Michigan voters will head to the polls Tuesday to vote in the state's presidential primary, but very few Detroiters will be among them.
Turnout for non-general elections in the city is generally low, and Department of Elections Director Daniel Baxter said he expects just 10 to 12 percent of the city's 550,000 registered voters to cast ballots Tuesday. The uncontested Democratic primary and the absence of local issues on the ballot are also expected to depress turnout.
Very few Detroit residents vote Republican -- around 13 or 14 percent in general elections -- according to Wayne State University Professor of Political Science Lyke Thompson. Historically Detroiters long have voted Democratic, with the party having dominated elections since before the Great Depression.
"Detroit has had much more connection to the Democratic Party than did the rest of the state," Thompson explained.
Overall voter turnout for the 2008 presidential primary in the city was 15.7 percent. A total of 5,235 people voted Republican. Mitt Romney won Detroit that year, with 1,661 votes to eventual GOP nominee John McCain's 1,306. Ron Paul got 411 Detroit votes.
But in the 2008 general election, Obama swept McCain 97 percent to 2.7 percent. Only 8,881 people voted for the Republican candidate.
Voters are required to declare a party when casting a ballot in the primary. Thompson said one factor that might discourage participation this year may be a new Republican-backed law that makes that choice a matter of public record. GOP legislators said the measure would prevent ostensible Republicans from sneaking their votes into the Republican primary process this year.
But even without the declaration provision, Thompson says a GOP-only primary would draw few Detroit voters.
"You're talking about a population that's pretty sensitive to the Democratic agenda and the need for services and active economic development policies to support them," he said. "When you have a bunch of candidates coming through who say the auto companies shouldn't have been helped and a lot of employment that exists in southeast Michigan is auto-related, that doesn't bode well for high participation."
Baxter, the elections department head, said Detroiters might show up at the polls not to vote in the Republican primary, but to cast a Democratic ballot for Obama.
"The caveat to the Democratic ballot is the Democratic Party is not recognizing the results of this particular election," he explained. But nonetheless, "people will show up and vote the Democratic ballot."
Thompson sees "a very great loyalty" to Obama among Detroiters. Looking forward to November, he predicts another big win for the president in the city, and even the same high voter turnout as in 2008 (53.5 percent).
"Those voters will get out and vote for Obama," he said. "There may be some white liberals that are ambivalent in other parts of the region that might not turn out as much for Obama as they did in 2008, but that won't apply in Detroit."
As for the Republican candidates?
"They have little chance with Detroit voters," Thompson said.
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