By Jim Ellis
March 21, 2019 — Earlier this week, Emerson College Polling released a survey of Wisconsin Democrats that found Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) leading former Vice President Joe Biden, 39-24 percent, but an even newer Emerson offering detects that the tables have already turned.
According to the latest Emerson Michigan poll (March 7-10; 743 registered Michigan voters; 317 likely Michigan Democratic presidential primary voters), it is Biden who is claiming 40 percent support within the Democratic sample, while Sen. Sanders pulls 23 percent. As is the case with the Wisconsin poll, California Sen. Kamala Harris is third, well back with 12 percent, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) follows with 11 percent. All others fall into low single digits. New entry Beto O’Rourke was not included on the survey questionnaire.
The results are not surprising. Biden has long been a favorite of the private sector unions, which are a strong force in Michigan politics. Additionally, President Obama, with Biden on the ticket, ran strongly here. In 2012, he defeated Mitt Romney, 54-45 percent. The former Republican nominee’s father, George Romney, is a past governor of Michigan. Four years earlier, Obama’s margin over John McCain was an even greater 57-41 percent.
Michigan is an important state on the Democratic nomination circuit, eighth largest of the 57 voting entities. Currently scheduled for a March 10 primary, the Wolverine State is awarded 125 elected delegates, ballooning to an aggregate 147 when Super Delegates are added to the total. The Super Delegates, or party leaders, may not vote on the first ballot, but are eligible if more than one roll call becomes necessary.
Emerson also released their early general election numbers for a state that could well be a deciding factor next year. President Trump’s approval ratings have been low here for many months in a place that he carried by just under 11,000 votes on the final count.
The former VP does best against the president, topping him 54-46 percent. Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN; 53-47 percent), Sanders (52-47 percent), Harris (51-49 percent), and Warren (51-49 percent) all poll ahead of Trump right now, but the signs aren’t all bad for the incumbent despite uniformly trailing.
Gender is a key factor in all of the aforementioned results. In fact, the president leads all of his potential opponents, including Biden, among men. But, his poor standing among Michigan women causes him to fall behind against all five of the top contenders.
Education status is another key indicator. President Trump sweeps the Democrats among those who only attended high school or less, while he loses badly in every instance when testing post-graduate degree holders.
Age is another determining factor. All of the Democrats do better with the 18-29 year-old demographic, while the president reverses that trend with those 65 years of age and older.
None of these tendencies are particularly surprising, since the same patterns were evident in Trump’s campaign with Hillary Clinton. But, if the president is going to repeat his 2016 performance, he will have to substantially improve in at least one of these critical demographic categories.
The true surprise of the Emerson poll, however, didn’t come in testing the presidential campaign. Rather, when first-term Sen. Gary Peters (D) was paired against manufacturing company owner and retired Army Ranger John James (R), the results were surprising close. In November, James held Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D) to a 52-46 percent victory, a final result much tighter than polls were projecting.
According to the current Emerson sample, Sen. Peters maintains only a 44-43 percent edge. Needless to say, James is the Republicans’ top recruiting prospect, and early signals suggest that he is headed toward running. If he becomes a consensus Republican senatorial candidate, Michigan may rather quickly become a top-tier race.
Sen. Peters appears politically weaker than his Michigan Democratic colleague, Sen. Stabenow, and James’s likely advance toward the GOP nomination suggests that Michigan will host a major 2020 Senate contest.