Marilyn Rotko is a swing dancer in a swing state.
“Back and forth. It swings. It does. It swings from Republican to Democrat,” she says about her adopted home state.
The former New Yorker has lived in Michigan for most of the past decade. She has been registered as a Democrat since she could register to vote.
Rotko says one of her frequent dance partners is much more conservative. They don’t talk about politics.
It’s a refrain heard often these days in what some refer to as the “purple state,” called that because of the red (Republican) and blue (Democrat) mix of voters.
Politics and the impeachment hearings can be touchy subjects in a place where the margins for a win in 2016 were razor thin. Donald Trump took Michigan by just 10,704 votes.
Sterling Heights, Mich., is the fourth-largest city in Michigan, with a population of about 133,000. It is something of a bellwether, a predictor of what side will take power.
The city voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, and for Trump in 2016.
Resident Michael Taylor was one of those Trump voters, and says it’s a move he now regrets.
“For me, it was really his character and fitness for office. I should have known before he got elected. But he, you know — I just, I just reached my breaking point,” he says, referring to his frustration with President Trump.
Taylor is also the mayor, and since he went public with the revelation that he no longer supports Donald Trump, he says hears from constituents who aren’t happy he is speaking out against the president.
“I think he’s beyond the pale, so I made that decision. But I I feel like I’m kind of alone on an island.”
He calls his city “a microcosm of the country at large.”
“Sterling Heights is really, to me, Ground Zero for what’s going to happen,” Taylor says about the coming election, adding that his constituents care more about jobs and the economy than the controversies around the president.
“We’ve got four automotive plants and we’ve got a lot of manufacturing. And manufacturing is as strong as it’s ever been. We’ve got a lot of jobs and we’ve got a lot of vibrancy here.”
When he has meet-the-mayor events, he says the continued support for the president is overwhelming.
Even though he doesn’t think the impeachment proceedings are playing out very well for President Trump, he also doesn’t think this will sway voters.
“The folks in this restaurant, they’re going to go to their job,” Taylor says, sitting in a back booth in a family-owned diner in his constituency. “And as long as they get that steady paycheque, and as long as they’ve got that job security, and as long as they feel like the economy is working for them, they’re not paying attention to the Twitter account and they’re not paying attention to all this madness.”
Swaying the vote
David Dulio, a political science professor at nearby Oakland University, agrees. He says Michigan is a state that is largely decided by independent or undecided voters. Those who support the president are likely to continue to support him, Dulio says, while dyed-in-the-wool Democrats aren’t going to switch sides.
Those who haven’t picked sides might be swayed by a number of things, but like Mayor Taylor, Dulio doesn’t think impeachment proceedings will have a significant impact in the state.
Both Dulio and Taylor say one of the key things that could affect Michigan’s vote, but which can’t be factored in yet, is who the Democrats end up nominating for the presidential run.
“I think what really matters to them is how candidates address issues that they care about,” says Dulio.
He calls those the “kitchen table” issues. They include things like the economy, the manufacturing sector and health care costs.
“Those kitchen table issues can vary from household to household. But I think it really is how are candidates planning to address the issues that those particular individuals care about?”
Dulio and Taylor say a candidate who is too left-leaning won’t play well in a state like Michigan.
For now, voters in the state say the political divisions are unlikely to be any further split by the outcome of the impeachment hearing, whatever it turns out to be.
Meanwhile, Republican voter Nancy Landa says she avoids conversations about politics, even with her own family.
“My dad even becomes, like, so hostile — even the mention of politics,” she says.
With things so polarized, Landa added that she tries to stay out of the fray of the latest scandals, even if they are as high-profile as an impeachment hearing.
“I try to stay a little bit of an arm’s-distance-length from it, just because there’s so much bickering over details right now,” she says, adding that most people are pretty set in what they already think, regardless of what the outcome of this hearing will be.
“I mean, if you’re a Republican, you kind of feel that there’s no value to it,” she says. “And if you’re a Democrat, you are 100 per cent thinking he’s guilty.”