Susan J. Demas
A survey of Michigan voters conducted ahead of next week’s Democratic presidential primary debates in Detroit shows that despite a rancorous media climate, the state isn’t as closely split as one might think on key political issues.
The poll found that Michiganders think immigration is good for the state’s economy by a margin of almost 40 points, that they think climate change threatens the Great Lakes by almost 35 points, and that they agree by more than 20 points that people of color aren’t treated fairly by the criminal justice system.
Veteran pollster Richard Czuba of the Glengariff Group conducted the survey on behalf of the Detroit Chamber of Commerce.
The one issue where voters were closely split was health care, in which a statistically even number of those polled either support or oppose the repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), one of former President Barack Obama’s signature achievements. The President Donald Trump administration is backing a federal suit that would toss out the entire law.
There was, however, a clear majority opposed to the elimination of private insurance under the progressive-backed “Medicare for All” government health plan, with 51% opposing and 36% supporting it.
The Detroit Chamber’s president and CEO Sandy Baruah said he was pleasantly surprised to see that the results of the poll were in line with his group’s centrist political orientation.
“There’s a greater degree of consensus on some of these hot-button issues than you would normally think if all we did was watch cable news all day,” Baruah told reporters Thursday morning. “We were very pleased to see a higher level of consensus on some of these key issues, and it certainly surprised us.”
Michigan is expected to be a key swing state in the 2020 presidential election, as it was in 2016.In 2018, two Democrats flipped traditionally Republican-leaning congressional districts and Democrats swept all statewide offices, including the governorship with Gretchen Whitmer.
Even ahead of this week’s national NAACP convention presidential forum and next week’s debates, most major Democratic presidential contenders have visited the state in an attempt to show that they can rebuild the “blue wall” of Upper Midwest states that enabled Trump to win the presidency.
The survey was conducted from July 17 to July 20, with a 4-point margin of error. Three-fifths of the respondents were contacted by landline, while two-fifths were contacted by cell phone.
On immigration, Czuba found that although voters overwhelmingly think the phenomenon is good for the economy, they’re heavily in favor of increased border security, with one crucial caveat — the poll found that 81% of Michigan voters “support increased federal funding for enhanced security at the border, airports, and ports of entry if it does not include funding for a wall between Mexico and the U.S.”
The poll found that Michiganders oppose “the wall” by roughly 18 points, with support for it being heavily driven by respondents who said their primary source of news was the Fox News cable network.
The power of Fox News
That brings into focus what Czuba said was a sharp distinction between the two parties, with intra-party differences of opinion being driven on the Democratic side by age, and on the Republican side by viewership of Fox News.
“Fox News is driving the edge of the Republican Party, where on the Democratic side it’s more younger voters that drive the party’s edge,” Czuba said, citing for the latter the example of Medicare for All, which he said that “independents are not there. … But more importantly, older voters are not there, and they are by far the most important voters in the system.”
Czuba also polled voters on several Michigan-specific questions, including the importance of fixing the Soo Locks in Sault Ste. Marie, which 78% of respondents said was “urgent or very important.” Voters also were asked about the effect of tariffs on the state’s automotive industry, which voters said were harmful by an 8-point margin.
On education, the poll found that 56% of voters support “taxpayer-funded, ‘free’ college tuition,” and that respondents believe by a 9-point margin that people of color are unfairly deprived of access to quality education.
Czuba said that of all the racial disparities in polling, perhaps the most stark was with regard to the belief that respondents had access to clean water. Overall, 79% said that they believe they have access to clean water. But among Black voters, only 55% said the same, with 43% saying they believe they do not.
Voters also were asked a series of broader and open-ended questions, including whether they think the nation is “on the wrong track,” which they agreed with by roughly 10 points. Respondents said, however, that they believe the economy is on the right track by a 62 to 28% margin, a figure that Czuba said included a significant gender imbalance.
Czuba said there was a 21-point difference between women and men on whether they believed the economy is on the right track — matching almost exactly what he said is a 22-point swing among women in Michigan toward the Democratic Party in the Trump era.
“Women across the state, particularly in the metro Detroit area, are sharply moving to the Democratic column, and we saw that in the results in the 2018 election,” Czuba said. “In 2016, it was much closer to a 10- to 12-point difference and we’ve seen that really accelerate. … What we’re watching now is to see if there’s any moderation, and thus far we haven’t seen it. But we still have a whole campaign to go.”
When voters were asked what they think is the single most important issue facing the country, the top two responses were “border security/immigration” and “President Donald Trump” at 18 and 17%, respectively, breaking down largely along party lines.
Czuba said this was “probably the first time I’ve seen in a survey where an individual jumps up as one of the top issues in the nation.”
Overall, the Detroit Chamber’s Baruah said he hoped the poll’s results would get politicians to focus on the “interests of the broad center, and not to speak to fringes of their individual bases.
“The more data out there like this that’s public, as opposed to internal polling, will hopefully make candidates in both parties think twice [about catering to their party’s ideological fringe],” Baruah said. “We would all like to live in a world where political leaders are leading as opposed to following.”
Baruah told reporters that neither he nor the Detroit Chamber would endorse in the presidential race, but that he did attend a fundraiser for Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden Wednesday evening at the home of his friend Dennis Archer Jr., and “was happy to go.”
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