Why didn’t Detroit deliver for Clinton?

Ken Coleman

Downtown Detroit was one of several places this week where post-election anti-Trump rallies were held.

As I watched them, I wondered whether those demonstrators voted on Tuesday? Did they vote four years ago?

Consider this: Hillary Clinton, the Democratic Party nominee for U.S. President, earned 47,840 fewer votes from Detroit residents than President Barack Obama did only four years ago. That’s critical considering Republican Party nominee Donald Trump’s razor-thin margin of victory in Michigan — a sum less than two votes per precinct in the Motor City proper.

Detroit has fewer residents today than it did in 2012. And the city’s total registered voter count doesn’t accurately reflect the actual number of people who currently live here. Nonetheless, the reality is that suburban residents were more motivated than we were to vote — and we had as much, or more to lose.

Exhibit A: Oakland County’s voter turnout was 71.99 percent shy of its all-time record of 72.5 percent in 2008; similarly, Macomb County’s 67.3 percent was higher than its 66.1 percent turnout total in 2012.

In Detroit, Clinton scored an impressive 73 percent of the action against challenger Bernie Sanders in the state primary contest. You’ll recall that Sanders won the statewide nod, so you can’t argue that city residents weren’t feeling Clinton, who was featured speaker during the Detroit branch NAACP annual fundraiser in April.

President Obama seemed to sense that African-American voter turnout could be less than what it was in 2008, his historic first election, and his 2012 re-election, a landmark year when nationally blacks voted in a higher percentage than whites.

In September during the Congressional Black Caucus gala in Washington, D.C, Obama declared with vigor:

“I will consider it a personal insult, an insult to my legacy, if this community lets down its guard and fails to activate itself in this election. You want to give me a good send-off, go vote.”

But Detroit squandered an opportunity to score a Michigan win for Hillary Clinton. She, of course, would have needed a few more states but it would have certainly helped her chances. For a town where one-third of its residents live under the poverty line, the Obama-shouldered Affordable Care Act, more liberal immigration policies, and additional federal funding for housing demolition and Head Start and CHIP programs certainly would have been helpful.

Former Detroit Mayor Coleman Young said once: “When the nation sneezes, Detroit gets pneumonia.” After Trump’s stunning win — and more to the point — Detroit’s sub-par voting performance, I’m all of a sudden feeling my body temperature race toward triple digits, my muscles ache, and my skin break out in a cold sweat.

My hope is that those downtown Detroit post-election protestors dutifully stood in line on Tuesday morning like I did and demonstrated with the cast of a ballot, though I’ll never know. What we do know, however, is that Detroit would have been better off with Hillary Clinton as president.

Ken Coleman is an author and historian who writes frequently about black life in Detroit.