A month ago, the presidential race in Michigan was over: Hillary Clinton had an 11-point lead over Donald Trump, fueled by a 20-point margin among women, a 30-point lead in metro Detroit and history — no Republican has won the state since 1988 — on her side.
Only the election didn’t happen a month ago.
Heading into Tuesday’s balloting, Michiganders — and the nation — are facing a far more uncertain outcome than it appeared just four or five weeks ago. Trump, the Republican businessman, casino developer and reality TV star, has again proven his detractors wrong and coalesced many of his critics behind him. In battleground state after battleground state, including Michigan, he has cut into or surpassed Clinton’s once seemingly unbreakable lead.
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In Michigan, that 11-point lead for the former first lady, U.S. senator and secretary of state had collapsed to 4 percentage points in the latest Free Press poll. That’s at the edge of the poll’s margin of error, meaning that whatever lead she has, it’s not a sure one. Her lead among women is down to 11 points. That 30-point lead in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties? Cut in half.
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The momentum — here and across the nation — is Trump’s. But can he win?
With that question in mind, here’s a look at some factors to consider, in Michigan and elsewhere, as we head toward the conclusion of the 2016 presidential campaign, and some things to keep an eye on as the results begin to pour in Tuesday night:
DOES TRUMP WIN MICHIGAN?
This isn’t only a parochial question, nor is it a given as it has been in years past. If Trump is able to win the state, it will break the Democratic firewall Clinton is counting on. But bear this in mind: Clinton still leads Trump 42%-38% here. And while the race has narrowed at times in past months, he has never taken a clear lead in Michigan. Key demographics — especially women — are clearly in Clinton's corner, while groups that would typically support the Republican appear — for now — less certain.
WHAT’S GOOD FOR TRUMP?
In order for Trump to win Michigan, he’s counting on Democratic turnout being depressed, especially among black voters in Detroit. It has been that overwhelmingly Democratic vote in years past that has swamped Republican strengths elsewhere in the state. It’s probably worth noting, however, that black voters made up 11% of the total in the latest Free Press poll, well below the 16% that voted in 2012, according to exit polls. And Clinton was still ahead.
WHAT’S GOOD FOR CLINTON?
Obviously, the higher the turnout is in Detroit, the better for her. But she’s also counting on widespread support across Wayne and Oakland counties — the only two counties in the state with a population of at least 1 million. Polls continue to show her leading in Oakland County, but not by the larger margin she once did. In the meantime, Clinton needs to maximize Democratic turnout in Macomb County, which turned out in 2008 and 2012 for President Barack Obama, but appears to be lagging this year. Polls show Clinton behind Trump 47%-31% in Macomb, a range that — if it’s not addressed and turnout is off in Detroit — could be decisive.
WHAT IS THE X FACTOR ON TUESDAY?
Just how much voters are turned off by two nominees they simply do not like. In the most recent Free Press poll, 61% gave Trump an unfavorable rating and 55% did the same for Clinton. That is not a recipe for a motivated electorate eager to cast its ballot. Thirteen percent remained undecided — a huge number this late in the game — and many of those, despite describing themselves as likely voters, could well sit this one out. If negative perceptions of both candidates keep people at home, it’s anyone’s guess how the election could turn out.
SO WHY THE MOVE TOWARD TRUMP?
It's not a drop in support for Clinton — if anything, her numbers have edged up. Instead, it's Republicans who previously may have had their doubts about Trump and voiced support for Libertarian Gary Johnson but are now coming home to their party as expected. It's worth noting that where Trump held only a 3-point lead in heavily Republican west Michigan a couple of weeks ago, that lead is now 12 points.
WHO HAS THE UPPER HAND HERE?
Clinton. Clearly she’s not a shoo-in. But the Democrats have the infrastructure to turn out voters and win in Michigan — something they’ve done repeatedly in races far less competitive than this one. Presumably, they can do it again, with help from labor unions, black ministers in Detroit and other friends. She also has lots of money to spend if necessary. Given that support for Trump among institutional Republicans has been tepid at best, if he wins now it will be in spite of them.
WHO IS TRUMP WINNING WITH?
Well, men, by a 4-point margin; and barely, by two points, outside of metro Detroit. Those are numbers that are far from indicative of a wave of support for him, however. He’s also winning among whites — 43%-35% — but that’s no surprise. If anything, it may be a bit low. Exit polls four years ago showed Republican nominee Mitt Romney winning among white voters 55%-44%. And there was a very large — 14% — undecided bloc among white voters in the recent poll. And the poll showed Clinton doing almost as well among blacks at 92% as Obama did four years ago. So, again, it will depend on who shows up in the greater numbers on Tuesday.
WILL MICHIGAN DECIDE WHO WINS?
It might. Fivethirtyeight.com, which analyzes polling data, gives Michigan a 10% chance of being the “tipping point” state that decides the election for one side or the other, behind only Florida, North Carolina and Pennsylvania. In fact, that may be a good way to keep track of who’s winning and who’s losing as returns come in Tuesday: Whoever wins a majority of those states — Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Michigan — has a pretty good chance of taking the night. (Keep an eye on New Hampshire and Nevada, too). As things stand, Clinton just has to hold onto the states where she currently has leads as projected by fivethirtyeight.com to win. Lose Pennsylvania or Michigan — two industrial states where Trump has always hoped to break through — and that potentially changes.
ONE OTHER THING, THOUGH:
There is a scenario where Clinton wins Michigan and Pennsylvania, and Trump takes Nevada, Florida, North Carolina and New Hampshire — all states where there are at least some polls that have shown him ahead — and it could lead to a 269-269 split in the Electoral College, which would likely throw the final decision to the U.S. House to determine the outcome. And regardless of what happens in the presidential race Tuesday, the House is almost certain to remain with a Republican majority.
Contact Todd Spangler: 703-854-8947 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @tsspangler.