WARREN, Mich. ― The foot traffic into the polling place, a local middle school, had slowed by the time I arrived at around 7:30 a.m. on Tuesday. But inside the line was long.
And as I stood outside, preparing to interview voters as they left, a woman handing out literature for a school board candidate remarked on the high turnout. She had been working in Michigan politics for a long time, mostly for Democrats, and she was worried. She thought it looked like a pretty big Donald Trump vote.
As it turns out, she was right.
Warren is part of Macomb County, a predominantly white and working-class suburb north of Detroit. It became famous in the 1980s when pollster Stanley Greenberg studied it in order to discover why Democrats were losing support of white, working-class voters.
Macomb’s voters were the prototypical “Reagan Democrats,” because they’d come to believe Reagan and the Republicans, not Democrats, were the real champions of their interests.
One of Bill Clinton’s main goals as president was to bring those voters back into the Democratic fold. President Barack Obama made his own effort to win back these voters ― and actually made some inroads, thanks primarily to his rescue of the U.S. auto industry, which remains a pillar of the economy here. He carried Macomb County in 2012.
But in the 2016 election, the gap between Democrats and white working-class voters opened back up. Their strong turnout for Trump ― particularly here in the upper Midwest states ― are a big part of the reason the real estate mogul won the presidential election.
At this polling place in Warren, I got a taste of why. And it wasn’t exactly what I would have expected, based on the Trump rallies I attended during the campaign. By and large, the Trump voters I met weren’t gushing with enthusiasm for him. They recognized he was flawed, and maybe even lacked some important qualifications for president.
But they all hated Hillary Clinton. They used that very word ― “hate.” And they thought Trump might shake up the political system, which they figured had to be an improvement.
“I hate her ― her lying, all the lies,” Dennis White, 48, said. He works in retail and told me that he had voted for Obama once. But he said he was disappointed with how the Obama presidency worked out: “gas prices went up, taxes went up, we got more and more in debt.”
When I mentioned questions about Trump’s temperament, he brushed them off. “I like his temperament,” White said. And as for Trump’s controversial statements, White said, “It shows he’s not just trying to get elected.”
Some Trump voters made blunter criticisms. Ken Lisiecki, 34, who works at a technology company, said he too was unenthusiastic about Trump ― but simply couldn’t stand Clinton. “I’d rather shove a wet noodle up a bobcat’s ass than listen to another one of her speeches,” he said.
I did meet plenty of voters backing Clinton, and some of them, women in particular, expressed dismay or revulsion at Trump’s behavior. But while there was a sharp gender split among the voters I met, with women supporting Clinton as strongly as men were supporting Trump, I also met a few women who voted for the Republican nominee.
And like the men backing the real estate mogul, they were willing to overlook his flaws ― up to and including his past statements about women. “I just don’t think she’s honest,” Barbara Woolsey, 72, a retired nursing home administrator, told me.
As for those controversial statements Trump has made, “It didn’t bother me,” she said. “It wasn’t appropriate but everybody has said things they shouldn’t have.”