Even in the middle of a pandemic, experts agree Michigan’s record of 5.04 million votes in an election – set in 2008 – will be handily beat this fall.
Yet, in this polarized climate, pollsters are finding the reasons people are voting are mostly the same – Democrats and Republicans alike. The only difference is the framing.
For Democrats, the top issues are getting COVID-19 under control and racism, according to an Epic MRA poll of Michigan voters, pollster president Bernie Porn said. For Republicans, it’s “reopening the economy” and “violence in cities,” Porn said.
“(The top issue for both) is either directly or indirectly related to COVID-19,” Porn said.
These two issues have dominated the 2020 news cycle, but voting totals were already skyrocketing in recent elections. Michigan had 4.3 million people vote in November 2018 – 500,000 more votes than any other governor’s race in state history.
The impetus for high turnout? It’s President Donald Trump, said Mark Grebner, head of Practical Political Consulting in Lansing.
“Ever since Trump was elected, it was clear that the political system had become supercharged with tension, anger, anxiety and stress,” Grebner said. “People have been voting in unreasonable numbers in every election since then.”
Republicans are voting in droves because they love him. Democrats are showing up because they hate him. In one Epic MRA poll, Porn said 60% of Joe Biden supporters said they were more voting “against Trump” than “for Biden,” although that number shrank some as the election neared.
In 2016, 4.8 million Michiganders voted – about 63% of the total voting age population.
“There was a lack of enthusiasm,” Porn said about the Trump/Hillary Clinton race.
Enthusiasm is much higher this time , Porn said. But Grebner is hesitant to describe it as “enthusiasm.”
“See, enthusiasm sounds like excitement, like a positive force,” Grebner said. “That’s not the situation on the Democratic side. On the Democratic side, this is fear and anger and loathing. It’s the sort of thing that causes people to donate $2,000 apiece for random candidates for office.”
State officials are projecting about 2 million in-person votes on Election Day. With 3.1 million absentee votes already in, that would put Michigan just above 5 million votes.
Porn and Grebner expect even more. Porn projects between 5.6 million and 6 million votes while Grebner has lowered his earlier prediction of 6 million votes down to 5.8 million.
The recent COVID-19 spike might deter a few people from going to the polls, Grebner said, and displace college students from where they might normally vote. Still, 5.8 million votes would break the record by far.
“Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump,” Grebner said about the inspiration for turnout. “That’s all. I guess the No. 5, after I say Trump four times, I’d say the fifth one would be Prop. 3.”
Proposal 3 was passed by Michigan voters in 2018 and allows for no-reason absentee voting, lets people to register to vote even on Election Day and made other tweaks to make voting easier and more accessible.
“It’s easier to vote by absentee ballot,” Porn said. “It’s more convenient and safer.”
Trump won Michigan by about 10,000 votes in 2016, a razor slim margin. That likely drives more people to vote this time around, Porn said. The barrage of visits from Trump, Biden and their surrogates is also likely to encourage more people to get to the polls, experts said.
Like everything else in 2020, making predictions about the election is tough because of the number of new variables thrown into the equation – from COVID to absentee voting to the constant vitriol between parties.
Nothing is guaranteed, Grebner said, which is why all eyes will be on results rolling in over the next few days.
“I sure never have seen this before,” Grebner said. “But neither has anybody else.”