Generational shifts could turn Michigan blue for years to come

Oct 21, 2020 at 10:18 am
click to enlarge Generational shifts could turn Michigan blue for years to come

Michigan's shift from blue to red in the 2016 presidential election could be an outlier, according to new research.

The "States of Change" report examines the ways generational changes could shape the next five presidential elections, from an aging eligible voter population to a more diverse and better educated electorate.

Report co-author William Frey — senior fellow at the Brookings Institution's Metropolitan Policy Program — said the findings suggest 11 swing states that voted Republican in 2016 could shift to Democratic by 2036, with Michigan "going blue" as early as the 2020 election.

"If things stay the same as they are now, it would be difficult for the Republicans to take over," said Frey. "But I think both parties are interested in getting as many voters as they can and will pay attention to this underlying demographic structure. Demography doesn't determine destiny, but it certainly shapes it in a big way."

Frey noted a growing movement toward Republicans among white, non-college voters could potentially counter demographic changes.

Between now and 2036, Millennial and "Gen Z" voters are expected to increase from 36% of Michigan's electorate to 59%, while "Boomer" voters and older will drop from 40% to 20%.

Conservative pollster Kristen Soltis Anderson — partner and co-founder of Echelon Insights — called the findings an alarm bell for Republicans, whom she said she believes need to listen more closely to younger voters and find new ways to talk about free markets and limited government.

"Talk a little bit more about how the things conservatives believe, not just in numbers and nuts and bolts, but in terms of improving people's lives and opening doors of opportunity," said Anderson. "That's the message for a Republican that wants the way forward. Why the things they believe create fairer outcomes. We can't just talk about tradition and ideology."

Tara McGowan — founder and CEO of ACRONYM, a network of Democratic advocacy groups — contended the left shouldn't take the support of key demographics for granted.

She said younger generations want candidates who understand the problems of today, and have the courage of their convictions to get to work.

"We have been through so many years now of gridlock and the inability to actually meet the challenges of this moment," said McGowan. "And I really do think that the majority of voters, especially younger, want to see things get done, and they're going to have a very high bar for what kinds of solutions are presented."

The report notes the findings are simulations about how the electorate might evolve, and not predictions about the outcomes of elections.

Stay on top of Detroit news and views. Sign up for our weekly issue newsletter delivered each Wednesday.