The prodigal son has returned to Michigan having weathered brutal economic conditions, general disappointment with his performance and what had appeared to be an insurmountable enthusiasm gap. No, I’m not talking about Mitt Romney (although he is the native son), but President Barack Obama.
A new poll released Wednesday has the president holding a double-digit lead over his Republican challenger, with 47% of likely voters supporting Obama, 37% backing Romney, and 16% undecided.
Yes, much like the biblical parable, it seems as though Michigan voters have forgiven Obama for the tepid recovery over the past four years and are finally coming around to his message of unity. But what could have accounted for such a strong turnaround in what was once a contentious battle ground state?
National demographic polling holds some answers (Obama is leading Romney in women voters by almost 20% and commands strong enthusiasm among his base) but the real jump came from the universally praised Democratic National Convention and its focus on the auto industry bailout.
Obama’s largest advantage is his management of the government-assisted bailouts of GM and Chrysler, actions that were drilled into the minds of voters relentlessly throughout the convention by many high profile speakers. Since the bailout, both auto-manufacturers have returned to profitability and have created an estimated 1 million jobs nationwide.
Obviously these events occurred long before the 2012 election got underway, but the strong DNC that highlighted the auto-industry bailout brought the issue into the light for many voters. Not to mention Joe Biden, the all-American working-class surrogate, stopping by the state every now and then and settling down for a Michigan microbrew, or two, or three.
The President’s handling of the bailout stands in stark contrast to Governor Romney’s political rhetoric; a rhetoric that has made many Michiganders pretty uncomfortable about a Romney presidency.
Romney has argued against the bailouts since 2009, when he published an op-ed entitled “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt” (could he have chosen a worse name?). Auto manufacturing has always played a critical role in both the economy and culture of Michigan, and still holds a place in the hearts of many voters.
Romney’s complete rejection of this sentiment during the crisis and well into the 2012 election season has alienated voters who are now back to work, satisfied with the economic recovery and still heavily tied to the history and culture of the Michigan auto industry.
But blue-collar workers only make up a small part of the electorate. On the other side you have the millennial generation who, while unsatisfied with President Obama in many ways, supported the auto bailout from a very different perspective.
A key compromise on the part of auto-manufacturers in 2009 was a mandate for increased in fuel efficiency for all vehicles. Because of this policy, new car gas mileage will double by 2025 to 54.5 mpg. The new standards will by some reports cut carbon dioxide emissions by half and reduce independence on foreign countries for oil.
Millennial voters care about the economy, but they also have an implicit understanding of the need to address climate change and achieve energy independence in this country. The Republican campaign can keep the focus on jobs, but despite being the key issue in this election (rightfully so) there are also many other considerations that young, educated voters take into account.
Romney’s disapproval of the auto bailout not only alienates the middle-class voters that he is seeking to appeal from, but also energizes Obama’s base of young voters in favor of clean energy.
The one-two punch of losing the working class voter base and ticking up enthusiasm amongst millennial voters places Michigan firmly in the hands of Obama; perhaps that why the Romney campaign and his super pack of Super PACS chose not to advertise in the state.
So yes, Mitt Romney is the native son born and raised in the state, but Obama is the prodigal son returning from the depths of political hardship to the warm embrace of the Michigan electorate. It seems that the president may have just won the hearts of Michigan voters for another four years.