By Jim EllisSept. 23, 2021 — We have further evidence that the Michigan governor’s race is going to be a highly competitive political contest next year. A pair of new polls, following one in late August, find Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) either in a virtual dead heat with, or trailing, former Detroit Police Chief James Craig (R).
The Trafalgar Group and Strategic National, Inc. were both in the Michigan field during virtually the same time realm to test the impending governor’s race. Trafalgar (Sept. 13-15; 1,097 likely Michigan voters; live interview, interactive voice response system, online, and text) actually finds the governor slipping behind Craig by a 50-44% count. Strategic National (Sept. 18-19; 600 likely Michigan voters) arrived at a much tighter contest with the governor still in the lead. Their result projected a razor thin 46.6 – 46.0 percent margin.
Gov. Whitmer has become controversial even nationally through her draconian COVID shut down measures, and then being caught on several occasions as eschewing the dictates for herself and family. As the Strategic National poll shows, however, the governor’s favorable and unfavorable opinions are equivalent … and almost everyone feels strongly about their preference.
In terms of her personal favorability index, the responses divide 50:48 percent favorable to unfavorable. The strongly held position, however, spins toward the negative category. Of those who comprise Gov. Whitmer’s 50 percent positive rating, 35 percent, or 70 percent of those professing a positive opinion, feel strongly.
The negative segmentation is more intense. From the 48 percent who hold a negative view of Whitmer, 42 percent, or 87 percent of those holding an adversarial opinion, believe so strongly. Her job approval rating responses, though a different question, yields an almost identical pattern.
The polarization factor is, unsurprisingly, extreme when it comes to the respondents’ opinion about how she’s handled the coronavirus. By a margin of 52:47 percent, the sampling universe approves of her measures to combat the disease. And, in this instance, those feeling strongly on both sides break about evenly.
Of the 52 percent favoring her coronavirus record, 40 percent, or 77 percent of those believing she has performed well, feel strongly. On the negative side, 38 percent, or 81 percent of those holding the opposite view, also believe so strongly.
Gov. Whitmer may be in slightly better position than the Strategic National poll indicates because there does appear to be a Republican skew within the sample, though much of the discrepancy has been neutralized through weighting. The composition of black voters within the respondent universe is roughly two points below the statewide demographic benchmark, while the Republican contingent’s ratio is much greater than their statewide figure.
While Michigan does not ask registered voters to declare party preference, the voting history and primary participation levels suggest that a 37-34 percent sample split favoring Republicans is inconsistent with the electorate’s partisan patterns.
Though the Trafalgar Group only asked the ballot test question, their demographics appear closer to the benchmarks. While they, too, look to be a bit below the actual mark for African Americans (slightly less than two percentage points), they capture a much different partisan ratio. The Trafalgar sample broke 53-35 percent in favor of the Democrats.
Interestingly, it is the Trafalgar sample, with a much higher number of Democrats, that gave ex-Chief Craig his six-point advantage, a spread one would more likely expect to see coming from the Strategic National poll.
Back in August, Michigan pollster EPIC-MRA (Aug. 9-15; 600 likely Michigan voters, live interview with an even number of Democrats and Republicans) also found a tight governor’s ballot test, clearly within the realm of this data culled a month later. The EPIC poll showed a one point difference between the governor and Craig, 45-44 percent.
It appears that we are seeing enough diverse data already pointing to the conclusion that Craig is a formidable opponent for Gov. Whitmer. With Michigan also being a top redistricting venue, the Wolverine State voters will be an important factor in casting the 2022 midterm elections’ ultimate outcome.