Because of closely contested results over the last several presidential races, Michigan, the Great Lake State, is now considered a solid swing state. Michigan voted for Republican President George H. W. Bush in 1988 and Democratic President Bill Clinton in 1992. Since then it has voted for Democratic President Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, but then voted for Republican President Donald Trump by less than 1 percent. The 2016 presidential marked the closest race of its kind in Michigan’s entire history and shocked many due to how well Barack Obama had performed there four years earlier (he carried the state by over 9 points).
The Michigan delegation started the 21st Century in the 106th Congress with 16 members and a 10-6 Democratic majority. The political dominance of the Democratic party in the Michigan congressional delegation began to wane, however, in subsequent congresses as the state lost seats. Michigan has gone from having a delegation of 19 in 1967 down to its current size of 14. In the 108th Congress the delegation saw its Democratic majority replaced by a 9-6 Republican majority that endured, with little exception, until becoming evenly split (7 Democrats and 7 Republicans) following the 2018 election.
Recent history has shown Michigan’s congressional delegation majorities have generally shifted or stayed in place independent of majority party control in Congress. Democrats were a minority of the Congressional delegation from Michigan even when Democrats controlled the U.S. House in 2007. And in 2019, despite the comfortable majority Democratic control at the national level and victories at the state level, they only eked out a 50 percent share of seats in their state’s delegation.
Senate seats were dominated by the Republican party for nearly a century, but with the election of Democratic Senator Prentiss M. Brown in 1936 and subsequent appointment of Democratic Senator Blair Moody in 1951, a general shift took place that saw Democratic and Republican senators roughly split. More recent history, however, has been favorable to Democratic senators from Michigan, and with the exception of Republican Senator Spencer Abraham’s single term between 1995-2001, both of the state’s Senators have been Democratic since 1978.
Michigan’s recent statewide election results are perhaps the best illustration of the perennial internal power struggle between Democratic and Republican voters who make Michigan an important battleground state.
Since the turn of the century, the offices of governor and lieutenant governor have, like clockwork, flipped from Republican to Democrat and back again. For example, in 1988 Michigan voted for the Republican President George H. W. Bush, but only two years earlier, the state re-elected Democratic Governor James Blanchard for his second term. Similarly, in 2016 the state went to Republican President Donald Trump, but two years later elected Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer to her first term.
The historically close nature of the most recent presidential election in Michigan makes it difficult to predict, as Robert Yoon of Inside Elections pondered if “2016 was the start of a long-term realignment from blue to red.”
Though many initially associate Michigan with Detroit, 25.4 percent of its population lives in rural areas, according to the Citizens Research Council of Michigan. The Partisan Voting Index (PVI), a score that indicates how much more or less Democratic or Republican an area is than the nation as a whole, paints a stark picture of how residents in each community feel that their interests are served by their leaders. Urban areas in Michigan are 4.5 points more Democratic, and rural counties are 10.5 points more Republican.