The Slatest

Trump Is Trailing in Michigan by a Lot. Like, a Ton. What Happened?

Trump looks to his left from a presidential lectern set up amid cars and trucks.
Donald Trump at a Ford plant in Ypsilanti, Michigan, on May 21. Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

On June 7, the EPIC-MRA firm released a poll that showed Donald Trump trailing Joe Biden by 12 points among likely voters in Michigan . It seemed like the kind of outlier survey that would probably, in retrospect, turn out to have been random statistical variation.

On Tuesday, EPIC-MRA released the results of another poll that it conducted in early June, which, for logistical reasons, used a completely different sample of voters. And this poll shows Trump trailing Biden in Michigan by 16 points.

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Caveats: FiveThirtyEight currently has Biden leading Trump in Michigan by 10 points in its average, not 16. (FiveThirtyEight does give EPIC-MRA a B-plus quality rating and lists it as actually having a very slight tendency to overrate Republicans’ odds.) EPIC-MRA’s analyst also pointed out that the newly released poll was conducted during the period in which the administration’s tear-gassing of protesters in front of the White House was the top national story. If protests fade out of the news cycle and/or the economy keeps improving and the coronavirus disappears (by magic, I guess), Republican-leaning swing voters could snap back toward Trump. Biden could lose support by getting tangled up in an extended riff about Strom Thurmond’s integrity and “keeping oleo in your ice box” during a debate, etc.

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Nonetheless, folks! That’s still a credible polling operation finding twice that Donald Trump is trailing his own 2016 pace in Michigan (which he won over Hillary Clinton by a quarter-point) by double digits, a predicament that could be due in part to a violent stunt that he thought would improve his public image by projecting authority. He’s getting routed in the home of Reagan Democrats, weird militia guys, and a state Legislature that takes an official break every year during deer hunting season. What happened?

Data suggests that, as with the dip in his national approval rating Trump has experienced since the Lafayette Square incident, what we’re seeing in Michigan is a reactionary bet gone wrong. In the early days of the coronavirus crisis, the state’s Democratic governor, Gretchen Whitmer, was critical of the federal government’s failures to provide ventilators and personal protective equipment for medical personnel. Rather than ignoring her needling or trying to overwhelm it with staged photo-op deliveries of supplies, Trump repeatedly insulted Whitmer in public remarks and on Twitter and threatened to withhold aid from the state if she didn’t praise him more. Then, later in the lockdown period, he tweeted his support for the “liberation” activists who were protesting public health measures by brandishing weapons in and around the Michigan Statehouse. But by wide margins, Michigan residents supported Whitmer’s relatively tight and long-lasting lockdown and believed the protesters’ actions sent “the wrong message.” (A majority of self-identified Republican women, even, said that they did not support the protests.)

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Now, while a number of U.S. states have reopened themselves into COVID-19 surges, Michigan’s case numbers are trending way downward; the state only reported 31 new positive tests on Monday. It has—knock on wood—been able to reopen many public spaces without creating a second wave.

As Michael Dukakis can tell you, a big polling lead in the summer is worth exactly zero electoral votes. But Trump has a long way to go to earn back the trust of the Camouflage Moms and COVID-19 Mask Dads he’ll need if he wants to win Michigan again.

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