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Why President Obama will come back to campaign in Michigan before November

The persuadable voter. Political independents. There are not as many of them as there used to be. And they don’t seem to be the center of this campaign season as they have been in previous years (remember the ‘Soccer Mom’ or ‘Security Mom’?).

This year’s campaigns seem much more focused on getting out base voters. And, that is why we present a bold prediction: President Barack Obama will come visit Michigan before Election Day.

Democrats have pinned their hopes this year on Democratic-voter turnout. Michigan is a decidedly blue state. Democrats have a five or six-point behavioral - that is how people vote, not what they call themselves - advantage in Michigan. That advantage is why Democrats have won the last six presidential elections in Michigan.

But, Michigan is not a decisively blue state because so many Democrats sit out during the mid-term elections. And, that gives Michigan Republicans their best changes in statewide races. It’s largely why we have a Republican governor, attorney general and secretary of state (many Democrats stayed home on Election Day four years ago).

But, there’s another part of the equation: Republicans can’s win on their own. Yes, Michigan Republicans typically have a turnout advantage in mid-term elections, but it doesn’t get them all the way to victory. To win, Republicans have to win at least a slim majority of the independents who turn out to vote.

So, the challenge for Democrats is to convince Democrats to get out and vote, especially younger voters, minorities and females, who are statistically more likely to stay at home. That’s one of the reasons we’ve been hearing SO much about the so-called ‘War on women’. But, really, it’s a ‘war FOR women.” Women’s votes. Young women’s votes.

A new ad titled ‘dating profile’ is a good example of this battle for female votes. The ad features a young women, she starts out talking about this guy and his online profile. At first, the man sounds pretty great but, then, the dude gets creepy. The guy, in the end, turns out to be President Obama. “I get it. I’m stuck with Barack… But I’m not stuck with his friends,” the woman tells the camera.

This ad is aimed specifically at young, single women; a subset of the population that is less likely to vote but more likely to vote Democratic if they do.

So, back to the prediction: President Obama will return to Michigan. Back to campaign and to inspire Obama voters to get out and vote in the mid-terms. And if that doesn’t play so well with uninspired independents, well, that’s just a little less strategically important than turning out those Ds.

Of course, a presidential visit - or two - also riles up the GOP base, and it just might keep some of those independents in the R column.

Over time, however, that strategy becomes less viable for Republicans. That’s because the long-term trend in the United States shows there are simply fewer and fewer independent voters.

No matter what they might call themselves, in terms of their voting behavior, more and more voters are consistently lining up with one party or the other. And, that trend, right now, is to the benefit of the Ds.

According to the Marketing Resource Group, a Republican political consulting firm, ticket-splitters used to make up almost half of the voters in Michigan. Today, after a steady decline since the 1990s, that number is now down to a quarter.

Of course, twenty-five percent is still enough to swing a close race and that’s why political messengers won’t give up on persuasion. But more and more, that challenge is to just persuade your team, your loyal supporters, to show up to the game. 

Zoe Clark is Michigan Public's Political Director. In this role, Clark guides coverage of the state Capitol, elections, and policy debates.
Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
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