This election year, political figures are visiting GR. Here’s why.


Lauren Vanden Bosch

Biden supporters at the Grand Rapids Kids Food Basket.

From senator Bernie Sanders to former second lady Jill Biden, there’s no denying that Grand Rapids seems to attract many big names in politics. 

According to political science professor Doug Koopman, this is a real trend, and it has two causes.

First, Michigan is a so-called “swing state.” In other words, sometimes Michigan votes for one party and sometimes it votes for the other. 

Michigan has a fairly large number of reliable voters who still haven’t made up their minds between Biden and Trump,” Koopman said. “And if all those undecided voters swing decisively one way or another, it could determine the winner in each race.” 

Second, Grand Rapids is also part of a larger national trend of ideological polarization. Urban areas are becoming more and more liberal and rural areas are becoming more and more conservative. And the Grand Rapids Metropolitan area happens to contain both urban and rural areas.

“Close-in areas like Kentwood, East Grand Rapids, Forest Hills, Grandville, Walker, and Plainfield are more Democratic,” Koopman noted. “Whereas outer rings like Byron Center, Caledonia, Rockford, Lowell, etc. are more Republican.”

But a number of disillusioned Grand Rapids Republicans could potentially be persuaded to vote Democratic if the right candidate steps forward.

What compounds the Democrats’ interest in Grand Rapids are the people in the contested races—Joe Biden and Hillary Scholten (in the 3rd U.S. House District race)—have good potential to attract these reluctant Republican votes,” Koopman said. “Biden because of his long record of moderation, and Scholten because she is not running against an incumbent and does not have a strong partisan record or narrative story.”

Scholten is running against non-incumbent Republican Peter Meijer for the MI-03 congressional seat. 

Grand Rapids has also recently caught the attention of national news media outlets.

Meet the Press sees it as a bellwether county, particularly because of the cross-pressured Republican dynamic,” Koopman said. “And The New York Times did a really nice piece about how the county, and particularly Kentwood, illustrates some national trends and could put the entire state into play electorally.”

For these reasons, Grand Rapids voters have the potential to help determine the outcomes of upcoming political elections.