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What’s the Matter with Michigan?

Although Michigan — my home state — is one place where Barack Obama’s numbers have so far held up relatively well in the post-convention environment, it is also one with numerous potholes that he must navigate, as I outline in this new piece at the New Republic:

But Barack Obama has had trouble getting traction in the Wolverine State. Although nearly all polling since the Democrats resolved the state’s messy delegate situation in June has had him ahead, it has often been by uncomfortably small margins–just one point, for instance, in a Public Policy Polling survey released on Monday. For most of the election cycle, Michigan has polled no more than 1-3 points ahead of Obama’s national poll standing, placing it well within the range of a potential Republican takeover.

All of this comes in spite of a seemingly favorable environment for the Democrats. Michigan, its fortunes still tied to the struggling domestic auto industry, has the nation’s highest unemployment rate at 8.5 percent. Its population is 14 percent African-American, among the highest figures outside of the South. And it has two huge university towns in East Lansing and Ann Arbor, potential ground zeroes for youth voter enthusiasm. Why, then, have Obama’s numbers been sluggish in Michigan?

Here’s one reason; you’ll have to click on over to TNR for the others:

Race. Lastly, stemming back to the Detroit Riots of 1967, which triggered massive white flight into the city’s wealthy suburbs (Detroit, at 82 percent African-American, remains the country’s blackest major city), Michigan is not devoid of racial politics. Just one African American, former Secretary of State Richard H. Austin, has ever held statewide office in Michigan. And the area around Howell in Livingston County is a former Ku Klux Klan hotbed. The racial tensions aren’t as overt as they once were, but nevertheless, the de facto segregation between Detroit and the suburbs creates little interaction between the state’s black and white communities, and the combination of Kilpatrick and the difficult economic situation may evoke some latent prejudice.

Nate Silver is the founder and editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.


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