Presidential Politics And Election Returns
Last Updated July 25, 2003
In 1984, 1988 and 1992 Michigan voted within 1% of the national average for all major presidential candidates. But in 1996 and in 2000, as in most of the 1960s and 1970s, it was a little more Democratic than the nation: 52%-39% for Bill Clinton in 1996 and 51%-46% for Al Gore in 2000. In those two elections, Clinton and Gore carried suburban Oakland and Macomb Counties, the latter a special target for Democrats. Macomb was heavily Democratic in the 1950s and 1960s, then trended Republican in the 1970s, and now has swung back some distance toward the Democrats. Gore's victory owed much to the efforts of labor unions, not just the United Auto Workers (which in bargaining with the Big Three automakers obtained a paid day off on Election Day 2000) but also the Michigan Education Association, whose members are spread more evenly around the state. With 17 electoral votes it will obviously be a target state for George W. Bush and for the Democrats in 2004.
Michigan has had problems setting up a presidential primary. One reason is that it does not have party registration, which is required by Democratic party rules. In 2000, Republicans held their primary February 22. Governor John Engler hoped to deliver the state's delegates to George W. Bush, whose candidacy he had backed early on. But John McCain, aroused after his defeat in South Carolina February 19, contested the state vigorously. In a stinging rebuke to Engler, McCain won 51%-43%. His admirers in the national press hailed this as a great breakthrough, but it turned out to be atypical and an augury of nothing. Turnout was a huge 1.3 million, far higher than the 524,000 of 1996 or the 437,000 of 1992; indeed, even Bush got more votes than were cast for all candidates in those primaries. But the VNS exit poll showed that 18% of the votes were cast by self-identified Democrats (almost double the percentage in any other primary that year) and only 47% by self-identified Republicans. Bush won solidly among Republicans, as he did everywhere except in a few Northeast states, but lost by 2-1 among self-identified Independents and 8-1 among Democrats. Nothing barred Democrats from voting; when Democrats held caucuses in March, only 22,000 bothered to vote or mail in ballots. The McCain vote was really an anti-Engler vote. Many Michigan Democrats hated Engler the way many national Republicans hated Bill Clinton: the man had outsmarted them and beaten them time and again and now there was a way to get back at him. They did so by voting for McCain and by carrying the state for Gore in November; Engler, though able and an early Bush backer, did not get an appointment in the Bush administration.
In 2003, the Michigan Democratic party, led by Senator Carl Levin, attempted to challenge New Hampshire's first-in-the nation status by moving the 2004 Michigan Democratic caucuses to the same January date as the New Hampshire primary; after a noisy debate, the Michigan Democratic State Central Committee backed down and voted to hold their caucuses in February.
|2000 Presidential Vote|
|2000 Republican Primary|
|1996 Presidential Vote|
For 1992 and 1996 presidential results in Michigan, please see the Almanac 2000 online.
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