SHIAWASSEE COUNTY — When it comes to presidential elections, as Shiawassee County goes, so goes the country.
A new Michigan Information and Research Service (MIRS) county-by-county analysis notes that Shiawassee and Van Buren are Michigan’s top county bellwethers, picking the winning presidential candidate in 12 out of the last 13 elections.
Only in ‘76 did both counties fail to choose the national winner, voting for Republican candidate Gerald R. Ford over Democrat Jimmy Carter.
Longtime Shiawassee County clerk Lauri Braid, a Republican, said she has a hunch why.
“We have average citizens around here,” she said. “We’re pretty normal, and average isn’t bad.”
Normal, sure, but not a demographic mirror of the U.S. as a whole. The county is 96.8 percent white and .7 percent black, while nationally, it’s more diverse: 77.7 percent white (including Hispanics) and 13.2 percent black.
County Commissioner John Horvath, a Democrat, said the county’s “good mix” of politically astute Republicans and Democrats might explain its shiny track record.
“The people who show up to vote here are sensitive to what’s going on in this country,” Horvath said. “The national issues that come up impact Shiawassee County as well.”
Because Michigan voters aren’t required to register their party affiliation, there’s no way to know for sure how many Democrats versus Republicans live in Shiawassee County. But based on her 24 years as clerk, Braid said she estimates it’s about evenly split.
Shiawassee County Republican Party Chairman Theresa Grace agreed. She said voters on the west side of the county, including Owosso and Perry, tend to lean Republican, while communities such as Durand and New Lothrop on the east side tend to vote Democratic.
“We’re divided like the country is as a whole,” Grace said. “We’re just nicer at it.”
Moreover, unlike Oakland, Macomb or even counties in the Upper Peninsula, the political makeup in Shiawassee has remained relatively unchanged.
Both Shiawassee and Van Buren went for President Lyndon Johnson in 1964, Richard Nixon in 1968 and 1972, Ronald Reagan in 1980 and 1984, and Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996.
“These are places that haven’t changed much even though the Democratic vote moved around,” Mark Grebner of Practical Political Consultants said in the MIRS report. “They haven’t become noticeably more Republican or Democratic. They have to be something of a backwater, where nothing much is going on.”
Shiawassee and Van Buren are both agriculture-based counties with around 70,000 people, the report states.
Which way will Shiawassee voters go in November? If participation in the primaries is any indication, the Republicans may have an edge. In August, 9,984 people voted in the Republican presidential primary, compared to 7,702 in the Democratic race.
“I’m getting five or six calls a day for yard signs for Donald Trump,” Grace said, “and we don’t have any yet.”
The counties least likely to vote for the presidential winner are Wayne and Missaukee counties. Wayne voted Democratic every time, picking wrong seven out of 13 times.
Missaukee got the same number wrong, but for the opposite reason. Voters went Republican in every election except 2000, when they picked Gore.