DETROIT (MIRS News) – After former President Barack Obama’s Saturday rally in Detroit, a suggestion was made among Detroit political insiders that the event was more of a pep rally for Democratic peers than for Detroit’s new or infrequent voters.

Historian Ken Coleman was hosting a Detroit Black History bus tour during Obama’s visit on Oct. 29. The Michigan Democratic Party helped make the event happen, which was designed to boost voter excitement and attracted3,000 attendees. However, when Coleman looked at video clips from the election year festivities, he “could name just about everybody that was in the riser behind Obama.”

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“And they’re the same people that you see at every (event) – that you saw at (now-President Joe Biden’s) stuff two years ago…and maybe it’s just because I’m old, have been around a long time and just know a lot of people,” Coleman told MIRS, later adding he is not convinced voter turnout in Detroit will be higher this year than it was during November 2018.

During her initial run for governor, more than 21% of Detroit voters – 100,675 out of 468,249 registered voters – participated in the August 2018 election, where now-Gov. Gretchen Whitmer lost in the city to Shri Thanedar (D-Detroit) by 2,288 votes.

Later in November 2018, 41% of Detroit voters showed up to vote, and Whitmer and now-Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist II defeated the Republican ticket by 173,590 votes.

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The event with Obama featured Whitmer at the previous president’s side, as he hyped her up as the gubernatorial candidate most focused on the fundamentals: “good jobs, lower costs, better schools and fixing the damn roads”.

However, according to pollster Bernie Porn, Whitmer is under-performing in a city where she requires a bigger bounce in to mute the strong showing Republican challenger Tudor DIXON is anticipated to have in outstate Michigan.

“Whitmer is not getting quite the numbers that she needs to and Barack Obama can help in that effort,” Porn said ahead of the rally.

He figures Whitmer is in the 80% range of support out of Detroit, but ultimately for Democrats throughout Michigan, they “have not attended to Black voters as much as they should have and that’s a long-standing story. You just can’t go into the Black churches in the last weekend and expect turnout to be what it needs to be.”

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Former Detroit Democratic lawmaker Virgil Smith Jr. said throughout his neighborhood, “you don’t see the yard signs in the yards. You don’t feel the energy for a real huge election coming up…so, the question becomes, what is going to be the voter turnout in Detroit?”

In 2018, Smith said Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan was particularly engaged in getting residents out to vote, as well as local Democrats who had recently won their legislative primaries and were pushing their neighbors to the polls.

Michigan’s debut citizen-led redistricting commission redrew legislative lines that stretched suburban districts into the city. Additionally, after some competitive primaries during August, the Legislature’s Detroit Caucus is positioned to drop from five to two Senate members and from seven to six House members next year.

“I will say you may see a negative…basically gang-effect in our turnout in the general election because you don’t have the same energy, and you don’t have as many people to push turnout,” Smith said. “What drives people not to vote is just voter apathy…not paying attention, lost in your own world…when I’m at my barber shop and ask people ‘are you voting?’ half of them say ‘there’s an election coming up?'”

In the November 2020 presidential election, more than 49% of voters showed up to vote, with 233,908 voters casting ballots for Biden. Predictions before the aforementioned election day hoped the Detroit turnout would surpass its 53.2% record set when Obama ran for his first presidential term in 2008.

Virgil said he doesn’t see Whitmer attracting the same number of voters as Biden did two years ago, stating “she’s got to do the same numbers she did in 2018.”

Since November 2020, Detroit had 18.66% voter turnout for the mayoral race in November 2021, as well as a 15.42% turnout for this past August primary election.

“While this is a midterm year, it’s still sort of an off-term year,” Coleman said. “What we tend to see in Detroit overtime is, in a presidential general election, you’ll see turnout about as high as it will get.”

Coleman doesn’t believe the issue is Whitmer and Gilchrist’s visibility in the city, with Gilchrist being a highly in-sight member of the community and some political talkers criticizing their campaign for being too based in Southeast Michigan with Detroit being the centerpiece.

“Nearly 40% of the folks that live here live at or around the poverty rate, and people have made decisions on what their priorities are, and a lot of them it’s just day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month survival,” Coleman said. “Even though early voting is offered and no-reason absentee is offered, it’s still something that people aren’t necessarily excited about as previous generations.”

With Detroit being one of the United States’ Black-majority cities, it’s also a suggestion that Detroit voter-turnout will ultimately be a reflection of how candidates did with energizing the Black vote across Michigan.

Smith said although he doesn’t want to criticize anybody, he hasn’t seen the resources coming in to build voter energy. Additionally, as abortion access has become a major topic for Democrats this year after Roe v. Wade was overturned, Smith said “in the Black community, it’s not beating the drum, so to speak, to really draw – in my opinion – the masses out to vote.”