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What Is The Matter With Michigan?

Nate Silver has an interesting piece out taking a look at why it is that Barack Obama is having trouble securing a firm lead in Michigan, a state Democrats have dominated in recent elections, and a place where the current economic downturn is hitting especially hard. Inevitably, the piece is titled “What’s the Matter with Michigan?” He makes some good points, but one ought to consider flipping the the question around — why is Obama doing so well in Michigan?

Back in 2000, Al Gore and his campaign convinced themselves that the smart play was to avoid any discussion of climate change, even though this was Gore’s long-time passion, precisely because they were afraid of losing Michigan. Well eight years later, Barack Obama has outlined a very aggressive climate and energy policy, while John McCain’s veered left and right and left and right again according to circumstance, making it seem like he’s not going to put any real muscle behind anything. Progressives have done a ton of work to try to formulate green policies that are as friendly as possible to industrial areas like Michigan (see CAP’s green recovery report), but you could certainly imagine a Michigander figuring he’d just as well go for the “drill here, drill now” guy and kind of vaguely hope that gas prices fall sometime soon. Ultimately, I think that kind of thinking is myopic, even in purely economic terms (again, see the green recovery report) but it’s hardly baffling or incomprehensible.

All of which highlights a neglected aspect of economic voting. You hear a lot about slicing the electorate up according to income, but relatively little about slicing it up according to what people actually do. But the sector-wide effects of policy shifts can be dramatic. Defense buildups are great for defense contractors. A serious cap-and-trade program would be terrible for the coal industry. The strictly self-interested voter would pay a lot of attention to this kind of issue.

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