Another absolute must-read…
Oakland County is an affluent suburban county of 1.2 million people located just north of Detroit, Michigan.
For better or for worse, Oakland County’s prosperity has been tied closely to Detroit’s decline. Both in terms of population and commerce, Oakland County grew rapidly in the 1970s and 1980s while Detroit emptied out. Most important corporate offices and headquarters and prominent law firms in Metro Detroit are located in southern Oakland County (with the exception of General Motors, located in Detroit, and Ford, headquartered in Dearborn).
Considering that Chrysler, GM, and Ford all have strong presences in Oakland County, it is also a national hotbed for engineering-related jobs. Oakland County is also home to Oakland University, a large, public university located in both Rochester Hills and Auburn Hills.
For much of its history, the county was a Republican hotbed that kept Michigan competitive for the GOP on the state and federal levels. However, as the GOP’s performance has declined in Oakland County over the past 20 years, the GOP’s competitiveness statewide has also declined. The county has voted Democratic in every presidential election since 1996, and it has also voted slightly to the nation’s left in the past two presidential elections.
Oakland County is still an influential county in statewide politics. The GOP still has to win it to win statewide. Additionally, at the start of the 114th Congress, Oakland County will be home to four Representative and one Senator: Reps. Mike Bishop (R-Rochester), Sander Levin (D-Royal Oak), Dave Trott (R-Birmingham), and Brenda Lawrence (D-Southfield) and Sen. Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Township). It’s likely that no other county in the country will be as overrepresented in Congress.
In this article, I will analyze maps of the 2004, 2008, and 2012 presidential elections and the 2014 senatorial and gubernatorial elections in Oakland County. These maps will broken down by municipality. In doing so, I will show both how the county’s politics have trended in the past decade and how well a Republican needs to perform in various parts of Oakland County in order to win statewide.
Flip over for the full article…
Oakland County Municipality Map
Oakland County Zip Codes Ranked by Median Household Income and Bachelor’s Degree Attainment Rate
An Overview of Oakland County’s Growth from the 1970s through the Present Day
In the 1970s and 1980s, wealthy white conservatives moved to Bloomfield Township, Bloomfield Hills (like the Romneys did in 1953), Birmingham, and Southfield Township, wealthy white liberals (many of whom were Jewish) moved to West Bloomfield, Huntington Woods and Pleasant Ridge, and upper-middle class Detroiters moved to new, then-heavily Republican suburbs like Rochester, Rochester Hills, and Troy. Meanwhile, blue collar, white Detroiters moved to inner-ring suburbs like Ferndale, Madison Heights, Hazel Park, Oak Park, and Southfield, and black Detroiters followed them into Southfield and Oak Park (and pushed those cities’ whites elsewhere).
Furthermore, just like how Oakland County benefited from Detroit’s decline, middle class Waterford and its surroundings also grew as Pontiac shrunk. Pontiac’s decline began in the 1970s, but the city diminished more rapidly in the 1980s and 1990s as GM began shuttering its plants there. Pontiac has become a ghetto that rivals Detroit today.
Additionally, mainly in the 1990s, Royal Oak and Berkley became hotbeds for white yuppies who would live in the inner city in just about any other metropolitan area. Yuppies priced out of Royal Oak and Berkley have started to take over Clawson and Ferndale in the past decade-and-a-half, and Ferndale has become a hotbed of Michigan’s gay community.
Meanwhile, Orion and Oakland Townships, two Republican-leaning exurban townships north and northeast of Pontiac, boomed in population in the 1990s. Oakland Township in particular became a strong GOP base area.
Finally, Troy and Farmington/Farmington Hills grew rapidly in the 1990s and 2000s, and Novi exploded in population in the 2000s. All four towns feature large South and East Asian populations, and Farmington/Farmington Hills and Novi also have large Jewish populations.
Maps and Analysis
2004 Presidential Election in Oakland County
Kerry: 319,387 (49.75%), Bush: 316,633 (49.32%)
2008 Presidential Election in Oakland County
Obama: 372,566 (56.42%), Romney: 276,956 (41.94%)
2012 Presidential Election in Oakland County
Obama: 349,002 (54.04%), Romney: 296,514 (45.37%)
PVI Trends in Oakland County from ’04-’12
PVI is a statistic that measures a jurisdiction’s presidential vote relative to the nation’s as a whole (traditionally, PVI compares an area’s presidential vote over the course of two presidential elections, but PVI in this article will measure a municipality’s vote as compared to the nation as a whole for just one single election at a time). For example, if a township has a R+1 single-year PVI, it voted one point to the right of the nation as a whole in a particular election.
In this trend map, areas that trended rightward from ’04 to ’12 are shaded salmon (1-2 point trend Republican), red (3-4 point trend Republican), or dark red (5+ point trend Republican), and areas that trended leftward in that time frame are shaded sky blue (1-2 point trend Democratic), Dodger blue (3-4 point trend Democratic), or navy (5+ point trend Democratic). Areas that trended in neither direction were not colored.
2004-2012 Presidential Election Analysis
Much of Oakland County’s leftward trend in the past two decades can be attributed to three factors: 1) Detroit spillover along the 8 Mile Road corridor (Southfield, Royal Oak Township, and Oak Park have become more black in recent years) and Pontiac spillover in Auburn Hills, 2) the county’s increasing Asian population (particularly in Troy, West Bloomfield, Troy, Farmington, and Farmington Hills), and 3) the national GOP’s rightward trend on social issues (places like Birmingham, Southfield Township, and the Bloomfields are genuinely fiscally conservative and socially liberal, as many elite suburbs are).
To elaborate, racial changes in the county have affected its politics. A Democratic trend was inevitable in the county’s heavily black areas, which have become more black in the last decade. However, the Michigan GOP should be very alarmed by the leftward trends in Novi, Farmington, and Farmington Hills, three affluent and growing cities that have trended strongly away from the GOP in the past decade. While Novi still voted for Mitt Romney, it will be out of reach for the GOP in a few presidential elections if it continues trending Democratic at the rate that it has. The GOP will likely need to make inroads with Jews and/or East and South Asians in order to rebound in those two towns.
Still, while minority growth pushed many of the county’s growing areas leftward, a rebound with the county’s white voters helped sustain the GOP in Oakland County.
Affluent parts of Oakland County (namely Birmingham, the Bloomfields, and Southfield Township) trended sharply rightward between 2004 and 2012 (mirroring a nationwide trend).
Additionally, mainly-white outer-ring Republican suburbia (Rochester/Rochester Hills and Troy) stayed stable (or slightly trended leftward), and country’s heavily-white rural and exurban areas either stayed stable or trended slightly rightward.
Additionally, Royal Oak, Berkley, and Clawson have all trended slightly left between 2004 and 2012, probably because the Millennial yuppies moving in were slightly more liberal than those moving out. However, Ferndale’s strong Democratic trend should be concerning (albeit not unexpected, seeing as some of its older, blue collar residents were probably replaced by yuppies and gays.
Finally, the GOP should be encouraged not only by the county’s wealthy areas’ rightward trends (mirroring similar trends nationwide in 2012). It should also be heartened by the fact that it held up in the exurban and rural portions of the county. Lyon Township and South Lyon were two of the fastest growing municipalities in Metro Detroit last decade, and the GOP’s stability there is promising for its future in Oakland County.
2014 Senatorial and Gubernatorial Election in Oakland County
Governor: Rick Snyder: 55.47% Mark Schauer: 42.83%
Senate: Gary Peters: 55.75% Terri Lynn Land: 40.63%
While Governor Rick Snyder’s performance in the rest of Michigan left him vulnerable to defeat, his over-performance in Oakland County helped him win re-election relatively narrowly. Snyder, a business conservative with an impressive corporate track record, is tailor-made for much of Oakland County. Snyder subsequently not only swept the parts of the county that a Republican has to win in order to win statewide but also crushed labor Democrat Mark Schauer in them.
Furthermore, Snyder’s strong win in Royal Oak should be encouraging to Michigan Republicans. Oakland County is home to many of metro Detroit’s highly-educated white yuppies, many of whom will eventually move to places like Rochester, Rochester Hills, Birmingham, and the Bloomfields. If Snyder could win their votes in a competitive race, they’re a group that could become better for the MI GOP over time.
However, the fact that Schauer won Auburn Hills should concern–but not surprise–Republicans. Pontiac’s black and Latino populations have spilled over into Auburn Hills in recent years, which makes its Democratic trend logical. Still, Snyder’s loss there was perhaps his only disappointing performance in the entire county.
On the other hand, disappointing Senatorial nominee Terri Lynn Land tanked in Oakland County. Her municipal results map looks eerily similar to Senator John McCain’s 2008 results map. Their performances should be used as the GOP’s Oakland County floor in a semi-competitive election. Senator-elect Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Hills), who has represented a significant percentage of the county’s population in Congress, over-performed relative to standard Democratic performances in the areas he represents or had previously represented in Congress.
While it’s far from dead in Oakland County, the Michigan GOP needs to regain relevance in Oakland County in order to win statewide on any level. Oakland County is also an important donor hotbed for the Michigan and national Republican Parties.
In order to rebound countywide, the Michigan GOP needs to improve its standing with Jews and Asians in places like West Bloomfield, Novi, Farmington/Farmington Hills, and Troy.
Additionally, the MI GOP needs to focus on gaining in Royal Oak and Clawson. These areas are full of college-educated white yuppies with white collar jobs, an important future base of the Michigan GOP. Still, Millennials between 18-22 right now are supposedly more conservative than the Millennials in their mid/upper 20s who currently live in Royal Oak. If that’s the case, we may see gains there anyway. Furthermore, the possibility of light rail and transit-oriented development along the Woodward Avenue corridor stretching from Birmingham through Royal Oak and Ferndale into Detroit is a popular idea among white yuppies. The GOP’s spearheading of such an effort could be beneficial for its image among those voters. However, especially under viscerally anti-Detroit Republican County Executive Brooks Patterson’s reign, such a project is unlikely. However, it should be noted that gentrification of that corridor could lead to Republican gains.
Finally, the MI GOP needs to hope for the strongly-Republican Oakland County exurbs to grow faster than places like Southfield and
Ferndale. While population growth in places like South Lyon has been beneficial to the GOP, population growth in Southfield has been harmful for the MI GOP. A possible slight improvement with middle class black voters nationwide would help the GOP in Oakland County, but the MI GOP should’t hold its breath.
Bonus: Old Election Precinct Maps
’10 Gov: Rick Snyder: 60.10%: Virg Bernero: 38.36%
’08 Senate: Carl Levin: 62.06%, Jack Hoogendyk: 34.49%
For a ton of useful data in spreadsheet form: https://docs.google.com/spread…