Finley: GOP doesn't surge; Dem turnout key

Nolan Finley
The Detroit News

Here's something to think about when trying to predict whether Michigan will see a blue wave on Nov. 6 or a red one:

Republicans in this state historically don't surge.

GOP voter turnout has been mostly level over the past couple of decades. About the same number of voters cast ballots for Republicans in every election cycle, regardless of the candidates.

Finley writes: "GOP voter turnout has been mostly level over the past couple of decades."

Whether Republicans win or lose depends on Democratic turnout, which varies wildly. Here are the numbers:

In 2002, former Lt. Gov. Dick Posthumus, whose daughter is running for the same post on the Republican ticket this year, drew 1.5 million votes in his bid to succeed Gov. John Engler. He lost narrowly to Jennifer Granholm, who received 1.6 million votes.

Four years later, GOP challenger Dick DeVos picked up 1.6 million votes, but lost as Granholm's support swelled to 2.14 million ballots.

In 2010, Rick Snyder significantly bettered the performance of Posthumus and DeVos by gaining 1.87 million votes, besting Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero's meager 1.3 million total. 

But when he ran for re-election in 2014, Snyder fell slightly below DeVos' losing 2006 tally, and yet beat former congressman Mark Schauer, who badly underperformed Granholm, garnering just 1.48 million votes.

Presidential contests have played out similarly. 

Democrat Barack Obama attracted 2.9 million Michigan votes in 2008 and 2.56 million in 2012, besting John McCain (2 million) and Mitt Romney (2.1 million) respectively.

Donald Trump won Michigan in 2016, though he drew only slightly more votes than Romney — 2.28 million. 

The difference was the lackluster showing of Hillary Clinton, who won fewer Michigan votes (2.26 million) than any Democratic presidential candidate since Al Gore in 2000.

Contrary to the election night narrative, disenfranchised voters didn't pour out of their homes to elect Trump in 2016. Rather, they gave him about the same support a Republican presidential candidate can typically expect in Michigan. 

Michigan in recent times has not seen a red wave. Republicans operate within a narrow bandwidth of between roughly 1.5 million and 1.8 million votes in gubernatorial races, and 2 million to 2.3 million in presidential contests.

The range is much broader for Democrats, bottoming out at 1.1 million (Geoffrey Fieger in 1998) and swelling to 2.1 million in gubernatorial elections, and 2.1 million to nearly 3 million in presidential face-offs. 

Bottom line: Republicans rarely control their own fate. In trying to whip GOP voter turnout to counter a blue wave, they have a lot less to work with.

What does that mean this year? Early signs are that voter turnout will be  huge, possibly a record 4 million, topping the previous high of 3.8 million set in 2006 — the year Granholm won handily.

Democrats are boasting of increased voter registrations, and their backers showed up strong in the August primary. Early absentee ballot returns are up among traditional Democratic voter groups.

Republicans say their voters are also motivated and will be there on Election Day.

But if both parties hit the highs of their voter turnout range, the win goes to Democrats. Their upside potential is much greater. 

If you're looking for an early sign of how the vote will go on Nov. 6, check the lines in precincts Democrats normally dominate. If they're long, the GOP is probably toast, unless they can buck their own history.

Catch “The Nolan Finley Show” weekdays 7-9 a.m. on 910 AM Superstation.