Biden and Trump Clash in Michigan as They Court Blue-Collar Voters Amid UAW Strike

In the run-up to the 2024 election, President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump are vying for the support of blue-collar voters in Michigan, where the United Auto Workers (UAW) is in the midst of a strike involving the country’s three largest auto manufacturers.

Their visits to Michigan, scheduled for consecutive days this week, underscore the divergent strategies Biden and Trump are employing to court working-class voters who could potentially influence the outcome in Michigan and other key Midwest states.

In an unprecedented move for a sitting president, Biden is set to stand in solidarity with UAW workers in Detroit on Tuesday, endorsing their call for higher wages and highlighting the Democratic Party’s strong connection with organized labor. This extraordinary act has drawn attention from labor historians, as past presidents like FDR, Harry Truman, and JFK did not engage in such direct support for labor strikes.

On Wednesday evening, Trump, the former president and a frontrunner for the 2024 Republican nomination, will host a rally with both current and former union members in Clinton Township, Michigan. In contrast to Biden, Trump will not physically join a picket line but will instead emphasize his concerns about electric vehicles, which have gained favor under the Biden administration. Trump argues that electric vehicle production will primarily shift to China, posing a threat to the U.S. auto industry.

Trump’s approach aims to directly appeal to working-class individuals who may feel vulnerable in the face of emerging technologies and economic shifts. He taps into their concerns and seeks to establish a direct connection without relying on union representatives.

The outcome of this battle for blue-collar voters could have a significant impact on Michigan and other Midwest states. Working-class voters without college degrees are pivotal in deciding whether Biden can secure Michigan’s 16 electoral votes in 2024 or if Trump, as the Republican nominee, can return the state to the Republican column. Trump’s 2016 victory in Michigan, as well as Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, was attributed to his ability to attract white, non-college educated voters and make inroads with union voters, traditionally a Democratic stronghold.

In the lead-up to the 2020 election, Biden managed to regain Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania for the Democrats by improving his performance among union voters compared to Hillary Clinton in 2016. While Biden received the support of approximately six in ten union members, it wasn’t a decisive advantage, despite endorsements from the UAW and other labor unions.

Trump’s attempt to win back Michigan in 2024 hinges on his ability to once again cut into the Democrats’ historical advantage with union voters. However, this effort may be challenging because Trump’s rhetoric doesn’t align with the policy agenda of unions, especially at a time when organized labor is experiencing a resurgence in popularity. A Gallup poll in August indicated that 67% of Americans approve of unions, up from 56% in 2016.

While Trump is willing to criticize Biden for his handling of UAW matters, he may struggle to convey a comprehensive plan of support, which could hinder his appeal to union workers.

Biden’s decision to join the picket line carries both symbolic importance and potential risks. Despite his long-standing ties with organized labor and his desire to be recognized as the most pro-union president in U.S. history, he is also mindful of the national economic repercussions that could result from a prolonged strike. This includes concerns about lost wages for UAW workers and auto suppliers, as well as financial losses for the auto industry as a whole.

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