For more than three decades we’ve been reading about the way Macomb County, Michigan has become the bellwether of presidential elections. Bill Gallagher explains in BuzzFlash.com why this obsession shared by politicians and pundits had led to the earlier expectations that McCain could win Michigan:
The Republicans were licking their chops. Michigan was in play. “Barack Obama has had trouble getting traction in the Wolverine State,” Nate Silver wrote in The New Republic. Silver, like many other pundits, is locked in the thinking of the 20th century. They still focused on Macomb County, the conventional bellwether of the state, the home of the Reagan Democrats. National pollsters and political analysts have studied ad naseum the blue collar and nominally Democratic suburban area northeast of Detroit where Ronald Reagan racked up huge majorities and other Republicans candidates have done well since.
The residents of Macomb County are often stereotyped as beer swilling, gun loving hunters, social conservatives unlikely to ever support an African-American candidate for president — the dubious but persistent political prognosis often found in the mainstream media.
John McCain and Sarah Palin made their first post-convention appearance in Macomb County. They drew a huge, enthusiastic crowd, which included many retired autoworkers, NRA members and just plain god-fearing folks, Catholics and evangelicals alike.
Last month, fortified with Macomb County political grog, the Republicans were giddy over their prospects in Michigan and they figured they had other help from the Democrats.
While Gallagher’s contrarian analysis applies to Michigan, I’m beninning to wonder whether we should continue to be preoccupied with the role that the “Reagan Democrats” play on the national level. And perhaps we should ask ourselves whether this demographic group has become nothing more than a political ghost. After all, no one mentions “FDR Republicans” these days.
I’m raising this point after returning to Washington from a short trip in several states during which I actually had the opportunity to interview “real voters.” My observations are not based on any “scientific” data. But I found it very interesting that the support for Obama cuts across social-economic lines and is especially strong among younger voters. One example: A 25-year-old grandson of a retired factory worker from Illinois. He works in a gym. His dad is a clerk in a bank. He is a Catholic, he drinks beer, and he never saw a French movie. Yet he and most of his family are going to vote for Obama. “A no brainer,” he said.
My guess is that after this election we’ll need to search for new bellwether counties.