This is part 6 of the PredictWise series on congressional districts that are seen as competitive in the 2018 election according to PredictWise and Cook: The PredictWise Progressive Pendulum, with new entries coming right here on PredictWise every Tuesday. Instead of the ins-and-outs of the horse-race, this series sheds light on the ideological landscape in these districts. How do residents tick politically? What are their stances on the hot-button issues of the day, from immigration to gun regulation? How do they view traditional political fields, from taxation to healthcare? What role do environmental policies play in the mind of voters of these Districts? How does the Progressive Pendulum swing? Today, we will zoom in on the 11th Congressional District in Michigan.
MI-11: individualism is key in this district, but nonetheless there are openings for democratic messgaing on healthcare and taxation. More importantly, government regulations are vastly popular, in parts because of the proximity to the Flint water crisis. High approval for President Trump and some authoritarian tendencies mean that negative campaigns should best be avoided. This district sees Democrat Haley Stevens squaring off against Lena Epstein, meaning that this traditionally Republican district will be represented by a woman for the first time. On policy, the two candidates could not be more different however. The PredictWise Progressive Pendulum has identified some openings on progressive messages in this educated and wealthier-than-average district, but Democrats need to take into consideration anti-immigrant animus.
This district encompasses an area northwest of Detroit, comprising portions of northwestern Wayne and southwestern Oakland counties. It is somewhat wealthy, with a median annual household income of close to $61,598, paired with a relatively low college graduation rate of 28%, compared to the 32% at the national level. In terms of ethnicity, this district skews White, making up 87% of residents in this suburban district.
Media attention is already exploding in this district, following incumbent Paul Ryan’s surprise retirement announcement, putting this district on the map of competitive seats.
First, it is exactly that kind of congressional district — suburban, educated, with a fare share of the electorate estimated to be college-educated women (PredictWise estimates this number to be around 30%) — that is on the pundits’ horizon already in setting expectations for the 2018 midterms. It touches two counties — Wayne and Oakland — that voted for Hillary Clinton, but as a whole has voted for President Trump by a 5 percentage point margin. What’s more, the incumbent, Dave Trott, R-Birmingham, who can be characterized as a Trump critic, has called it quits. As a result, this district sees two women square off, Democrat Haley Stevens and Republican Lena Epstein, making the fight for the voting block of women even more interesting.
Media attention is not the only indication that this is race is tightening: The Cook PVI – comparing a congressional district’s average Democratic or Republican Party share of the two-party presidential vote in the past two presidential elections to the national average share for those elections – is set at R+4. On a number of other indicators, the district, for which no public polling is available as of yet, looks less close: PredictWise registers Trump approval in this Michigan district is at 49.3% – significantly higher than the 43.6% state average. And, our horse race projections have Stevens trailing by almost 20 percentage points, with the trend pointing clearly toward the Republican. Plus, Republican David Trott handily won this district in 2016 by a 13 percentage point margin. On the other hand, PredictWise estimates are based on the generic ballot; the DCCC – the organization responsible for electing as many Democrats to the House of Representatives as possible – has added Stevens to the organization’s coveted Red to Blue list identifying the most amenable candidates in its efforts to flip the House, and has without a doubt done so on the basis of some additional non-public survey data.
Politically, Stevens supports a public option for the Affordable Care Act, as well as Medicare buy-in light for people aged 55-65, increasing the minimum wage, halting efforts to privatize social security or turn Medicare into a voucher program, curbing ICE, strengthening the EPA. Epstein stands for reigning in government spending, tax cuts, and siding with Israel in the Palestinian conflict. She counts herself as a loyal ally to President Trump (as opposed to retired incumbent Dave Trott).
MI-11: Driven by Individualism, but surprisingly progressive on core economic policies
High levels of education readily translate into lower levels of populism. For example, most likely voters in this wealthy Michigan district agree with the statement that “if I work hard enough, I can improve my life” – 88% of all likely voters, with very little partisan differences (87% of Democrats, 89% of Republicans). As such, this Michigan district is markedly different from some of its poorer neighbors, such as MI-13.
Not surprisingly, given the district’s Republican standing and its high levels of education, perceptions of individual responsibility are strong. Even at the extreme end of this scale, likely voters here are quick to weigh beliefs in individualism higher than interpersonal compassion. When asked whether people who face adversity, such as disability, childhood abuse or poverty, should stop looking for hand-outs and work their way out of it, 47% of likely voters in this Michigan district (!) agree, and that includes a sizable number of Republicans (56%).
Surprisingly, this tenant of individualism does not translate as readily into beliefs on libertarian economic policies. In fact, we find some openings for progressive messaging on the economic dimension of the political space. For example, when asked whether the government should lower taxes for households with an annual income of over $250,000, or raise taxes, a clear majority of voters support raising taxes (55%), and that includes a majority of Republicans (48%, as opposed to only 33% of Republicans who are in favor of lowering taxes).
Another example of this opening for progressive messages is healthcare, especially care for the elderly. Majorities of likely voters affiliating with both parties in this wealthy district think that the government has the responsibility of guaranteeing coverage for this age group (84% of Democrats, and 72% of Republicans).
This favorable landscape on healthcare is also reflected on perceptions of a universal healthcare system that provides a form of healthcare to all Americans. Again, clear majorities of both Republicans and Democrats in this Michigan district favor this as the goal of government work on healthcare – 88% of Democrats and 61% of Republicans think that the government should pursue a universal healthcare system guaranteeing healthcare to all Americans
One last example of this openness to progressive economic messaging includes regulation. The Flint, Michigan water crisis has been on the radar in this district, despite of course the differences between the 5th congressional district that Flint is located in and this much more educated and wealthy district. Since the crisis, regulations have quickly gained in favorability. For example, 80% of all likely voters in this suburban district believe that government regulation for food and drug safety and efficacy is necessary to protect the public interest – and again this includes majorities from both parties (83% of Democrats and 78% of Republicans).
MI-11: Authoritarian streaks; Conservative on immigration
Despite the high levels of education in this district, a clear majority here is in favor of expanding presidential executive power. For example, 58% of all likely voters believe that the president should either definitely or maybe be able to sue the press, or anyone, if he believes them to be intentionally untruthful to hurt his reputation, and that includes a surprisingly high number of Democrats – 45%. This ties in with a relatively high Trump approval here (see opening paragraph).
And, this authoritarian streak is coupled with a fairly strong anti-immigrant animus. Only 33% of likely voters in this wealthy district believe that recent immigrants strengthen the country when it comes to the job market, including minorities of both Democrats and Republicans in this district (49% and 24% respectively). Here, the form of employment in this district matters: 20% of employed residents in this congressional district have manufacturing jobs.
It is hence no surprise that this anti-immigrant animus manifests most prominently in concern for jobs, and likewise spills over into attitudes on free trade. For example, a sizable fraction of likely voters here believe that trading off cheaper goods vs. increased stress on the border is not worth it. And, we find no partisan differences here whatsoever.
MI-11: Conservative on Guns; Progressive on Climate Change
This district has much more conservative attitudes on certain aspects of gun control policies than the rest of the country. For example, only 34% of likely voters here believe that the right to carry a concealed weapon should be restricted – this includes less than a quarter of Republicans and only 50% (a very slim majority) of Democrats. Campaigning on stricter gun regulation in this district will be an uphill battle.
However, public sentiment looks different on the environment. There is broad agreement that the US should take a leadership role in international agreements aimed towards addressing climate change – supported by 67% of all likely voters in this suburban Michigan district, including clear majorities of Democrats (79% in support) and Republicans (60% in support).
MI-11: Fight on economic policies without a collectivist approach, avoid immigration and healthcare
In sum, there is no doubt that there are some openings for progressives in this district. They include healthcare and taxes, and given the prominence of the Flint water crisis in this district especially government regulations. But, likely voters in this district also stand firm in their belief of individualism, so Democratic candidate Haley Stevens has to thread the needle here. The environment is another good opening for Stevens. On the other hand, immigration, especially as it relates to jobs, and negative ads directed against Trump should be avoided – a strong presidential approval and some authoritarian streaks of likely voters here likely mean such a campaign would backfire.