In a special Election 2020 report, Christy looks at how Macomb County voters have historically had a big influence on presidential election outcomes.
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Narrator In the past 10 elections, Macomb County voters have chosen the winning candidate eight times going back to the ’80s, the county’s voted twice for Ronald Reagan, then voted for Bush Senior.
Narrator In 1996, voters chose Bill Clinton, then solidly chose Barack Obama twice before flipping to Donald Trump in 2016, giving him 54 percent of the vote.
Narrator It’s these voting habits that have interested political pollsters and national media alike.
Narrator But before we get deeper into voting habits, who are these neighbors in Macomb County so keen on predicting presidents, and how have they changed in recent decades? For the numbers, we turn to the census data from Macomb County and Metro Detroit stats guru Kurt Metzger, is a demographer and director emeritus of data-driven Detroit. We spoke to voters in Warren at our first community conversation at Dovetail Cafe in November. They had a sense of the demographic changes in their county. Let’s find out just how right they are.
Macomb Resident We’ve lost our youth. They’ve moved away.
Narrator It’s true, 17 percent of the population in Macomb County is over 65. Millennials make up only 26 percent of the population. In comparison, 33 percent of the people in Wayne County are 20 to 39 years old.
Kurt Metzger Macomb is aging. Mainly what we’re seeing is because of births going down, a lot of young people leaving Macomb for other other areas.
Narrator What about diversity?
Jeremy Fisher I think when you look at Macomb County, what a lot of people don’t realize is that it really kind of is a piece of America because of the diversity that we have from from Eight Mile all the way up to the top of Macomb.
Narrator Very true. Since 2010, more than 31,000 African-Americans have moved into the southern end of the county.
Kurt Metzger What we’ve seen is a lot of movement from Detroit into southern Macomb, particularly because of the schools.
Kurt Metzger When the economy tanked in 2007, 2008, you had foreclosure.
Kurt Metzger So you had a lot of openings and African-Americans with less resources who couldn’t afford to go to Oakland County, found Roseville, Warren, Eastpointe particularly.
Narrator And immigrants from all over the world have settled in Macomb County.
Kurt Metzger So Macomb County tends to get more recent immigrants. They haven’t established themselves. So they’re lower income in many cases.
Narrator Metzger says the county has a large Chaldean population and they are Catholics from northern Iraq.
Narrator In cities like Sterling Heights, Macomb Township, and Shelby Township, both Syrian and Iraqi immigrants call Warren home.
Kurt Metzger Macomb has the largest Albanian population of any county in the country and continues to get Albanians.
Narrator Other immigrant populations, Metzger points out, include Ukrainians, Bangladeshi and Hmong.
Narrator Much of the Hmong populations come from Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand.
Kurt Metzger Macomb has really gotten on the bandwagon to be one of the first welcoming counties in the state, very much realizing that the diversity is a strength that they have.
Narrator What happens as you head north in Macomb County?
Nancy Duemling There is a divide or perceived divide within the county that in the north end you’ve got some pockets that are the wealthiest parts of Macomb County up around Shelby in Romeo. And down here you have some of the poorest pockets of Macomb County.
Narrator There is a trend of young families with more wealth choosing to live north of M-59.
Kurt Metzger What we’ve seen is M-59 that northern from Shelby, Macomb now moving even farther into Ray Township up near Armada, Romeo those areas.
Kurt Metzger A lot of Oakland County transplants, primarily white homeowners moving into those areas, tended to be larger families looking for the larger homes and those opportunities and good school district.
Narrator Despite the movement into and out of Macomb County, it is still the third most populated county in the state and has seen higher than average voter turnout in recent years. In the 2016 presidential election, Macomb County had a 67 percent voter turnout. Statewide, voter turnout was 63 percent, for the 2018 midterm election Macomb has a 59 percent turnout, higher than the 55 percent turnout statewide. Stan Greenberg is a Democratic pollster well known for studying Macomb County voters and working on Bill Clinton’s election campaign.
Stan Greenberg I first went to Macomb County when I became a pollster. I left academia to try to figure out how the Reagan Democrats abandoned Democrats and what Democrats could do to get them back.
Narrator And despite all the demographic changes in Macomb there, there’s one voting block that piques interest as he continues to talk to Macomb County voters.
Stan Greenberg Though Macomb itself has changed and become itself a bit more diverse, but it’s still a place where white working class voters are predominant.
Narrator He believes it’s these white working-class voters that flipped Macomb County in 2016 and gave Trump the election.
Stan Greenberg We have an election where Hillary Clinton ignores Michigan, doesn’t respect working people, doesn’t run on the kind of issues that matter to these voters. And when they’re not respected, they turn away. And Trump was talking about trade, throwing out NAFTA and these trade agreements, and working for them and produced a margin in Macomb that was big enough to give him a win in Michigan, if not for Macomb, Trump would not have won Michigan and maybe would not have won the presidency.
Narrator But he’s not so sure Macomb voters will swing the same way in 2020.
Stan Greenberg I’m not one of those people who think the Trump voters, the swing Trump voters, are still with him. I think 2018, the blue wave was a realigning election played out in the biggest possible way in Michigan.
Stan Greenberg The strong economy does not produce jobs that does not produce wages increases for them. And so they don’t see any wage increases.
Stan Greenberg So I think they see a president who governs for the rich, not for working people. It’s a hard road back, I think, for Trump to regain Michigan.