Trump’s Michigan Failure Came Outside Detroit’s City Limits
The President lost the Great Lakes State in the suburbs and on the Lake Michigan shoreline.
In the three weeks since Election Day, Donald Trump has kept up a constant stream of complaints about Michigan’s Wayne County results.
On a basic level, you can understand why. Detroit dominates the county, and as the city with the highest percentage of Black residents in the United States, it isn’t somewhere he will get many votes.
Also, as Trump’s legal team has repeatedly pointed out, more than a quarter of Detroit’s electoral precincts reported out-of-balance reports: usually resulting from a small difference between the number of voters and ballot papers.
Wayne also had the most votes of any Michigan county, posting 861,723 to beat out neighboring Oakland County’s 760,065. And yes, if you remove the county from the final tally, Trump wins Michigan by just over 175,000 votes, receiving 51.9% of the two-party vote to Biden’s 48.1%.
That’s why the president’s cartoonish legal team focused on blocking the county’s certification, going as far as having Trump directly contact at least one member of the Wayne County Board of Canvassers.
Rudy Giuliani and his staff never found a sympathetic judge, mostly because they failed to discover any evidence of fraud or significant counting errors. A big reason was the electoral improvements put in place by Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, who was elected alongside Governor Gretchen Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel in the transformative 2018 election.
Those three women in Michigan
All three women angered Trump during the campaign, and their popularity hurt him in November. Behind the scenes, Benson’s reforms dropped Detroit’s out-of-balance precincts from 68% in 2016 to 28% in 2020.
The state’s totals were officially certified on Tuesday, giving Michigan’s 16 electoral votes to President-Elect Biden. That prompted the General Service Administration (GSA) to allow Biden’s team to begin the transition process.
Trump never had a chance to overturn the election, but Detroit was the best argument for his case. The city did have an unusually high number of unbalanced precinct reports, and Trump barely broke 30 percent in the county — his second-worst performance in any of Michigan’s 83 counties.
However, Wayne County had almost nothing to do with Trump turning 2016’s statewide win into 2020’s defeat. He got 30.7% of the county’s vote against Hillary Clinton four years ago and received 30.7% again against Biden. Increased turnout gave him 35,000 more votes in the county than in his first run.
Trump’s problems came in the rest of the state. His two-party share of the vote dropped in 68 of Michigan’s other 82 counties, including 18 where his percentage dropped at least 2.5% since 2016. That’s easily missed in a quick scan of the results because many of the poor performances came in strongly Republican areas.
His most significant drop-off came in Ottawa County, located on the Lake Michigan coastline. Trump won the county with 61% of the vote, but that was a considerable fall from his 66% in 2016. Given the 2020 turnout numbers, Trump lost approximately 8,600 votes in four years.
Betsy DeVos fails to deliver her hometown
He had the same problem in a neighboring county. Kent County includes Grand Rapids, home of President Gerald Ford and the DeVos family and the state’s most conservative major city. In 2016, Trump won the county with 52% of the two-party vote but only managed 47% against Biden. In one of the state’s most populous areas, that translated to a drop of more than 17,000 votes.
Those weren’t Trump’s only struggles on the west side of the state. He dropped from 57% to 52% in Grand Traverse County, one of Michigan’s leading vacation destinations, and fell from 57% to 54% in Berrien County on the Indiana border. Kalamazoo County, home of Western Michigan University, was already a Democratic area, but Biden got 60% of the vote to Clinton’s 57 percent.
Losing Detroit’s wealthy neighbors
The other area where the Trump campaign failed was the area surrounding Detroit. The state’s three wealthiest counties — Oakland, Livingston, and Washtenaw — are all in southeastern Michigan and played critical roles in Biden’s win. Trump fell from 46% to 43% in Oakland — located on the northern side of Detroit’s infamous Eight Mile Road — and dropped from 28% to 26% in Washtenaw. Those counties contain three of Michigan’s 15 public universities — Oakland University in its namesake county and Eastern Michigan University and the University of Michigan in Washtenaw. A fourth, Wayne State University, is in downtown Detroit.
The third county to help Biden in southeastern Michigan is Livingston — the state’s second most prosperous but far from a Democratic vital spot. Livingston, located to the west of Oakland County and north of Washtenaw, is 97% white and hasn’t been won by a Democratic presidential candidate since Lyndon Johnson in 1964.
Biden didn’t change that, but his 39% was the highest for a Democratic candidate since Barack Obama’s 42% in 2008 and a meaningful improvement on Clinton’s 34%.
Trump will go to his grave complaining about Detroit’s vote’s unfairness, along with other Black-centered cities like Atlanta, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh.
His real failings, though, at least in Michigan, came outside those city limits. He lost too many moderate, suburban voters in a year that saw a record national turnout.