The Swing States Series: #2 Michigan

Elections & Politics Policy Brief #132 | By: Abigail Hunt| June 20, 2024
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Michigan is 10th in the nation in electoral votes. In 2022, Michigan’s youngest voting demographic, 18–29-year-olds, had the highest turnout in the country at 37 percent, according to Tufts University’s Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (C.I.R.C.L.E.). The national average was 23 percent. On the other hand, 37 percent of the state population is aged 50 or older. Currently, the 10 million strong population ranks it 10th in the nation in size.

Seventy-three percent, or 7.32 million people, of the population is white, and 1.36 million are black. Because 55 percent of blacks live in the South, that latter number doesn’t even put Michigan in the top ten – it ranks 17 in the nation in black population. Michigan’s gender divide is close – 49.8 million male and 50.5 million female. Michigan has strong youth and female populations and a large working class.

The only state in the nation with two peninsulas and five giant lakes which define it, Michigan’s origin story began March 28th, 1836, at a meeting in Washington D.C. By the signatures of U.S. Indian Commissioner Henry Schoolcraft and those of the representatives of the Odawa and Ojibway nations, Michigan tribes ceded 13.8 million acres to the U.S. government. The land was sections of the Upper and Lower Peninsulas that would become 40 percent of the state’s territory. In return, the tribes were promised things, such as permanent reservation land and perpetual access to natural resources, which never manifested. As soon as the native representatives left D.C., white men rewrote the treaty terms granting the tribes just five years of access to the land before giving the government the right to forcibly remove them.

Where are the natives who granted the area enough territory to join the nation? Interestingly, Michigan ranks 10th in the nation in overall population and in Native American population – but the difference in numbers is considerable. To rank 10th in the nation, the state has approximately 148,000 native people among the more than 10-million-strong population.

The Gross State Product (GSP) is $493.2 billion. It is in the top five states in the country for manufacturing. Auto Parts and Automobile Wholesaling are the largest industries in the state, in 2023 generating approximately $78.7 billion and $72.3 billion respectively. The next largest industry is Health & Medical Insurance, which generated $62.7 billion the same year. On a national ranking, Michigan’s GSP is 14th out of 50. The states unemployment rate is 47th in the nation. Approximately 26 percent of workers are in a union or represented by one. The minimum wage in the state increased to $10.33 in 2024.

A significant factor in manufacturing in the state is the access to and utilization of shipping via the Great Lakes. There are an estimated 6,000 shipwrecks in the Great Lakes, some dating back as far as the 17th century. One such shipwreck occurred on November 10th, 1975, in Michigan, when an American Great Lakes taconite (iron ore) freighter, the SS Edmund Fitzgerald, sank. It was on its way from Superior, Wisconsin to Detroit, Michigan on Lake Superior. The ship battled hurricane force winds and 35-foot waves before its demise. A crew of 29 men aboard the ship perished. The Fitz sank in Canadian waters just 16 miles from safety. The following year, a Canadian singer-songwriter, Gordon Lightfoot, wrote a song about the tragedy, and The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald entered the zeitgeist. The songwriter wrote the song to memorialize the lives lost in the tragedy when he noticed that media reports were not bothering to do so. Today, the wreck is the best-known story of shipping disasters from that area. Safety protocols were overhauled after the disaster. It is still the largest and most recent freighter wreck in the state’s history.

In July 2022, Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed into law the Maritime and Port Facility Assistance Grant Program Act, which allows for modernization of Michigan’s 32 ports, upgrading their capabilities to handle container ships, an area of the industry that has historically been inaccessible for the state. In recent news on the East coast, the Dali container ship took out Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key bridge, killing six. Investigators have more questions than answers about the tripped breakers and mysterious blackouts (four, to be precise) that preceded the collision. A chain of reactions, in part human reaction, led to the event. Although Maryland is a far cry from Michigan, both states have active ports with large ships – there are 13 1,000-foot freighters operating still in the Great Lakes, each able to carry between 62K and 89K tons. The Dali container ship is 984 feet long.

There are approximately 360 commercial shipping ports in the U.S., according to statistics from the U.S. Coast Guard.  Of these, there are about 150 “deep draft seaports,” some in the Great Lakes. The Port of Detroit is the third-largest steel-handling port in the U.S. and ranks 31 in the Top 50 Ports in the nation. The choice to invest in evolution of maritime trade harkens back to the nation’s beginnings – the 2,340-mile Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway stretches from the Atlantic Ocean to the top of the Great Lakes, on waterways that have been used for shipping since 17th century French traders floated furs on them. Coastal ports in the U.S. have garnered federal grants to the tune of $5 trillion to improve their shipping capabilities. Michigan’s investment in itself facilitates job creation and untold income potential. It is a swing unlikely to miss.

Per World Population Review, Michigan ranks 8th in number of Palestinian citizens, having just shy of 6,000. The state leader, California, has close to 26,000. With a 10 million strong population, almost 6,000 Palestinians do not make up much of the population. Michigan has the largest Middle Eastern population of any U.S. state, with more than 211,000 citizens of that ethnicity. According to Jewish Virtual Library, the state has almost 120,000 Jewish citizens, more than half of the Middle Eastern population. The war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza will certainly be a factor for many voters.

The first Presidential debate took place at the end of June. Trump, fresh out of court with felony convictions, faced off with Biden. It was …. embarrassing to watch – Biden, befuddled and appearing enfeebled, Trump, arrogantly and blatantly bullshitting his way through it. His accomplices from the 2020 election are still muddling their way through their criminal cases. A state Republican politician, James Renner, 77, faces charges from the 2020 election debacle, when he backed the wrong horse. Renner testified in court that he did not know how the election process worked. He is one of 16 Republicans across seven battleground states who have been charged with sending false certificates to Congress stating Trump won the election in their state, contrary to the actual voting results. The certificates were found to be fraudulent in past because they didn’t match the official documents with the Governor’s signature and seal. Perhaps they were bolstered in their deceptive claim by the 2016 results – at that time, the state electors were legally awarded to Trump.

The state’s February 27th primaries awarded 51 delegates to Trump and 55 overall to the Republican Party, as Nikki Haley garnered four delegates. Biden gained 115 delegates in the state and the Democratic Party won 117 overall, more than double what the GOP earned in support. With the two candidates having each won the state respectively in their previous elections, who takes the state this year is a coin toss.

Background Reading on Michigan & Engagement Resources:
This is the second article in a series of articles about U.S Swing States, for the first edition please click here.

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