting on that just yet. Macomb is never safe and one of the most of the most ornery counties in the country. Monroe usually votes with Macomb as well. Shiawassee County may be back home as well if the Genesee County burbs are at worst even up. The good news for R’s in Macomb is the growth in Northern Macomb. Macomb Twp and Shelby Twp are highly populated base R suburbs. Clinton Twp flipped, is fast growing, and now has 100,000 people. I don’t expect to outright win it every time with the growing black population, but there’s some base R neighborhoods there too. Sterling Heights is winnable. R’s need to make some serious outreach to Chaldeans there (and in West Bloomfield to reduce our losses there). They don’t always vote and don’t trust politicians in general. They liked Trump and tend to be conservative on 2nd Amendment, life issues, and small business issues.

Don’t count on Downriver just yet, but that’s an area that needs to be contested further. They like Trump, but they aren’t R voters yet. There’s a long tradition there, and we still lost the 23rd state house district despite Trump (although we flipped the 17th which was more D).  Wayne County’s depopulation helps the R’s, but there’s a price to be paid for it, especially in Oakland County. The movement in Southfield, Farmington Hills, and West Bloomfield are because of migration. That’s a problem for R’s. It’s now affecting Novi as well, along with the Asian population moving there. While winning big in outer Oakland County (and Waterford) helps, Lyon Township and White Lake aren’t going to cancel out Southfield, Pontiac, West Bloomfield, Royal Oak, and the SE Oakland Corridor without at a minimum holding serve in Novi and Troy (preferably 55% or better like Bush got) and improving margins in the Bloomfield Twp, Bloomfield Hills, and Rochester.

Some of Oakland’s loss is Livingston and Lapeer’s gain, at least for now. A lot of residents here and southern Lapeer moved from Oakland county.

Eastern Washtenaw County,  parts of Kalamazoo County, and NW Ingham County are problems and they are only going to get bigger.

The bleeding needs to stop in Kent County. I don’t know how much of it is Trump being a bad fit there and how much of it is Grand Rapids, Kentwood, and Wyoming.

The best thing about 2016 here in Michigan is that it proved that this is a state that needs to be fought. I’ve been battling for state respect here for a long time, but that’s not meant to be at the expense of other states. I support a 50 state strategy and thought that Howard Dean had the right idea in 2006. I’d like to see R’s make a push, especially downticket in every state in the union, even Massachusetts and California. Now I understand that some of those R’s may drive me nuts on issues like gun control in those states, but as I said about Mike Castle. “It’s Delaware.” If we can stop bleeding in some of those congressional districts, it’ll help secure the house and get the committee votes. Those state house/senate seats are a redistricting factor as well.



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  • shamlet May 30, 2017 at 3:58 pm

    Very interesting, thanks! Why has Lake County been so Dem? I always just considered it another nondescript patch of rural timberlands.

    R, MD-7. Put not your trust in princes. Process is more important than outcome.

    • Greyhound May 30, 2017 at 4:02 pm

      Isn’t Baldwin (the County seat) like the only place in rural Michigan with a notable Black Population? Lake County is only 10% Black (but probably larger historically) but the counties around it are all like <1% Black.

      R, 26, CA-18. Anti-Anti-Trump

    • Republican Michigander May 30, 2017 at 6:26 pm

      Two reasons Lake County is so D.

      1. It’s the poorest county in the state.
      2. Sizable, although not majority, black population.

      Yates Township is about 42% Black. It includes Idlewild which was a successful black resort town during segregation. After the civil rights act passed, it went downhill because blacks could vacation anywhere.

      Baldwin (split between Pleasant Plains and Webber Twps) is the closest village and many of the blacks moved there as well, along with (much lesser extent) Merrill Twp (20%) and White Cloud (7%) in Newaygo County. Baldwin is about 30% black, but dropping some as some white retirees are moving there for the outdoors.

      Those are the only places for miles that have a sizable black population. Big Rapids fairly close has 7% and is a college town, but that’s not going to be confused for Kentwood, Grand Rapids, or Muskegon/Muskegon Heights, let alone Flint, Saginaw, or Detroit.

      MI-08 - Michigan is a red state again. We need a 50 state strategy and an 83 county strategy.

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