The role of demographics in current elections

July 24, 2018

 

We all belong to something, whether it's a religious group, an ethnic category, or some kind of community. With the August 7 primary election right around the corner, and then the general election in November soon after, candidates of all stripes and persuasions are busy targeting and appealing to various groups, looking to coalesce a demographic base around themselves.

 

Whether Catholic, Protestant, evangelical Christian, Jewish, Muslim, African American, Chaldean, Indian, Asian, Armenian, or some hybrid, candidates running for office as both Republicans and Democrats have focused, often with laser-eyed accuracy, on how to get you to vote for them.

 

“To some extent, candidates for office have always looked for blocks of votes they could count on or take advantage of,” noted David Dulio, Oakland University professor and chair of the political science department. “Years ago, it would be their ethnicity, like Italian or Polish, and they'd know their ethnic group – like, 'Hey, I'm Italian, so they'll vote for me.' 

 

“Today, it's done on much more of a micro level with the ability of campaigns to micro-target,” he continued. “Where these different attributes and characteristics can be targeted through media and online media, whether through websites and Facebook ads that targeted individuals see, and are specialized just for them – think of your Kroger coupons, customized just for you.” The same thing happens with campaigns, he pointed out. “And the same things happen with ethnic groups in order to target their message. And, like Kroger coupons, we don't ever see it. It's done deep in the weeds of campaigns.”

 

For decades, candidates have shown up during election time at churches to appeal to congregants, stressing the similarity in their backgrounds, values and morals, and that they would carry them forward when they got in office. Black churches have been a notable location for candidate appeals, from presidential to mayoral candidates, but they're not the sole target. It is widely believed that if Hillary Clinton had made more visits to the city of Detroit in 2016, notably to African American churches, she would have likely won the state of Michigan, rather than Donald Trump – who won the state by approximately 10,000 votes – because African American voters did not turn out for her as they had for Barack Obama in 2012. While Clinton won Wayne County, she won it with 66 percent of the vote – while Obama carried it with 80 percent over Romney in 2012, and the result was more than the 10,000 votes by which Trump took the state.

 

"The Clinton machine relied so heavily on old relationships to deliver them a win ... They didn't realize there was a new set of voters out there with no loyalty to them," said Rev. Charles Williams, pastor of King Solomon Baptist Church in Detroit and president of the National Action Network of Michigan in 2016. 

 

It's a lesson to politicians of both parties, to never rest on their laurels, and to never take any voter loyalty for granted. Similarly, when a candidate comes from a religious or ethnic community, there is a direct appeal to that group – to vote for “one of us.” 

 

“A politician who appeals to their religious group – it's easy for them because they can appeal directly,” said Rachel Bitecor, assistant director, Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University in Virginia. “It's easier to get your message across if you're attending mass or services.” 

 

“Any good candidate worth their salt will have a picture of themselves in their church or temple reaffirming their commitment to their community,” said Dennis Darnoi, a Republican political strategist and principal with Densar Consulting.  “Many campaigns will have a grassroots manager or a coalition builder, a point person reaching out to different parts of the community, to different parts of the district, to connect. They'll have someone connecting to the Jewish community, to the Chaldean community, the Catholic community, to conservative women in the Republican Party. There is not one community that is powerful enough to ride it all the way in these larger (congressional) races.”

 

But just because someone falls into a “box,” it can't be assumed they'll vote like the rest of their ethnic or religious group. 

 

“Not everyone with a shared background will vote for someone,” Dulio said. “Voters aren't dumb. They're very good at making the right choice for themselves. They can sort it out pretty well for themselves and/or their family. Just because someone has a clear ethnic or religious background, they may or may not align with that district – like Fayrouz Saad, (a Democrat who is Muslim) or Lena Epstein (a Republican Jew),” each running to represent their party going forward to the general election in November for the 11th Congressional District, which includes Birmingham, Bloomfield Hills, part of Rochester Hills and then meanders through the west Oakland area and into parts of western Wayne County. Dulio feels each woman is out-of-sync with the majority of their religious/ethnic community, and therefore may have trouble prevailing in their race, with Saad, of Northville but having grown up in Dearborn, running in a district with a much smaller percentage of Muslims than in her original home district. As for Epstein, her far right, pro-Trump alliance is out of sync with most Jews in the district, who trend Democratic, according to data. 

 

In 2016, American Jews voted overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump, 71 percent to 24 percent, according to the Brookings Institute, up from 2012, when Jews preferred Barack Obama over Mitt Romney, 69 percent to 30 percent. However, Obama captured 78 percent of the Jewish vote in 2008 over John McCain.

 

Bitecor of the Wason Center for Public Policy said that nationally Jews are split 60/40 Democrat to Republican, “with the northeast more liberal. Within the Jewish faith, all Jews are pro-Israel. There are some who are much more hardline; there's no compromising on a two-state issue. What drives Jews to be conservative is the hard line on Israel, not the social issues. It's all the West Bank and settlements.”

 

Locally, both polling and anecdotal numbers indicate the split at closer to 80/20, with a majority of Jews falling into the Democrat camp, as they traditionally have since Woodrow Wilson and Al Smith ran for office early in the 20th century, and lined up solidly behind Franklin Delano Roosevelt's candidacy for governor and president, said Anna Greenberg of My Jewish Learning. Throughout the 1960s that support continued as a voting bloc, until Jimmy Carter's presidential campaign, “when American Jews deserted Jimmy Carter en masse, many voting for independent John Anderson and some even defecting to Republican Ronald Reagan...Only African Americans have remained as solidly in the Democratic camp as have Jewish Americans.”

 

“The Jewish community doesn't vote a single way any longer, so it's hard to lump them all together,” noted Rabbi Mitchell Rocklin of Tikvah Fund in New York City. “Most Jewish support for Republicans was in the Orthodox communities, although clearly others are voting that way.

 

“It's hard to know beyond the Orthodox, and some areas with Russian Jews, because it's hard to get good polling numbers,” Rocklin said, in large part due to the fact that Orthodox Jews tend to live together in similar areas and concentrated in certain precincts, while more secular Jews live in wider communities where polling is not broken down to religious data by precincts. “It's clear the Orthodox Jews are growing and having increasingly been voting Republican in presidential elections – but they are not voting as Republicans down ballot, at least not yet.”

 

Rocklin said that is often because those races aren't competitive, or an incumbent is known.

 

“Down ballot there's little question that you're seeing it stay Democrat,” he said, for a variety of reasons. “The Orthodox communities are concentrated in areas that are Democratic.”

 

In metro Detroit, a majority of Orthodox Jews live in Oak Park and Southfield, longtime Democrat  strongholds. 

 

While there are a variety of different subgroups and sects within Orthodox Jewry, adherents live a very conservative, traditional and observant lifestyle, with many choosing to live in areas together and some rejecting modern society. They tend to have a high birth rate.

 

“When you have uncompetitive races, people will vote for the incumbent. They know the name, and maybe they've done something for them, versus someone they may not know at all,” Rocklin said, in a statement that can apply to any demographic group. “The real test is in a competitive race – then issues are important.”

 

Rocklin explained that Orthodox Jews first began to veer more conservatively between 2000 and 2004 – because the Republican Party was seen as stronger on Israel and foreign policy.

 

“They went from Gore to Bush” during that period of time, with 9/11 possibly playing a role. “That support only continued to grow over time, except for Donald Trump versus Romney, when it dipped.”

 

He pointed out that there are three issues in general that have resonated with Orthodox Jews for the Republican Party – Israel, school choice and religious liberty, “which continues to grow as an issue, because the Orthodox feel it could be a threat to their ability to live their lives religiously.”

 

The West Bank is sacred to Orthodox Jews, who identify the land as Biblical land given to the Jews, and therefore not negotiable with Palestinians in a two-state solution.

 

The rest of the Jewish community, comprised of unaffiliated, Reform and Conservative Jews, “have not seen much change, and are Democrats,” Rocklin said. “They are changing, but slowly, as demographics change. We'll see a shift as the Orthodox become a greater proportion of the population,” perhaps in one generation, he said, against more secular Jews continuing to intermarry, be unaffiliated, and have zero population growth, or negative population growth.

 

Catholics, Bitecor said, are generally split evenly between Democrat and Republican. “Kennedy was a Catholic, as we all know, and with the rise of the Kennedy dynasty, while they were not universally Democrat, but primarily. And they stayed that way until abortion became an issue in the 1970s through the 1990s. It took some time to really become political, in the '80s, with Reagan, and over time it sorted out, that Republicans are ideologically conservative and Democrats are ideologically liberal.”

 

American Catholics voted for Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton in 2016, 52 percent to 45 percent, a switch from 2012, when Obama prevailed over Romney, 50 percent to 48 percent. When the Catholic vote is broken down to white Catholics versus Hispanic Catholics in 2016, the results vary significantly – evidence of the role ethnicity plays in voter turnout and response. In 2016, white Catholics preferred Trump 60 percent to Clinton's 37 percent. However, Hispanic Catholics overwhelmingly chose Clinton, 67 percent to 26 percent for Trump. Hispanic Catholic voters were even more loyal to Obama in 2012, 75 percent to 21 percent for Romney, while white Catholics chose Romney, 59 percent to 40 percent for Obama. 

 

“Hispanics were pushed to the Democrats via the Republican hard line of immigration that started in 2006,” said Bitecor, noting that Hispanics were split 50/50 when George W. Bush ran for president in 2000 against Al Gore. “Bush ran on a platform of immigration reform, as did McCain. McCain had co-sponsored an immigration proposal. When he was getting ready to run for president, as the (Republican) party turned against immigration, he turned on his own immigration proposal. After his failed presidential run, he turned back to his original support of immigration reform.”

 

Oakland University's Dulio noted that Hispanics are not a monolithic voting group. “Latinos are, by and large, Democrats, but Cubans are very conservative,” he pointed out, with a strong Republican voting record. “Within ethnic and religious groups, there are issues that can split those groups.”

 

Bitecor noted that evangelical Christians “are very reliably Republican. There was a proportion that were horrified by kids in cages (with the separation of illegal immigrant children from their parents), but they prioritize abortion over everything else.”

 

White, born-again/evangelical Christians voted for Trump overwhelmingly in 2016, 81 percent to 16 percent for Clinton.

 

Bitecor said that Michigan has a reliably evangelical portion of the population.

 

Chaldeans, who are Iraqi Christian Catholics, are very Republican, Bitecor said, but Martin Manna, president of the Chaldean Chamber of Commerce in Farmington Hills, said that is not completely accurate.

 

“Chaldeans tend to vote on issues, versus a party, so we're not strictly Republican,” Manna said. “We talk about immigration, which neither party has dealt with. We have a lot of issues with social justice, which is more Democrat. We're conservative with regard to religious and family values, and more liberal when it comes to immigration and social justice values.

 

“Historically, our community is defined by faith, family and food.”

 

Klint Kesto, a Republican state Representative who has represented West Bloomfield and Commerce Township for the last six years, is currently running in the Republican primary to replace U.S. Rep. David Trott – and proudly is tapping into his Chaldean background for fundraising and community support. 

 

Dulio noted that is a smart strategy. “The Chaldean community, it can absolutely be targeted like any other religious group, Jewish or Catholic,” he said. “So, if a candidate has ties to that group, it potentially can be very profitable to that office.”

 

Derek Dickow, of Steward Media, a consultant, power connector and Chaldean community leader, said regarding Kesto's campaign, “The Chaldean community has an $11 billion impact annually in Michigan's economy… Our pathway to success is retelling of the American Dream, which began similarly to other ethnic minorities: escaping our native homeland to avoid religious persecution and fleeing to America in pursuit of a better life.”

 

He noted about half of Michigan's 160,000 Chaldeans live in Macomb County, the other half in Oakland County. “Although Rep. Kesto represents the 39th District, not a week passes without someone from the Chaldean community calling on issues concerning general business, immigration, or other matters. Regardless of where Chaldeans live, they call on Rep. Kesto and say, 'He's Chaldean. He's one of ours.'”

 

Dickow pointed out there are 30,000 registered Chaldean voters in the 11th District, with five Republicans and five Democrats running.

 

Darnoi, the political strategist, said, “Obviously, in an area like West Bloomfield, they (Chaldeans) do hold a lot of influence. They band together to raise money for a favorite candidate. They typically hold fundraisers at Shenandoah (Country Club in West Bloomfield), so members of the community can meet the candidate and get to know them. In a state House or Senate race, where turnout is smaller and lower, it can have a sizable impact. 

 

“When you try to expand it out into a congressional race, it has impact – but it doesn't have the same effect,” Darnoi said. “Chaldeans may live in West Bloomfield, and the northern part of the 11th district, but you don't see as many Chaldeans in Livonia, or Redford, or Canton. It's an important building block, but I'm not sure it's sufficient to ride that community to overall victory.”

 

Yet, he did note that “when you have a huge primary field (like in the 11th District), a candidate can win with just 22, 23 percent of the votes – and that's where having the backing of a community can really help.”

 

Bernie Porn of EPIC MRA, said that Kesto's community will matter less in the general election or primary “because it will be more diluted. Special groups mean less in a presidential election, than in a gubernatorial election, then senatorial, then congressional.” 

 

Porn also noted that the gerrymandering of districts – where boundaries are manipulated to favor one political party over another – “makes ethnic votes less meaningful. We call them 'stacking and packing' the districts, making a Republican district in the 54 to 55 percent (leaning) range, where they're more likely to prevail, and then it's just wasting votes. When it's an equal district, African Americans (or other ethnic groups) can impact the outcome of a general election, but when Republicans are strong enough that the only impact is in the primary election, then all demographic groups have less of a say in general elections.”

 

Porn pointed out that “this is why when the Tea Party was really strong, proponents of the Tea Party were stronger in Michigan than their opponents and in other areas of the country, and they could really influence elections – and it's why the state legislature is how it currently is. Now the Tea Party has waned in power, but it still has impact – of 29 to 30 percent (in the general election), but it was 44 to 45 percent of overall voters. In the Republican primary, before, they had 65 percent, 70 percent. The problem is now that many in the state and state legislature still think the Tea Party has that kind of power and impact.”

 

Dickow said Chaldean operatives have a simple strategy – “the expectation on turnout in the Republican primary is about 65,000 voters. Kesto has the most viable pathway to victory if the Chaldean community votes.”

 

Some in the Muslim and Arab American community believe they are a classic swing vote, leaning neither Republican or Democratic but focusing on the candidate, but Wayne State University Professor Saeed Khan, of the Department of History and Near East and Asian Studies, points out that there has been extensive polling information done after the 2016 campaign by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), and Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services (ACCESS).

 

“The problem, and the understanding, is that there are a number of different Muslim communities – there are Arab Muslims; southeast Asian Muslims; Hispanic Muslims; African Muslims, who are not African Americans; and there are Arabs who are not Muslims, like the Chaldeans, who are Iraqi Christians, and the Maronite Christians and Lebanese Christians,” Khan explained. 

 

He said that most Sunni Muslims – those from  Arab countries including Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Syria, as well as southeast Asia, Africa and China – went primarily for Hillary Clinton and Democrats in 2016, “but the Chaldeans, Lebanese Christians and some Shiite Muslims (from Iraq, Iran, and Lebanon) voted for Trump, primarily because of the issue of Syria. 

 

“Some polls showed that 23 percent of all Michigan Muslims voted for Trump,” Khan said. “That would have been enough to have swung the vote in a state that went with him with 10,000 votes.”

 

There is a slight history of Arab Americans voting Republican, when they briefly supported George W. Bush in 2000.

 

“George W. Bush was initially more inclusive, so immigrant Arab Muslims went for him,” Khan said, “until after 9/11 – then they leaned Democratic, which clearly showed with the 2008 and 2012 elections of Obama.

 

He said the Muslim travel immigration ban is not playing well with the Muslim and Arab American communities, nor with the Chaldean communities. “It is because of the recent Supreme Court ruling, there is now a greater sense of urgency to see if there is way to get legislation, as well as they are seeking to block the Kavanaugh appointment (as Supreme Court justice).

 

“The community is very much now actively seeking their political literacy and political engagement, not just by running for office, but through understanding political nuance and the understanding of the concepts of checks and balances and the separation of power,” Khan said.

 

Porn pointed out that Democratic gubernatorial candidate Abdul El-Sayed “is appealing to Muslims, especially in an ad in The Muslim News. But it all comes down to the sophistication of the campaign,” he said. “It's all about micro targeting and number crunching in campaigns, and whether they're collecting data and targeting the right people with phone calls, mailings, emails. Others will do TV ads, direct mail and robocalls, but those are directed at big demographic groups, like all Democrats, or men or women, or older men and older women. Others have data on social media use and purchases.”

 

The Pew Research Center, a non-partisan fact-based think tank based in Washington D.C. that provides the public with information on social issues, public opinion and demographic trends, said that Muslim Americans are largely an immigrant population. “Roughly six-in-10 U.S. Muslims ages 18 and over (58 percent) were born outside the U.S., with origins spread throughout the world. The most common region of origin for Muslim immigrants is South Asia, where one-in-five U.S. Muslims were born, including nine percent who were born in Pakistan. An additional 13 percent of U.S. Muslims were born elsewhere in the Asia-Pacific region, including Iran, 14 percent in the Middle East or North Africa, and five percent in sub-Saharan Africa.”

 

The Pew Center conducted a thorough religion study in 2015 of 35,000 Americans in all 50 states regarding their religious affiliations, beliefs and practices, and social and political views. It noted that the Christian share of the U.S. population is declining while the number of American adults who do not identify with any organized religion is growing, and the trend is taking place across the country, and across all age groups. It is occurring “among whites, blacks and Latinos; among both college graduates and adults with only a high school education; and among women as well as men,” Pew noted. 

 

However, they noted that seven in 10 Americans still identify with some branch of the Christian faith, although it had dropped from 78.4 percent in 2007 to 70 percent in 2015. Those who identified as   atheist, agnostic or “nothing at all” had jumped six points in that time period, from 16 percent to 22.8 percent. 

 

“And the share of Americans who identify with non-Christian faiths also has inched up, rising 1.2 percentage points, from 4.7 percent in 2007 to 5.9 percent in 2014. Growth has been especially great among Muslims and Hindus,” they reported.

 

According to the Pew report, currently in the U.S., Protestants make up 46.5 percent of the population; evangelicals, 25.4 percent; Catholics, 20.8 percent; Orthodox Christian, .5 percent; Mormons, 1.6 percent; Jehovah's Witness, .8 percent; Jews, 1.9 percent; Muslims, .9 percent; Buddhist, .7 percent; Hindus, .7 percent; other faiths and religions, 1.8 percent; unaffiliated, 22.8 percent.

 

Each of the main religions saw drops, but Pew saw that at the same time, “American Christians – like the U.S. population as a whole – are becoming more racially and ethnically diverse. Non-Hispanic whites now account for smaller shares of evangelical Protestants, mainline Protestants and Catholics than they did seven years earlier, while Hispanics have grown as a share of all three religious groups. Racial and ethnic minorities now make up 41 percent of Catholics – up from 35 percent in 2007 – 24 percent of evangelical Protestants, up from 19 percent; and 14 percent of mainline Protestants, up from 9 percent.”

 

Pew did note that the size of the historically black Protestant tradition – including Baptists, African Methodist Episcopal Church, and others – has remained relatively stable, at about 16 million adults, with the evangelical Protestant tradition as a whole, having increased about 2 million adults, to a total of about 62 million adults in the U.S. 

 

“The African American population, and as a political force, has really plateaued,” said Bill Ballenger, a former Republican state Representative and Senator, and political pundit with The Ballenger Report, noting their influence has waned.

 

“Catholics appear to be declining both as a percentage of the population and in absolute numbers,” Pew said, with about 51 million American Catholics today, about 3 million fewer than in 2007.

 

Pew noted that in actual size, “unaffiliated are now second in size only to evangelical Protestants among major religious groups in the U.S,” with over 56 million self-identifying.

 

The key question now is, how reliable are any of these groups as voter blocks?

 

“The white voter is still the plurality, including Christians, Catholics and Jews,” stated Ballenger. “The white non-Jewish voters are still in the majority, but they're shrinking rapidly. The white middle class male feels endangered.”

 

Ballenger said that many ethnic groups live in enclaves, like Jews in West Bloomfield, Oak Park, and Southfield; and Chaldeans in West Bloomfield and Sterling Heights; and Indians in Novi and Troy. “Each of the groups may be small, but collectively they have impact. Add them together, and they may mean something.”

 

On the other hand, he said, “Jews, Muslims, Chaldeans, Indians, they may all cancel each other out. We could end up with a Jew and an Indian in the 11th Congressional District (Republican Lena Epstein and Democrat Suneel Gupta) – two ethnic candidates going forward. It's never happened before.”

 

Ballenger marveled at the societal changes that may bring forth such a political earthquake. 

 

“The ethnic coloration of Oakland County is spilling over from just (ethnic) voters to candidates with a real chance to win – which is the most remarkable development in this election cycle,” he said. “They're changing the face of the candidacy of Oakland County more than any other place. Traditionally in Oakland County politics, dating back 20 years, there was a surge of African Americans from Wayne County into southern Oakland County, into Southfield and Oak Park. But now, we've moved way, way beyond that,” noting the ethnic and religious population growth of Indians Americans, Pakistani Americans, Asian Americans, Chaldeans, and Muslim Americans in Oakland County.

 

“We're mixing ethnicities and religions. It's a rich stew of religious and ethnic identity that's really changing Oakland County politics and it's changing the face of elections for both parties,” Ballenger said. “Who is coming out to vote for these candidates, and who is running – from the top, in the governor's race to county offices – it's going to continue for years to come.”

 

He pointed out the Michigan governor's race, where a Muslim American man from Bloomfield Hills, Abdul El-Sayed, and an Indian American immigrant from Ann Arbor, Shri Thanedar, are both running in the Democratic primary against Gretchen Whitmer, a woman from Lansing, as an example of the rich stew.

 

“It's not just fringe candidates like in previous races and cycles. They have to be taken seriously,” he said. “They could win.

 

“On August 7, we have to see if their ethnic brothers and sisters turn out, and how much of percentage make up from their districts,” Ballenger said.

 

Thanedar, and Suneel Gupta, currently of Birmingham but who grew up in Novi, and who is running for the Democratic candidate for Congress in the 11th District to replace Rep. David Trott (R ), are not the first Indian American candidates to run for office in Michigan, but if they prevail, they will be one of the few to find political success. Two Jewish candidates, Andy Levin and Ellen Lipton,  are facing off in the primary in the 9th Congressional race to replace retiring Congressman Sander Levin.  A 2013 report by Global Detroit and Data Driven Detroit stated that of the immigrant groups in metro Detroit, the largest segment is the Indian population, and the Indian populations of Farmington Hills and Troy are among the 20 largest Indian communities in the U.S. As of 2006, the U.S. Census reported there were over 100,000 ethnic Asian Indians in Michigan, with the majority in metro Detroit. In addition to Farmington Hills and Troy, Canton, Novi, West Bloomfield and Sterling Heights have sizable Indian populations. A majority work in the information technology and medical sectors, and identify as Hindu, or to a smaller proportion, Sikh.

 

“Asian Americans, roughly speaking favor Democrats by a two-one margin. Indians are the strongest Democratic-leaning, by a three-one, four-one ratio,” said Karthick Ramakrishnan, professor of political science and public policy, University of California at Riverside. He said Chinese Americans and Vietnamese tend to be much more split.

 

“Indians tend to be the most educated, the most affluent,” Ramakrishnan said in explaining their more liberal tendencies. He also said there “has been a lot of anti-immigrant sentiment and racial conservatism that has leaned to explicit racism in the Republican Party,” driving away Indian Americans, “just like it's kept a lot of Jewish Americans away, as well as discrimination since 9/11, more than the Democrat Party.”

 

One problem, however, with Indian Americans is that despite their higher incomes and higher levels of education, “Asian Americans have a lower voter turnout than African Americans nationally,” which could prove to be a poor bellwether for an Indian American candidate looking to his or her ethnic group, according to Ramakrishnan.

 

 Densar Consulting's Dennis Darnoi, concurred. “Generally speaking, politically, Indian Americans and Asian Americans, are not a group politicians seek out. They're more seen as business or medical groups. They don't run on being part of an identity.”

 

Part of that is because Indian, as well as other Asian candidates, often are very successful individuals, “and they're more interested in their achievements as a business person than in their cultural identity.”

 

Further, as a population, “They're better known as running for office than wielding influence.”

 

“Vietnamese use to be Republican, but over the years, they have tended to move over to become more Democratic,” Ramakrishnan said. 

 

Ramakrishnan explained the reason Vietnamese Americans were Republican was because anti-Communism was the driving force of the Republican's foreign policy when they began coming in 1975, “and the Democrats were seen as weak, and the refugee experience was very important.”

 

Over time, social services and health care became an increasing priority to the immigrant population. “Refugees needed, and got, social services,” he said, “and a growing American-born population became more Democratic.”

 

In the state House race to replace term-limited Rep. Mike McCready (R), two young Armenians are dividing up that small community, with Mike Banerian battling in a crowded Republican primary to be his party's standard bearer in November, while Mari Manoogian is facing Nicole Bedi in the Democratic primary.

 

Official data, according to the 2000 U.S. Census, puts the metro Detroit Armenian community at 13,877, while ArmeniaDiaspora.com in 2013 puts it closer to 60,000. Darnoi said, “It's not unheard of to have communities that are split (over candidates). Sometimes you see someone, or relatives, who gives to both, so they're still tapping the same donor source.”

 

American Armenians have fluctuated between being supporters of Democrats and Republicans, based on support of recognition of the Armenian Genocide. The community widely supported Barack Obama for president – after supporting George W. Bush. Denis Papazian, founding director of University of Michigan's Center of American Studies, noted that a good portion of Armenian Americans consider a candidate's stance on Armenian issues and can be swayed by a pledge to support genocide  recognition efforts.

 

The Armenian American community felt betrayed first by Bush and then by Obama “who ran a campaign of high promises and higher expectations on Armenian issues,  only to break every one of his pledges – most notably his commitment to recognize the Armenian Genocide,” said Sevan Kolejian, Armenia National Committee of American spokesperson. “He personally – and remarkably quickly – squandered generations of good will fostered by the hard work of Democrats dating back decades.” ­

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