Who is the Michigan voter? That is one question presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain have been entertaining since the race to the White House began over a year ago. Deciphering the hearts and minds of Michigan’s residents is a vital aspect to both candidates’ campaigns because what the voters want to hear is what McCain and Obama want to be heard saying in every campaign commercial that flashes on televisions across the state. What Michigan voters want to hear is not the same as what California voters or Connecticut voters or Georgia voters want to hear. Issues like the shaky economy set Michigan apart from all other 49 states. As a state that is being looked to as potentially deciding the election, Obama and McCain are using their advertising campaigns to speak directly to Michigan as much as possible. With the 2008 election coming down the home stretch, those messages tailored to residents of the Mitten State continue to change, but can be heard loud and clear from both parties.[Gerdes2]
It is important for campaigns to change their advertising priorities based on geographic area because tapping into the important issues for varying communities emphasizes a candidate’s broad reach and their ability to get to know America rather than just Washington D.C. “Every voter wants to feel important. They all want to be able to say, this is the change I want,” advertising professor Linda Gerdes said.
As a state that could swing toward either candidate, Michigan voters are a bigger campaign advertising target than they have been, especially as election day gets closer and closer. The Michigan-Ohio swing state combination is being compared to the Florida-Ohio pairing of 2004. “Politicians should recognize that Michigan is an important state and our concerns are to be regarded,” Clay Dedeaux, a Ph.D. graduate assistant said.
So what are the concerns that Michigan voters need candidates to address in order to win them over? The overriding issue is the state of the economy on a statewide and national level. Leaving Michigan to cope with its own economic distress is not acceptable for some voters. “We’ve been ignored and to some degree taken for granted. We literally help keep the country moving and we’ve been down for a long time and it’s almost as if we’ve come to accept that,” Dedeaux said. All signs point to a statewide consensus that the path of Michigan’s economy must be turned around. “People are just mad. We’re losing jobs, and jobs are going overseas, people don’t seem to understand why though,” economics senior John Hubbarth said.
Recently released Census information confirms the failing state of the Michigan economy. According to the Detroit Free Press,the median household income for Michigan dropped by more than $7,100 to $47,950 while the national average dropped by just over $1,000 to $50,740 this year. The manufacturing sector, which has been one of the industries that has shaped Michigan’s economy for years, took a cut with nearly 200,000 manufacturing jobs lost from 2000 to 2007. With many people being forced to take lesser paying service jobs, Michigan’s economy continues to suffer more than the many of the other 49 states. The way our economy is going right now, a lot of our youth are planning to go other directions — and not Up North. “As of right now I don’t want to stay here,” Hubbarth said. “I wish I didn’t feel that way but I go to other states and like them more than my home state.” Allowing a statewide brain drain to take place will only hurt the economy more and voters are urging the presidential candidates to take note of their concern. “Politicians recognize that we’re concerned about our kids leaving the state. The best and the brightest will soon be gone,” Dedeaux said. [Dedeaux3]
Based on Obama’s slogan it is safe to say that he thinks what not just Michigan, but the entire country needs is change. In Michigan, he is looking to the younger generations to bring that change. Obama’s Michigan campaign set a goal of registering 150,000 new voters by the Oct. 6 voter registration deadline. According to the Detroit Free Press, Obama has a 15 percentage point led in popularity with younger voters, which could be the key to winning Michigan.
Unlike the numerous Obama campaigners covering campus campus, clipboard in hand, ready to register students, an influx of McCain campaigners will not be found on foot. Instead, the McCain campaign is targeting the working class in Michigan, rather than the youth vote, and is using the ailing economy as a major issue. McCain has been making his way through the state promoting change for Michigan workers. He recently visited the General Motors Assembly Plant in Lake Orion, where he made pledges to revitalize the auto industry. “It’s great to be here today with the assembly workers of this GM plant,” said McCain in a speech he made at the GM plant according to transcripts from JohnMcCain.com. “I’m here to send a message to Washington and Wall Street: We are not going to leave the workers here in Michigan hung out to dry while we give billions in taxpayer dollars to Wall Street. It is time to get our auto industry back on its feet. It’s time for a new generation of cars and for loans to build the facilities that will make them.”
Looking at the dollars and cents, it seems that candidates are fully aware of Michigan’s importance in the upcoming election as well as the importance of the economic issues plaguing the state. According to the Detroit Free Press, campaign advertising spending has increased 40 percent for Michigan since the 2004 election.
We have all seen McCain show up in between segments of our favorite television show to star in his two commercials airing specifically for Michigan. It is no wonder that these commercials have become so familiar when the McCain campaign spends $500,000 per week on the two Michigan based ads, according to the Michigan Campaign Finance Network (MCFN).
“Michigan families depend on the auto industry,” a Michigan McCain commercial said. “John McCain and his congressional allies know it.” Here McCain is clearly cutting right to Michigan voters.
“Barack Obama will make energy independence an urgent priority,” an Obama ad stated. “A real plan and new energy.” Obama’s “New Energy” commercial was played in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin and Michigan in response to negative attacks made on the Democratic Party by McCain.
According to MCFN, Obama began advertising in Michigan around June 20 and has spent an average of $548,000 per week since then. With the election getting closer, Obama stepped up his advertising and began a new ad campaign. According to the Detroit Free Press in a Sept. 23 article, the new Obama ads will air only in Michigan and will focus on McCain’s car ownership record.
What are the billions of dollars being spent on advertising actually doing? Some say just slaughtering the opponent. Many voters do not appreciate the negative campaign strategy and prefer the commercials where candidates simply state their beliefs and goals. “I really detest negative campaigning. I hate it. I lean right and I even had to turn off the RNC (Republican National Convention) because of it! It’s worse than I’ve ever seen,” Gerdes said.
Dedeaux summed up the Michigan voter by saying, “We represent middle American values. We’re stable but we want more for ourselves and our children. If they don’t take care of Michigan now, there may be no Michigan.”
“We’re struggling for the most part. Fearful of how we’re going to put food on the table,” Gerdes said. With election day approaching, the economy in crisis and a population of undecided voters who will be the tipping point to coloring Michigan red or blue, Obama and McCain’s debates over who will take better care of Michigan are holding more weight than ever. It may be a toss up now, but when all of the votes are tallied we will know who the Michigan voter is, and hopefully so will our next President.