The Michigan Governor and Senate races: Why the difference in votes?

By now, conservatives and Republicans have stopped simply celebrating the sweeping success of this year’s general elections across America and have begun to look back in retrospect to see what can be learned. One disparity that stands out is the difference in a couple of statewide races in my home state of Michigan.

Why was Governor Rick Snyder elected with 10% more of the vote than Senate candidate Terri Lynn Land? The answer is a combination of three factors: turnout, the independent vote, and money.

First, turnout was lower than predicted and even lower than in the 2010 midterm elections. Only 43% turned out this time compared with 45% four CIB111414-MI-Senate-Resultyears ago. Lower turnout tends to favor Republicans, as Michigan Public Radio suggested it did here. Still, Democrats turned out more than Republicans by 9 points.

Under this scenario and not taking into consideration crossover from one party to another party’s candidate, Republicans had to make up that 9 point deficit among independents. The Snyder campaign did that, as did CIB111414-MI-Attorney-General-Resultsincumbent attorney general Bill Schuette’s campaign.

Generally speaking, state representatives and senators escaped the effects of the turnout deficit, partly 5000because their races were local rather than statewide and partly because the campaigns were well run. State education board races were affected, however, as they were statewide. Republicans won only one of these.

Why did Terri Lynn Land fail to overcome the deficit that Snyder and Schuette did? Democrats focused more on winning the Senate race than they did the race for governor. Sensing that Snyder’s reforms were popular, they smartly ran their weaker candidate – Mark Schauer – against him and their stronger candidate – Gary Peters CIB111414-MI-Governor-Resultsagainst Land. They then proceeded to pour outside money into the Senate race.

The Land campaign outraised the Peters campaign every quarter in terms of hard money. But liberal outside groups outspent their conservative counterparts by $5 million.

Compounding the margin of spending favoring Peters, the NRSC pulled their advertising money from Michigan in order to spend it in North Carolina. In North Carolina, Thom Tillis was triumphant, but in Michigan, the very public manner in which the move was made added to the perception that a Republican win in the Senate race was out of reach. This ultimately might have even made Snyder’s and Schuette’s impressive victories in the face of a huge turnout deficit appear somewhat less overwhelming.

The first lesson to be learned here is that, even with 9% more of the electorate turning out as Democrats, Republicans can win when they prove that their policies are more effective. Independents especially were unwilling to give up the progress of the previous four years and risk another lost decade like Michigan had under Jennifer Granholm.

Though Senate races tend to lean more Democrat than races for governor, Terri Lynn Land may still have been able to win at the time that the NRSC decided to pull the money for TV ads from the state. With a turnout deficit of 9 points, even being a member of an incumbent party with rigorous results to show voters is not enough to win the David versus Goliath matchup that the spending disparity made the final month of the race.

The fact that Land outraised Peters even at the end indicates that engaged Republicans were enthusiastic about getting her across the finish line first. Perhaps in the future, funding will be concentrated on getting less engaged Republicans out to vote and persuade independents. And then we won’t see a double-digit difference in the share of the vote between two statewide Republican candidates.