Swing state analysis: Top issues for Michigan voters in the 2024 presidential election

Understanding Michigan's role in the 2024 election involves recognizing its unique combination of unpredictable voting patterns, diverse population, and economic importance. These factors collectively make it a critical state that could play a key role in determining the outcome of the presidential race.

Michigan consistently supported Democratic presidential candidates from 1992 to 2012. However, the state surprised many by flipping to Donald Trump in the 2016 election, where he won by a margin of fewer than 11,000 votes. 

Michigan fast facts

  • Population: Approximately 10.03 million (2024 estimate)
  • Registered Democrats: Specific numbers not tracked; general registration data available here
  • Registered Republicans: Specific numbers not tracked; general registration data available here
  • Registered Voters: 8,321,444 as of June 5, 2024, according to the Michigan Voter Information Center
  • Governor: Gretchen Whitmer (D)
  • Electoral College Votes: 15 (out of 270 needed to win)

How Michigan voted in 2020

In the 2020 presidential election, Michigan played a crucial role in Joe Biden's victory. Biden won the state with 50.6% of the vote, compared to Donald Trump's 47.8%. This result marked a significant reclaim for the Democrats after Trump had narrowly won Michigan in 2016. 

Biden's win was powered by strong support in urban areas like Detroit and its suburbs, which have historically leaned Democratic. Additionally, increased voter turnout among Black voters and younger demographics contributed to Biden's success in the state. Michigan's 15 electoral votes were pivotal in the overall electoral landscape, reaffirming the state's importance as a battleground.

How Michigan voted in 2016

In the 2016 presidential election, Michigan was a major upset for the GOP. Donald Trump won the state with 47.5% of the vote, narrowly defeating Hillary Clinton, who received 47.3%. The margin of victory was fewer than 11,000 votes, making it one of the closest contests in the country. This victory marked the first time a Republican presidential candidate had carried Michigan since George H.W. Bush in 1988. 

Trump's success was largely attributed to strong support in rural areas and among white working-class voters, particularly in regions affected by economic decline and manufacturing job losses. The surprise win in Michigan and other Midwestern states was crucial to Trump's overall electoral college victory, breaking the so-called "blue wall" that had supported Democratic candidates for decades.

File: Strait of Mackinac Bridge in northern Michigan. (Photo by: Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Key issue in Michigan: The economy

Economically, Michigan's reliance on the auto industry makes the union vote particularly influential. Home to major manufacturers like General Motors, Ford, and Stellantis, the state's economy is deeply intertwined with labor interests. 

The health of the auto industry has a direct impact on employment rates and economic stability in Michigan, making it a critical issue for voters. Historically, Michigan has seen significant economic fluctuations tied to the fortunes of its manufacturing sector, particularly in cities like Detroit and Flint.

The state's economic challenges include deindustrialization, automation, and global competition, which have led to job losses and economic decline in certain regions. These issues make economic policy a top priority for Michigan voters.

Dave Dulio, professor of political science and director of the Center for Civic Engagement at Oakland University, highlighted the state's economic dynamics, explaining that in 2016, "Trump sort of really took the state through strong support from rural areas and white working-class voters."

Dulio also noted the impact of economic issues on voter perceptions, stating, "Unfortunately for the president, any president, right…they're held accountable for the state of the economy, and I think that, you know, that is in large part what is driving Biden's low job approval ratings across the country and here in Michigan."

What Biden has said

Biden's economic policies, known as "Bidenomics," aim to emphasize infrastructure investment, manufacturing revitalization, and support for unions. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act allocates billions to repairing roads, bridges, and public transit systems, which is crucial for Michigan's aging infrastructure. Biden has also worked tirelessly to promote electric vehicle (EV) production incentives, supporting Michigan's auto manufacturers like General Motors and Ford. His pro-union stance, advocates for higher wages and better working conditions, has been critical to winning over many working-class Michigan voters from Trump. 

What Trump has said

Trump's economic policies focused on tax cuts, deregulation, and trade protectionism. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 lowered corporate tax rates, which Trump argues stimulated investment and job creation. He has implemented tariffs on steel and aluminum to protect American manufacturing jobs, including those in Michigan's auto industry. Trump's message emphasized reviving traditional manufacturing jobs and economic nationalism, aiming to bring jobs back from overseas and support American workers.

Key issue in Michigan: Immigration

Immigration plays a crucial role in Michigan's political landscape. Despite being far from the southern border, Michigan—a border state with Canada—faces its own immigration concerns, according to Dulio.

Historically, Michigan has been a destination for immigrants, contributing to its cultural diversity and economic development. This is particularly evident in cities like Dearborn and Hamtramck, which have large Arab American populations. The state's demographic diversity includes significant communities of immigrants from the Middle East, Latin America, and Asia.

Dulio highlighted the important role immigration plays in Michigan's politics. He pointed out that the issue of immigration is deeply felt by many voters, partly due to local media stories about criminal activities linked to gangs from outside the U.S. 

"We've had instances where we've seen stories in the local media about gangs that have come across from Central and South America targeting wealthy neighborhoods," Dulio said, noting those news stories have heightened concerns about public safety among Michigan residents.

"The news stories nationally that show the images of folks coming across the southern border, I think they have an impact... and they matter in Michigan," he continued, highlighting the pervasive influence of national immigration rhetoric on local voter sentiments.

What Biden has said

Biden continues to advocate for comprehensive immigration reform, including a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and support for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. His administration focuses on reuniting families separated at the border and improving the asylum process, emphasizing the positive impact of immigration on the economy and public safety.

What Trump has said

Trump has intensified his rhetoric on border security, accusing Biden of causing chaos at the border and promising to launch the largest domestic deportation operation if re-elected. He continues to push for the construction of a border wall and strict enforcement policies, portraying migrants as threats to national security and economic stability. Trump's use of inflammatory language and his focus on reducing public benefits for immigrants highlight his hardline stance on immigration.

Key issue in Michigan: International relations

International relations are a significant issue for Michigan voters, particularly given the state's substantial Arab American population. Biden's administration has faced backlash over its handling of the Israel-Hamas conflict, impacting support among Arab American voters.

"The Biden campaign knows that they have a problem with the Arab American community... directly related to the hostilities in Gaza and the war between Hamas and Israel," Dulio explained.

Biden's handling of the Gaza situation has led to a significant number of uncommitted votes among Michigan's Arab American population, a key demographic in the state. His administration's vocal support for Israel during the conflict has sparked backlash and dissatisfaction within these communities.

According to Dulio, the "uncommitted" votes from the primary remain a significant factor this fall because many voters are still undecided, which could sway the election outcome. 

"In a state like Michigan where the outcome is going to be close, they all matter a great deal... small shifts in a handful of different areas or a handful of different communities can add up pretty quickly to 150,000 votes," he explained. 

What Biden has said

Biden has focused on rebuilding alliances and re-engaging with international organizations like NATO and the United Nations. Biden's administration has met with Arab American and Muslim leaders in Michigan to address their concerns and mend ties with this crucial voting community.

What Trump has said

Trump's foreign policy was centered on the "America First" doctrine, prioritizing American interests and reducing involvement in international conflicts. He renegotiated trade deals, such as the USMCA (United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement), which he argued were more favorable to American workers and industries. Trump's focus on unilateral action and his contentious relationship with traditional allies marked a significant shift from previous administrations.

The lesser of two evils

The narrative of choosing between the lesser of two evils has become increasingly pronounced among Michigan voters. Many feel disillusioned with both major party candidates, impacting voter turnout and election dynamics.

Dulio highlighted this sentiment: "Donald Trump and Joe Biden are both incredibly flawed candidates. Incredibly flawed. Large percentages of the electorate do not want either of them to be running." 

This widespread dissatisfaction could lead to lower voter turnout or increased support for third-party candidates, adding another layer of uncertainty to the election outcome.

What Biden has said

Biden has aimed to address various issues such as healthcare, economic relief, and infrastructure to appeal to a broader electorate. However, his age and handling of international conflicts have raised concerns among voters looking for more dynamic leadership.

What Trump has said

Trump continues to leverage his base's loyalty by emphasizing his outsider status and strong stance on issues like immigration and economic nationalism. However, his legal troubles and controversial actions alienate independent and moderate voters.

What else the experts say about Michigan

At the end of the day, Dulio sees Michigan as a pragmatic state. 

He notes, "most people here are just looking for a better way of life despite the diversity in issues and the electorate." 

"They want reasonable prices at the grocery store, a good quality education for their kids, and to be able to retire without worry," he said. "In a state where the outcome is going to be close, every vote truly matters."

2024 swing states: Read more

The Associated Press contributed to this story. It was reported from Los Angeles.