The Macomb Mystery: Why One Bellwether Michigan County Failed to Deliver for Hillary Clinton
Macomb County, Michigan ended up deciding the entire 2016 presidential election.
Well, not really.
But if you've been watching MSNBC the past few days, that's exactly the impression that you would get. That's because the network has already ruled out voter suppression, Russian interference, James Comey's unprecedented actions, a quarter-century Republican effort to discredit Hillary Clinton, and the media's undeniable part in giving Donald Trump nearly $3 billion of free media exposure. No, none of that played any part in Hillary Clinton losing the Electoral College vote as the reason she lost is because she simply shouldn't connect with working-class White people. Nowhere was this disconnect more prevalent than Michigan's third largest county where Donald Trump won 54% of the vote in 2016 and yet one that Obama carried with 52% of the vote in 2012. Clearly, if Hillary Clinton was able to connect with the people of Macomb, then she would have had a much different Election Night result. At least, that's what MSNBC is leading us to believe.
And on the surface MSNBC's coverage seems to back this up. From butcher shops to diners, the people of Macomb County seemed to echo this sentiment. They felt left behind in the Obama economy. Wages weren't rising fast enough. ObamaCare made it difficult for the small business owner. Jobs, especially automotive jobs, were being shipped elsewhere. The people interviewed saw Hillary Clinton as more of the same failed policies of Washington. Some deemed her to be untrustworthy. Others saw her as another typical tax-and-spend liberal. On the flip side, they saw Donald Trump as a savvy businessman who was a true outsider, willing to take on the evil Washington establishment.
The problem is that these soundbites in no way represent the reality of Macomb County.
The truth is that the county was hit particularly hard by the Bush recession. In June of 2009, unemployment in the county hit a record-high level of 18.3%. The county's most populous city of Warren was one of the central areas of the automotive industry, employing nearly 17,000 people in 2010. Whereas neighboring cities like Detroit in nearby Wayne County experienced massive population losses, Warren's population remained fairly consistent since the year 2000. A big part of that was due to the fact that Warren's people simply do not move: the city boasts the highest median age of any city outside of Hawai'i and Florida and the city is ranked first in the nation for longevity of residence, with the average person staying in the city of nearly 36 years. Combine all these factors and what you have is a workforce that had to fight its way through the worst of the Bush Recession.
But fight they did. Thanks to President Obama's deft decision to save the American auto industry, jobs flooded back into Macomb County including the city of Warren. As of September of 2016 (the last month for which there is data) the unemployment rate of Macomb County was at 5.2%, right around the national level. While Mitt Romney was advocating to let Detroit (and subsequently Macomb County) go bankrupt, President Obama believed in the American worker and his faith was rewarded in a not just the restoration of the American auto industry but now the success of the industry at unprecedented levels.
So why did nearly 33,000 Macomb residents turn their backs on President Obama from 2012 to 2016?
That question in itself has no easy answer, but the simplest explanation revolves around Democrats and their inability to articulate President Obama's accomplishments. President Obama saved Detroit and, by default, saved Macomb County. Yet, 54% of residents felt the country was on the wrong path and they felt so strongly about this that they willingly voted for the most unqualified candidate in our nation's history. Rather than having an appreciation for how far the county had come in its recovery since 2008, residents were more concerned with their immediate needs. Salaries still weren't high enough. Health care still cost too much money. There still weren't enough good jobs for everyone who wanted one. Rather than seeing the country on an upward slope, the residents of Macomb instead saw a country that wasn't doing enough for them.
It is this sentiment that Democrats need to address moving forward and they need to be aggressive in doing so. Unhappy with the amount of jobs in your area? Ask Republicans why they consistently blocked President Obama's job bills? Unhappy about the cost of health insurance in your area? Ask Republicans what they attempted to do in the past half-century to help reform the industry? Unhappy about job wages? Ask Republicans what they have done at the national level to help increase the minimum wage. The people of Macomb who think that both parties are the same, that neither party is looking out for them or their interests, and that think that an outsider is needed to finally listen to them aren't alone. But Democrats are listening and they are fighting for them from anything from wages to healthcare to paid family leave. They didn't stop fighting for them after 2012 but rather they were stymied by an opposition party that wanted to see a president fail rather than a country succeed.
And the people in Macomb and across the country need to be reminded of this each and every day.
Like what you read? Chip in, keep us going.