Election inspectors gather around a machine as it counts ballots on election day at city hall in Macomb County, Michigan © AP

Just over half of the US is beside itself with joy — and just under half is not. About 70m voters did not choose the outcome announced on Saturday, that Democrat Joe Biden will be the next US president. And they will not simply disappear because around 75m others now have the upper hand.

So as Democrats fete the end of the Donald Trump era, it is worth remembering the places where jubilation is not the order of the day: the many so-called pivot counties that did not in fact pivot to Mr Biden as expected this year. Macomb County, Michigan, is one of them. Home of the “Reagan” and “Trump Democrats”, this traditionally blue county swung red for Ronald Reagan in 1980 and for Donald Trump in 2016, waltzing with Democrat Barack Obama in between. This year, though, it stuck stubbornly with Mr Trump.

In fact, Mr Trump held Macomb, in car country outside Detroit, with almost the same share of the vote as last time (53.3 per cent in 2020 against 53.6 per cent in 2016). Democrats narrowed his margin of victory, boosting their vote share from 42.1 per cent in 2016 to 45.4 per cent this year, but it was not enough to defeat Mr Trump.

An analysis of swing counties by my colleague at the Financial Times Christine Zhang shows that a majority did not change hands. There was no “blue wave” in many of them. In Macomb, there was a blue ripple — but local politicians say it was swamped by an even bigger red ripple of new, mostly white, Trump voters. The president added nearly 40,000 new Macomb votes to his 2016 total of 224,665.

“Macomb County is Trump country through and through, to a degree that no one really expected,” said Joe DiSano, a local Democratic political consultant. “There were something like 20,000 or 30,000 unexpected new Republican votes from the northern part of the county.” “And this socialism thing really stuck,” he added, referring to Mr Trump’s claim that Mr Biden would adopt socialist policies. 

Joel Rutherford, chair of the Macomb Democratic Black Caucus, says Republicans achieved very high turnout in the white, northern part of the county. “Trump’s message of fear resonates with people here, that’s why they are moving farther and farther north, they are running from something that is going to happen anyway,” he said. “The county is changing,” he added, as African Americans move across the city line from Detroit to a rapidly-diversifying southern Macomb County. 

Mr Rutherford says Democrats made little headway locally in converting Trump voters to the Biden camp. The rise in the Macomb Democratic vote was largely due to higher turnout among traditional Democrats who stayed home in 2016, and to a large black voter drive.

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“If it wasn’t for black voters, Joe Biden wouldn’t be president,” he said. But, in Macomb, where the percentage of the voting-age black population rose by roughly 1.5 percentage points to 10.8 per cent in the past decade, “it just wasn’t enough”.

There is even some evidence that Mr Trump gained votes from black men in Michigan: CNN exit polls showed that 12 per cent of black male voters in the state chose Mr Trump, up from an estimated 9 per cent in 2016. Mr Rutherford calls it the “lottery winner mentality: when I get rich I want all those tax breaks”, but he doesn’t think it was a major factor in Macomb’s vote.

So this most extraordinary presidential election of my lifetime may be as remarkable for what it did not change, as for what it did. The battle lines are as firmly drawn as ever. Chris Vitale, a Macomb resident and one of the tens of millions of Americans who voted for Mr Trump, says he is saddened by Democrats’ shock at the fact that nearly half the country wanted to hand him a second term. “People are saying on Facebook, ‘I have to be careful who my kids play with, the neighbour might have voted for this guy’.”

Mr Rutherford is worried too: “I don’t think there will be a lot of working together”. Here, on the shores of Lake St Clair, there was no tidal wave of renewal, just the same old choppy waters of discord: red and blue, black and white, divisions that every recent election only seem to make worse.


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