Every election, including the recently concluded August 7 primary vote, provides a fix for political junkies. Analyzing the results becomes a parlor game played by politicians, prognosticators of all stripes and political scientists, and the exercise starts the morning after as it did this year when the first calls started arriving as they always do.
County-wide in Oakland, as in other parts of the state, the turnout at the polls for a primary – always anemic when compared to a November general election – was a surprising 34 percent of registered voters, a considerable jump from the 20.61 percent of voters who cast ballots in the 2014 primary, also a year when no presidential race appeared on the ballot. Just over 33 percent of Republicans cast absentee ballots, while just over 35 percent of Democrats voted absentee.
Of equal interest is the fact there were more ballots cast by Democrats in the 2018 primary than Republicans, more evidence that Oakland County continues creeping toward the blue column with each passing election.
But my message this month won’t be tangled up in numbers. It’s more of an observation that somehow the populace woke up. Not sure I would call it a movement but there definitely is a confluence of a variety of societal undertones at play this election year that have already surfaced with the increased number of voters who participated in the August election.
In our part of Oakland County, there were a couple of open seats at the state and federal level that no doubt helped increase voter turnout at the polls. An open seat always draws considerable interest, especially when one or two of those stand a good chance of being flipped in terms of control, despite what the GOP has done in the past when creating safe districts for its followers.
We had Congressional District 11, which includes Birmingham, Bloomfield Hills, the western portion of the county and part of western Wayne County. With Republican David Trott retiring, a strong field of candidates filed in each party’s primary. This one could go to the Democrats in the fall, depending on turnout in both parties. Likewise, the retirement of Sandy Levin piqued some interest in Congressional District 9, which ‘leans Democrat’ thanks to the Macomb County portion that more than offsets the Bloomfield and south Oakland portion. And then there’s the 8th Congressional District, which includes Rochester and Rochester Hills, now held by Republican Mike Bishop, also rated as a possible flip come November given the skill and determination exhibited in the primary by Democrat Elissa Slotkin.
For state offices from the local area, we also had an open seat in the 12th Michigan Senate and the 40th House district – both hotly contested and both no longer safe Republican districts like in the past.
At first blush it would be simple to write off the surge in primary voter turnout to the Trump factor – certainly an issue in Michigan and all states this year. The old adage that all politics is local is being undermined as we will see when it comes to voting returns this November. Reaction to what is happening on the national stage – unconventional, to put it mildly – will drive higher numbers of citizens off the couch to participate this year. A good thing.
Add to that the energized women who took to the streets after Trump got elected and the high number of women candidates who filed and won in the primary here and across the country. All the makings of a likely a “pink tide” rather than just a “blue wave” come November.
The reaction to the daily drama we see unfolding in Washington D.C. is not the only factor driving increased participation, however. One only has to look around the country for examples of a broader feeling of angst and, yes, anger in the general population.
The most vivid demonstration of the undercurrent is what took place in states like West Virginia this year when teachers went on strike for two weeks to force the state to increase pay for not only those in the classroom but also more money for state workers in general. The organized effort there was similar in other red states like Oklahoma and Arizona. No matter what your political party, from afar I bet many observers were rooting for those on strike.
No political party or group was behind the push for better pay. The effort was the result of a threatened middle class simply saying they have had enough. The message: stop with the tax cuts for the wealthy and businesses on the backs of the working class. Put simply, stop governing like you are now.
And we certainly cannot forget the pent up frustration and the focused energy of the students who have organized nation-wide on the issue of gun control and safety in the schools.
Add to the mix the generally held sentiment that big money controls our politics, which may help explain the growing number of candidates eschewing PAC money this election and being rewarded with small private donations and votes.
All of these elements to some degree or another came into play in our local primary races and across the country. Despite predictions to the contrary, this undercurrent will likely not dissipate before the November 6 election which is only about 10 weeks away.
VOTER GUIDE: We have received some pretty positive reviews about our effort to produce a Voter Guide for the August primary election. Our plans include producing another Voter Guide for the November general election. It will be included in our October issue which comes out in late September, along with our endorsements on candidates and ballot issues. Our timing in coming out this early is to reach those voting by absentee ballots, which will be mailed out by local clerks in early October. Take the time now to phone your local municipal clerk’s office and request an application so that you can vote in the convenience of your home.