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Why Michigan Could Sway the 2024 Election

Voters in November will choose the next president of the United States, with the end result expected to be either a second term for President Joe Biden or a return to the White House for former President Donald Trump. Every vote matters, but the electoral results in a handful of key swing states will play major roles in determining the ultimate outcome.

What exactly is a swing state? There’s a literal by-the-book – or dictionary – definition: “A U.S. state in which Republican and Democratic candidates have similar levels of support and which is considered to play a key role in the outcome of presidential elections.”

Yet there are still nuances at play, and though the group of swing states each presidential cycle is often similar, variations can occur due to factors like changing demographics, voter turnout and other circumstances. Georgia, for example, is now a swing state on the heels of Biden’s win there in 2020, in large part due to the support of Black voters. He was the first Democratic presidential candidate to take Georgia in almost three decades.

For its part, Michigan had been a reliably blue Midwestern state in recent decades after voting exclusively Republican in the 1970s and 1980s. But similar to Wisconsin, it became a major battleground after Trump won there by less than 11,000 votes in 2016. Biden notched a victory there over Trump in 2020, though by a wider margin.

Biden including Michigan on his post-State of the Union barnstorming slate in early March highlights its importance in the 2024 contest, while Trump held a rally there in February ahead of the state’s GOP primary and was scheduled to return with a stop in Grand Rapids on April 2 to deliver remarks focused on the southern border.

The Great Lakes State, which was No. 41 in the most recent Best States rankings from U.S. News, holds 15 electoral votes, placing it in the top 10 among all U.S. states and also pointing to the crucial role it could play in the race for the White House.

Here’s everything you need to know about Michigan as a 2024 battleground.

Why Michigan Is Important in the Presidential Race

U.S. News in January handicapped Michigan as a “toss-up” in the 2024 presidential election, even though the Democratic candidate has prevailed in all but one contest there since 1992. The winner in Michigan also has gone on to win the White House in nine of the last 12 presidential elections.

Biden has focused on the state with recent trips as he seeks to hold tight to the “blue wall” of Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania that helped him defeat Trump four years ago. But Michigan, where the Biden reelection campaign plans to open more than 15 field offices, could prove to be more challenging for Biden to win again amid criticism of the administration’s handling of the Israel-Hamas war in places like Dearborn – a Detroit suburb with the nation’s highest concentration of Arab Americans, according to The Associated Press – and among younger voters. Biden won the Michigan Democratic primary in February but saw 13% of voters go with an “uncommitted” option.

Biden and Trump Campaign in Swing States

WATERFORD, MICHIGAN - FEBRUARY 17: Guests attend a rally hosted by Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump on February 17, 2024 in Waterford, Michigan. People waited in lines for hours outside the event as temperatures held in the mid-20s and a strong wind cut through the crowd. The Michigan primary election is scheduled for February 27.   (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

While Trump has had to focus on his various legal battles recently, he also has traveled to Michigan multiple times in recent months, including a September stop where he criticized Biden’s push for electric cars during remarks to auto workers near Detroit.

How Michigan Voted in Past Presidential Elections

Biden carried Michigan in 2020 by close to 3 percentage points. Trump won it in 2016 by a very small margin.

Key Voter Groups in Michigan

Nearly three-quarters (74%) of Michiganders are white, but the state is also home to a sizable Black population (14.1%). The next-largest group by race or ethnicity is the Hispanic population, which comprises 5.7%. Michigan also has experienced slow population growth over the years – having had 21 Electoral College votes in the 1970s and now standing at 15, after losing one more vote from 2020 to 2024.

As in Wisconsin, a key group for both candidates in Michigan is white working-class voters. And with auto manufacturing a major player in the state’s economy – Michigan is home to General Motors and Ford, along with the North American headquarters of Stellantis – the union vote will be one to watch.

The independent vote also will be important in Michigan, as it will be across the country for both Biden and Trump. Independents helped Trump win the state in 2016, and helped Biden retake it in 2020.

Key Issues to Voters in Michigan

A February survey from Emerson College Polling and The Hill showed the economy was the top issue for close to a third (31%) of Michigan voters. That issue was followed by immigration (13%), threats to democracy (12%), health care (10%), housing affordability (8%), education (7%), crime (7%) and abortion access (5%).

Results from another survey – conducted in November and released in December by the Detroit Regional Chamber and Glengariff Group, Inc. – echoed concerns about the economy, with inflation and the cost of goods being “top-of-mind concerns for Michigan voters.”

How the Candidates Have Addressed Issues Key to Michigan

The economy: In his State of the Union address, Biden spoke of America’s “comeback” – one that he said includes “building an economy from the middle out and the bottom up, not the top down.”

Trump has indicated on his social media platform that recent stock market gains should be credited to him, and that “EVERYTHING ELSE IS TERRIBLE.”

Immigration: Biden recently got more aggressive in his messaging about immigration, which has become a bigger threat to his reelection prospects. The president noted in the State of the Union efforts to pass a bipartisan immigration reform bill, which was later torpedoed in Congress amid opposition from Trump. But Biden was also criticized by progressives and immigration advocates for using the term “illegal” in a reference to the alleged killer of Georgia nursing student Laken Riley.

Trump has long made immigration a big part of his platform, recently saying migrants are “poisoning the blood of our country,” a remark that Biden called out in his address to Congress. The former president also has vowed to launch a massive deportation effort if reelected.

“The biggest threat to your union is millions of people coming across the border,” Trump said during his February rally in Michigan, after reportedly mentioning both the Teamsters and UAW. “You’re not going to have your jobs anymore.”

During his April 2 remarks in Grand Rapids, the former president was poised to discuss what his campaign called “Biden’s Border Bloodbath,” according to a release distributed ahead of the visit.

“Joe Biden is allowing an invasion at our border and now West Michigan is dealing with the preventable murders in our backyard,” said Pete Hoekstra, a former congressman and current Michigan GOP chairman, according to CBS News.

Hoekstra reportedly was referring to the recent fatal shooting of Ruby Garcia, 25, in the Grand Rapids area. Brandon Ortiz-Vite, who was in a relationship with Garcia, was charged in her death. Ortiz-Vite was deported to Mexico in 2020 but later reentered the U.S. illegally, CBS reported.

Threats to democracy: Biden has made threats to democracy a focus of his campaign, referencing the Jan. 6 insurrection attempt in 2021 during his State of the Union address and saying “democracy must be defended.”

Trump has repeated false claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him. In February, he said he had once told another country’s leader that he’d encourage Russia to do “whatever the hell they want” to a NATO member country who did not meet the alliance’s defense spending guidelines.

Health care: Biden in the State of the Union touted efforts to lower the cost of prescription drugs and championed the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, as “still a very big deal.” “Over 100 million of you can no longer be denied health insurance because of a preexisting condition,” he said.

During Trump’s presidency, congressional Republicans unsuccessfully tried to repeal Obamacare. In November, Trump said on social media that he wants to “replace” it.

“Obamacare Sucks!!!” he wrote.

The Latest Polling

Emerson College’s February survey found Trump leading Biden 46%-44%, while 10% of respondents were undecided. The president also had a 38% job approval rating.

Michigan’s independent voters were even more supportive of Trump, with a margin of 43% to 37%. Trump had a 12-point lead among male voters in the state, while Biden had a 5-point lead among women voters.

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