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Issues & Ale recap: The impact of voter apathy

Lindsey Scullen
Michigan Radio
The panel from left to right: Brandon Dillon, Matt Marsden, Zoey Clark and Rick Pluta.

On Monday night, Michigan Radio’s It’s Just Politics team hit the road again for the second Issues & Ale election preview event of the season.

This time, hosts Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta sat down at One Well Brewing in Kalamazoo with panelists Brandon Dillon, chair of the Michigan Democratic Party, and Republican strategist Matt Marsden.

The conversation began with a focus on state races.

HOST QUESTION: Is it possible for Democrats to win control of the State House in November?

Dillon said if current presidential polling in Michigan stays constant, then yes. Democrats could take the state House.

Credit Lindsey Scullen / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
An audience member asks a question.

This led the conversation to the “Trump effect” – the idea that because some Republican voters may hesitate to vote for Trump, they may not show up at the polls at all on Election Day. That could lead to down-ballot losses for Republicans.

Marsden said it’s in this way that Trump will “heavily” impact state elections.

“He’s not just heavily impacting the ticket in state House races,” he said. “But I think you’re going to see two congressional seats that are going to come into play here.”

AUDIENCE QUESTION: In Michigan, we typically elect two Democratic senators and often vote for a Democrat for national office. Where's the disconnect between that and the Republican-controlled state House and state Senate?

The audience answered in unison: gerrymandering. 

But panelists said that's not the only reason behind the disconnect. It's also that Democrats don't turn out to vote in midterm elections.

"I think in 2018, when the governor's office is vacant again, you'll see a much more competitive race at the top of the ticket, which can help," Dillon said. "But this is a problem we have to solve. We have a rising group of voters, but they are not as committed in off years as Republican-based voters are."

AUDIENCE QUESTION: Is our primary process broken and if it is, how can it be fixed to yield better candidates?

Dillon said the alternative to the current system is to go back to open primaries, where the public had little input.

That was, he said, “where party bosses in the back chose which candidates were going to be the standard bearers.”

He said while many may be upset at the options available in this presidential election, the American public made its voice heard.

“The reality is, on the Democratic side, this was, I think, the first time that you’ve actually had a primary go all through to all 50 states,” Dillon said. “And it was clear. The Democratic primary voters chose Hillary Clinton and Republican primary voters chose Donald Trump.”

Marsden agreed.

“On the Trump side, he’ll continue to make the claim – and from a data, political science standpoint, he’s right – that he garnered more of the Republican votes than any Republican presidential primary candidate in modern history,” he said.

Yet right now, as we inch toward the general election, Marsden said many GOP voters are “disaffected and apathetic."

And that, he said, is the problem with primary elections too.

“If we’re going to be blunt about the primary system, the problem is you all,” Marsden said. “You’ve got to remember to go vote in August. I know the date is bad and nobody wants to think about it when they’re on their summer vacation and what not, but I mean, participation in primaries amongst a state full of 7 million registered voters is abysmal, and so you get what you get, right?”

AUDIENCE QUESTION: Why the two-party system? Why do we always feel like we only have two choices?

Hear Dillon’s stark answer below.

For the night's full conversation, listen at the top of the post.