Power-Building Strategy: Flip the Michigan legislature blue.
Michigan was a top state legislative target for Democrats in 2020, and pre-election polling showed Democrats in a position to win the four seats they needed for the majority. On Election Night, Democrats were disappointed to see no net gain in the state, flipping two seats but losing two seats.
Republicans have long been in control of the state legislature; they’ve held the State Senate since at least the early 1990s and have been in control of the State House since the 2010 red wave. The 2018 blue wave, driven by gains among college-educated voters, got Democrats closer to majorities in both chambers. Democrats flipped five seats in the State Senate and netted five seats in the State House. But the 2020 results show the limits of this new, Democratic coalition.
Heading into the 2020 election, EveryDistrict identified 12 potential flip opportunities in Michigan and invested in strong candidates running in five of those districts. Three districts were majority college-educated, and two of those districts flipped blue. The two districts that Democrats lost were ancestrally Democratic districts with large non-college white populations, over 60% for both.
In the Senate section of the 2040 Project, we highlight how non-college white voters are a larger share of the electorate in battleground states than the national population. One of the reasons we predict that Democrats will struggle to win future Senate majorities is because of the shifting voting preferences of non-college white voters in states like Michigan. Non-college white voters need to be a central part of the Democratic coalition; a large Senate majority is not possible without them.
The same is true at the state legislative level, which we discuss in the Purple States section — Democrats cannot win legislative majorities in battleground states without non-college white voters. Figuring out why those voters have drifted away from the Democratic coalition, and the right message to bring them back into the fold, is crucial to future Democratic success at all levels of the ballot.
With Governor Gretchen Whitmer up for re-election and both chambers of the legislature on the ballot, Michigan will be a battleground in 2022. Though the GOP controls both chambers of the legislature, we can be optimistic about Michigan’s redistricting prospects because a ballot initiative passed in 2018 created a nonpartisan commission to draw new lines.
A fairer map will help to increase Democratic prospects in the state, but we can’t rely on that alone in a year when we should expect to see a swing away from Democrats. EveryDistrict will be back in Michigan in 2022 to help Democrats win the majority, and this time, we’ll bring new insights from our work in Virginia this year about how legislative campaigns can better message and engage the voters who will be key to unlocking that legislative majority.
How you can advance a 50-state strategy in Michigan:
- Democrats need to invest in continued messaging, polling, and organizing targeted in districts where we have seen continued growth and where we need to build back. Beginning in Virginia in 2021 and expanding to other battleground states in 2022, EveryDistrict’s Win Number program will do exactly that by deploying the latest in election science to identify how we can win more conservative college-educated voters, rebuild with non-college white voters, and develop a message that resonates with rural voters.
- In 2022, EveryDistrict will put that strategy into action in Michigan and make early contributions to candidates to ensure they have the budget they need to effectively reach out and engage voters in their districts.