Michigan 9th District
Oakland County, long considered just a suburban adjunct of Detroit, is now the center of a giant, spread-out, and mostly affluent urban area. It is only minutes on the Lodge or Chrysler Freeways from inner-city Detroit. North of Eight Mile Road, the terrain changes from Detroit’s worn-out, abandoned neighborhoods to giant office buildings and expensive houses on large lots. There is one shopping mall after another, education levels are high, and crime rates are low. Even physically, the two areas are distinct: Detroit is on almost perfectly flat land, while much of Oakland County lies on a line of hills and lakes that marks the southernmost advance of an Ice Age glacier. Birmingham and Royal Oak, little suburbs set among farm fields half a century ago, are now upscale gentrified nodes amid a vast suburban expanse. Bloomfield Hills is metro Detroit’s wealthiest community, and there are large corporate office centers in Auburn Hills. West Bloomfield is increasingly the focus of metro Detroit’s Jewish community and has a large number of Asians, many from India and Pakistan; there are also Chaldeans, descended from Iraqi Catholics. Oakland County has become the population center of metro Detroit. In 1950, the city of Detroit had 1.8 million people, and Oakland County had 396,000. In 2007, Detroit had 917,000 people, and Oakland had 1.2 million.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
But parts of the county are hurting economically in the wake of the dire financial troubles at the Detroit-based automakers. Interstate 75 in eastern and northern Oakland had developed as the nerve center of auto-company suppliers and manufacturers, and so took a big hit in 2008 and 2009 when General Motors and Chrysler closed several factories there. The old factory town of Pontiac has an African-American majority and major economic struggles in the wake of 1,500 layoffs at a GM plant and the company’s decision to cancel the town’s namesake brand. GM also suspended operations in Orion, furloughing another 3,400.
The 9th Congressional District of Michigan includes a little more than half the population of Oakland County. It does not include Southfield, Oak Park, Ferndale, Hazel Park or Madison Heights in the southeast—all heavily Democratic and part of the 12th District. It does include almost all of Royal Oak, all of Birmingham and Bloomfield Hills, Rochester Hills and Auburn Hills, Farmington Hills (you begin to see the prestige value of hills to people who grew up in the flatlands of Detroit) and West Bloomfield, Pontiac and Waterford Township. It is Michigan’s most affluent congressional district, although the ongoing troubles at the domestic automakers could eventually have an impact on median income. The future of Chrysler’s corporate headquarters in Auburn Hills and of the six-figure executives who work there was in doubt in 2009 after the Italian automaker Fiat bought the company.
The district trended toward the Democrats because of cultural issues in the 1990s. This has created problems for Republicans; there is a strong Right to Life movement in Michigan, and as anti-abortion rights activists have gained power at Republican conventions and won nominations, voters have moved toward Democrats. Republicans no longer win huge majorities in Birmingham and Bloomfield Township, and they run no better in fast-growing Troy and Rochester Hills. Royal Oak, Farmington Hills and West Bloomfield, once solidly Republican, now lean Democratic, though Waterford Township, with a more working-class population, leans Republican. Republican George W. Bush carried the 9th District by only 51%-49% in 2004, and Democrat Barack Obama won it 56%-43% in 2008.