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Supporters debate whether to vote


LANSING, Mich. — The Rev. Steve Bland Jr. remembers the massive get-out-the-vote effort he helped mobilize four years ago, when pastors and community leaders fanned out into Detroit neighborhoods, making phone calls and working around the clock to encourage them. people to vote.

He’s not seeing as much enthusiasm this time.

Madeleine Byrne, 25, of Bloomfield Hills in Oakland County, a wealthy suburban area that played a major role in Michigan’s swing toward Democrats in recent years, said she liked how former President Donald Trump “put America first,” but she had her doubts. About supporting him in 2024.

“I think it causes unnecessary fights,” he said.

A cloud of apathy has hung over voters in Michigan, a state where both major parties say they must win the White House in 2024. Even though key races for the U.S. Senate and Congress are also on the ballot, genuine enthusiasm is hard to find. The state’s voters are set to cast ballots in their own primary on Tuesday, but the looming possibility is that they will face the same choices for president in November that they considered four years ago.

That means the biggest task for candidates may be to encourage Michigan voters to care.

“A quarter of the people I talk to aren’t sure if they’re going to vote,” said Lori Goldman, who founded a group called “Women for Dems” for four years to help increase voter turnout for Biden in Oakland County. before. “A lot of people say, ‘I don’t vote.’ I’m not doing this.’”

More than 1 million people have cast their advance ballots, taking advantage of new voting laws that allow nine days of early, in-person voting, Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said Monday. A total of 2.3 million people (30% of registered voters) participated in the 2020 primaries.

Early vote totals may also include some “uncommitted” votes from Democrats unhappy with Biden’s support for Israel in response to Hamas’ Oct. 7 attacks. Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib urged voters to mark their ballots that way on Tuesday to send a message to Biden and other Democrats.

Among Republicans, Trump’s rallies attract enthusiastic crowds and he has so far scored decisive victories in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina and the U.S. Virgin Islands. But it remains unclear whether his support extends beyond the true believers who help him maintain his grip on the GOP. Polls by AP VoteCast have shown that some Republicans, especially college-educated and moderate voters, have doubts about the former president.

For voters like Byrne in politically competitive districts like Oakland County, that uneasiness sometimes takes the form of Trump fatigue. When asked how he feels about the upcoming election in this year’s presidential contest, Byrne grimaces.

“I was honestly wondering if I wanted to vote or not.”

“We Americans have this great privilege, and as a woman I realize we’ve only had it for 100 years,” she said. “But given the circumstances we’re in and the options we have, I think it’s actually hard to make a choice. “I wonder if I can do that, too.”

Voter turnout in 2020 increased by 14% compared to the previous election, eclipsing the record for the highest number of votes cast in Michigan in 2008. This trend continued into 2022, when the state recorded its highest midterm election turnout ever.

Young Michigan voters have increased in recent years. In 2022, Michigan had the highest youth voter turnout rate nationwide at 36.5%, exceeding the estimated national youth turnout of 23% by 13 percentage points, according to CIRCLE, Tufts University’s Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement.

But the excitement that caused hour-long lines on college campuses in Michigan appears to be over.

“You hear people say that maybe they’re going to opt out of the election or they don’t know who to vote for,” said Vrunda Patel, a junior at the University of Michigan.

Patel and University of Michigan Democrats met with California Rep. Sara Jacobs, part of a wave of Biden surrogates sent to drum up excitement, at a cafe in Ann Arbor to strategize for the upcoming election. The discussion mainly revolved around motivating college students to vote, with one student bluntly stating: “No one I’ve talked to is excited about voting for Joe Biden in this election.”

Jacobs assured.

“There is very little left until the election,” he said. “That’s how bad Obama’s poll numbers were in the 2012 Obama campaign. People weren’t that excited. “This is normal progress in getting re-elected.”

Several students mentioned the idea of ​​“uncommitted” votes in the Tuesday primary. Double digit numbers could cause trouble for Biden in the general elections.

“I would rather the president hear how people are feeling now than in October,” said Democratic Rep. Debbie Dingell, who spoke to the president about the challenges in Michigan.

Biden’s campaign is acutely aware of the enthusiasm problem. Several top lawmakers, including Vice President Kamala Harris and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, trekked to Michigan this month. Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, one of the co-chairs of her re-election campaign, is already holding get-out-the-vote events.

Whitmer, who won re-election in 2022 by nearly 11 percentage points, has publicly and privately pushed the president to pivot to efforts to defend abortion rights. His own campaign benefited directly from a voter-driven ballot measure that would enshrine abortion rights in the state constitution.

Trump seems to have the luxury of looking ahead to November. His supporters lined up nearly a mile to hear him speak at an event in Oakland County this month, and the rules of the GOP primary have shifted heavily in his favor.

“If we win Michigan, we win the election,” Trump told the enthusiastic crowd.

But Trump’s loyal core has not translated into victory in recent years. After winning the state by just 11,000 votes in 2016, he lost it by nearly 154,000 votes four years later. In the 2022 midterm elections, all three of the statewide Republican candidates he supported were trounced by Democratic incumbents.

The Republican Party in Michigan may not be much help in the fall. Pro-Trump groups now claim they will lead the state party ahead of the presidential nominating convention on March 2, when 39 of the state’s 55 delegates will be awarded.

Trump, meanwhile, is trying to broaden his appeal to voters disappointed with Biden and the Democrats. His campaign points to Biden’s decline in poll numbers with Black adults and what he describes as advantages on issues such as immigration and the economy. Biden traveled to Michigan last year to take autoworkers to court, although the United Auto Workers Union has recently endorsed Biden.

The AP’s latest poll showed more U.S. adults feeling slightly better about the economy, but so far those numbers haven’t translated into higher approval ratings for the president. If this disconnect continues, it could pose a problem in places like Michigan.

Detroit’s population is about 78% black, and the city has long been a Democratic stronghold. That situation is unlikely to change, but frustration is still growing among Black voters there. Few people expect to see the long lines of people waiting patiently to vote for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, or even for former vice president Biden four years ago.

The current lack of excitement will not prevent Rev. Bland from once again working with pastors in Detroit to promote voting. Bland stood out in 2020 for stating that the Black community had moved from “picking cotton to picking presidents,” and she remains steadfast in her commitment to repeat that success.

“When information is scarce, apathy is always high,” he said. “So if we inform people and spend time talking, informing them about what’s at stake, then I think that’s what’s going to bring the energy.”

Associated Press writers Corey Williams and Tom Beaumont contributed to this report.


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