Macomb and America’s new political moment

Learning from Obama-Trump working class voters in Macomb and Democratic base groups in greater Detroit

On the one-year anniversary of the Trump presidency, Democracy Corps traveled to Michigan to speak with the white working class Obama-Trump voters of Macomb County, the African American women of Detroit and the college educated women of suburban Southfield. Each, in their own way, had contributed to one of the most unlikely political outcomes in American history in 2016; and now, each is contributing to an unprecedented level of politicization, polarization and genuine fear for the future of the country. That is the consequence of the Trump election and the context as the country heads into the 2018 election.

This research comes a year after Democracy Corps and The Roosevelt Institute held our first post-2016 focus groups in Macomb County. Democracy Corps and the American Federation of Teachers returned to Macomb to catch up with these Trump voters and Detroit-area base voters.

The stakes are so elevated in this political moment that both sides speak about a virtual “civil war” in the country, and critically, in their own families. Ordinary voters in focus groups now insist on talking about politics, national issues and the state of the country; they will not be distracted by our moderators who attempt to open conversations with popular culture and entertainment. Once participants realize they are in a room with fellow Trump or Clinton voters, they rush to politics. It sucks all the oxygen out of the room.

Click Here to read the Memo

Macomb County in the Age of Trump

Report from focus groups with Independent & Democratic Trump voters in Macomb County

The path for Democrats to take back Trump voters and win down-ballot runs through the nation’s working class communities, starting in the formerly industrial states and Upper Midwest. That is why Democracy Corps decided to conduct our first focus groups of 2017 in Macomb County, Michigan, joined by the Roosevelt Institute.

As Greenberg recently wrote for The American Prospect, Democrats don't have a white working class problem, as so many have suggested. They have a working class problem that includes working people in their own base. We can learn an immense amount from listening and talking to the white working class independent and Democratic Trump voters, particularly those who previously supported Obama or failed to turnout in past presidential contests.

What better place to listen to them than Macomb County – a county that Obama carried twice and easily could have delivered Trump his margin in Michigan in 2016? After all, this is the county where Stan Greenberg first studied Reagan Democrats in 1985 as documented in Middle Class Dreams and where Democracy Corps conducted a wave of research in 2008 before Macomb voted to elect the first African American president. 

These voters have not regretted their vote for Trump. There was no “buyer’s remorse.” None of the 35 participants in the course of the focus group discussion or in their private post-group post-cards to President Trump pulled back from their vote, which is an impressive indication of the strength of Trump's support. They are clear about why they voted for him and pray he keeps his promises and succeeds.

Read the full memo here.


Click Here to See The original Research Conducted in Macomb County.

Back to Macomb

Macomb County is indeed home to the Reagan Democrats whose defection helped crash
the national Democratic Party after the 1960s and whose partial return since Bill Clinton has
made the county a battleground and enabled Democrats to carry Michigan in the last four
elections. This year, Macomb – 90 percent white, half Catholic, 40 percent union families, one
third over 60 and with Barack Obama underperforming among its Democrats – is certain to play a key role in the presidential drama. The media will follow the presidential candidates who will no doubt troop down to Macomb County Community College in Warren, Michigan to show why they deserve the support of the Reagan Democrats.

In 1960, Macomb was the most Democratic suburban county in the country as John F.
Kennedy won handily there, garnering 63 percent of the vote. Four years later, Lyndon Johnson
increased the Democratic vote share even further, winning 75 percent of Macomb voters. But
over the next 20 years, these voters turned on the Democrats, culminating with Ronald Reagan
taking 66 percent of the vote in 1984.

In the five presidential cycles to follow Reagan, the county has turned into a presidential
battleground. Clinton, in 1996 against Dole, was the first Democrat since 1968 to carry it, though only with 50 percent of the vote. Since then, the two presidential contests have been fought to a draw, with Al Gore taking it by 2 points and John Kerry losing it by 1.1

Today, Barack Obama trails John McCain in Macomb by 7 points (46 to 39 percent),
with 8 percent for Ralph Nader and 2 percent for Bob Barr. He is underperforming with
Democrats, getting 71 percent of their support here compared to 85 percent nationally. There
really is a reason for the candidates and reporters to go to Macomb.

But it is important to recall that Clinton lost here by 5 points in 1992 and still carried the
state easily and that Obama faces nothing like the 20-point or 30-point wipe out in Macomb that contributed to Mondale and Dukakis losing Michigan handily. And a lot has changed in
Macomb and Michigan, both in voting patterns and racial attitudes, that allows this race in
Macomb to tighten and to make it possible for Obama to win Michigan without carrying

After all, Obama is running 7 points ahead in our statewide poll conducted at the same
time. Obama obviously will be able to count on immense enthusiasm and turnout among African Americans, but there is more going on than that – including Obama’s over-performance in the growing suburban parts of the state, including Oakland County, where he is running a net 5 points above party identification and 9 points ahead of John McCain. Among young voters under 30 years, Obama defeats McCain 58 to 36 percent but Obama’s success with younger voters is even broader. He leads McCain among all voters under 40 years by 48 to 41 percent across Michigan and matches that margin in Macomb.

Clearly, the rules of the game are a little different this year.

Read the full report: Back to Macomb