Back To Macomb: Reagan Democrats and Barack Obama


Stan Greenberg, James Carville, Andrew Baumann, Karl Agne, and Jesse Contario

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Executive Summary

Going into the Democratic convention, Barack Obama remains a candidate with unique strengths and unique challenges. He has yet to close the deal with many white, working-class voters who normally vote Democratic. Winning back these Democratic defectors and Reagan Democrats will be a key goal for Obama in his quest for the presidency.

A new report from GQR and Democracy Corps returns to Macomb County, Michigan, the place where Stan Greenberg first identified Reagan Democrats and their importance in 1985. Based on six focus groups and two surveys, this report takes an in-depth look at the Regan Democrats and Democratic defectors of Macomb to understand why they are currently holding back from Obama and what can be done to bring them back into the fold by November.

Key Findings

The findings are surprising and important. The flight of the Reagan Democrats away from the Democratic Party in the 1980s and earlier was largely driven by racial issues. But even with the prospect of the first black president, race, while not unimportant, is not definitive for these voters. Their hesitation is based primarily on two other issues.

First, Obama has yet to connect with these voters’ anger at the elites of business and politics who have sold out the American worker and middle class. His inability so far to convince these voters that he shares their passion is leaving votes on the table.

Second, the Reagan Democrats and Democratic defectors of Macomb harbor doubts about Obama’s national security credentials; many refusing to dismiss their worst fears - that he does not love America or even might harbor a secret agenda.

Because of these doubts Obama trails in the blue-collar battleground county of Macomb. But if he can reassure these voters on national security and connect with their outsider anger on the economy he can close the gap in Macomb and, perhaps, put the state of Michigan (where he already leads) out of reach.