Note – The numbers for 2012 from the Michigan Secretary of State’s website are unofficial, though they are more complete than the AP’s results and will likely see few changes in the near future.
In 2010, there was no better indicator that the national red tide was going to hit Michigan hard than the monster Republican turnout in their party's gubernatorial primary. Nearly 519,562 more people voted in the Republican primary that year, and the total vote cast was nearly twice that on the Democratic side. Though some of this could be attributed to the fact that the Democratic nomination was seen by many as a suicide mission, nonetheless it was a harbinger of how lopsided turnout would be in November that year.
So were Republicans able to match this this year for their Senate primary? Though Republican turnout was greater than the Democrats’ (not surprising since incumbent Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow was unopposed), the margin was cut by more than half, falling to 210,435.
Despite Stabenow not facing any opposition as mentioned above, 554,951 people still opted to vote in the Democratic primary, 26,129 more than who voted in the 2010 Democratic gubernatorial primary and more than any individual candidate on the Republican side received. Indeed, in 18 counties more people voted in the uncontested Democratic primary than the competitive Republican one:
While much of this can be explained by the fact that many other races were taking place that were not on the ballot in 2010, such as county and township offices, it is nonetheless a huge swing from that year, when only four counties saw a Democratic majority in the primaries:
And at the same time Democratic turnout increased, 282,998 less people voted in the Republican primary and total turnout was down overall by 256,869. This change is especially notable when seen by county:
The increase in Democratic turnout was most impressive in the Western Upper Peninsula, the Metro Detroit area, the Central-Northwest area around Manistee and Traverse City and in the working class farming areas around Bay City:
Indeed, the Democratic surge in turnout in these areas is especially impressive if seen in conjunction with the Republican primary (first map is the Republican primary alone, second is the Republican candidates along with Stabenow):
Though these primary elections are an imperfect barometer of what will happen in November, there are two conclusions one can draw from yesterday’s elections:
Democratic losses in the Upper Peninsula from 2010 are not irreversible. One of the most crushing blows of 2010 was not necessarily Republicans picking up the 1st Congressional District (i.e. Bart Stupak’s seat), which has historically been very swingy, but Republicans picking up all but one of the region’s state house seats and all of the region’s state senate seats. But whether Democratic turnout in this year’s primaries was driven by local races, where most offices are still held by Democrats, or by Republican reversals since 2010 is not important. It’s clear that voters in the Western U.P., regardless of how they vote overall in the November election, have not given up on their traditional political affiliations yet.
Republicans in Metro Detroit could’ve care less about their Senate candidates. While Pete Hoekstra, who flopped in Eastern Michigan in 2010, did win Oakland and Macomb counties, he did so with an unimpressive 53 and 51 percent, and Republican turnout overall declined:
Furthermore, his worst county also happened to be the state’s most populous, Wayne, where he received only 32% of the vote and, if the unofficial results hold up, he lost to a guy who dropped out of the race several weeks ago.
And while there’s no chance that a Durant, Glenn or Hekman voter is going to vote for Stabenow, the fact is that Metro Detroit has been Hoekstra’s worst area both times he has run statewide and that there’s a difference between an Eastern Michigan Republican being willing to vote for a Western Michigan Republican and being excited to do so. The fact that this is a presidential election year and that he has closed weak in both his statewide primaries should give any Republicans who see this race as a first-class pickup opportunity pause.