Temporary Truce

For years, I’ve considered our family to be in a more or less perpetual state of war with the local raccoon population. They’ve found ways to kill so many of our chickens, ducks, and turkeys … if I see a raccoon on the property, I tend to shoot first and ask questions never.

Until this past Sunday.

The weather here in Michigan has been unseasonably warm for mid-February, so my eldest daughter and I were able to get out for a wonderful 45-mile bike ride. We returned around 5pm or so, with about an hour of daylight to spare.

Before putting our bikes away, we gazed out over the property. Several of our ducks were still out in the pasture, splashing around in a flooded drainage ditch, having the time of their lives.

Then both of us spotted something just beyond the ditch: a smallish, dark-colored animal moving around. At first, I thought it might be one of our barn cats; she frequently goes out to the pasture to hunt field mice. “It’s not walking like a cat,” my daughter observed. I agreed. It was too far away to tell for sure, but it also seemed a bit too big to be a cat.

I decided this was worth checking on — especially since the animal could be stalking the ducks. They were so happily splashing in the drainage ditch, they seemed oblivious to all else. We hastily put our bikes away, I exchanged my cycling cleats for Muck boots, and then I grabbed the shotgun and a few shells of 00-Buck. Still wearing a cycling jersey and Lycra shorts, I then trotted out to the pasture. Our 14-year-old son, realizing something involving guns and wild animals was afoot, immediately stopped shooting baskets and trotted after me.

The noise we made with the gate evidently alerted the ducks that something was up, and they immediately abandoned the drainage ditch. As the flock waddled back toward the barn, I was relieved that at least none would fall victim to predators today. But I still needed to see if this intruder was in fact a predator — and take appropriate action if so.

As my son and I drew closer, it became clear that the animal was not a cat. It was too big, not carrying itself like a cat, and didn’t have a coat like any of our cats’ coats. Surprisingly, it was so intent on digging in the mud, it didn’t even notice us approaching. We drew to within 25 feet or so, and I chambered a round in the shotgun. At last, the animal looked up and I could see its face. Even more surprisingly, it just stared at us and did not run away.

I still couldn’t tell exactly what it was. It looked sort of like a raccoon, but not completely. The coat, and its coloring, didn’t seem quite right. The eye rings were evident, but not well defined. Its tail was tucked under it, so I couldn’t check it for rings.

Maybe I could convince myself it was a raccoon, but I wasn’t really sure. It didn’t look as clearly coon-like as the others we’d encountered (or even seen as road kill). If it’d stood and begun walking, I could’ve gotten a good look at its feet — and at its gait. That would’ve given me a much better signal. But the thing wasn’t moving. It just sat there, staring at us. Being in the middle of the pasture, I didn’t even have the option to pick up a rock to throw at it.

I drew a bead on the animal, but ultimately could not bring myself to squeeze the trigger. The way it looked at me, with its completely non-threatening demeanor, I just couldn’t kill it — especially since I wasn’t absolutely sure it was a raccoon.

But if it wasn’t a raccoon, what was it? My son and I went back to the house. I changed clothes, unloaded the shotgun and put it away, and jumped on the internet to search for “Michigan wildlife.” A long list came up, with pictures, but nothing really matched my memory of the thing. I looked at pictures of raccoons. I could see a resemblance, but also differences.

I returned to the pasture, this time with a camera — and my usual concealed carry pistol, in a holster. Much to my surprise, the animal was still in the same spot. I drew even closer than before, but it still didn’t run away. I took a few pictures. This is the best one:


Now, you might look at this and say, “Oh, that’s a raccoon!” Mrs. Yeoman Farmer did, when I showed it to her that evening. But trust me: when I was there, looking at the thing in person, under the fast-approaching twilight, it was ambiguous enough to raise questions. MYF and I decided it’s probably due to it being a yearling, emerging from its first winter with its first winter coat. Besides, I never got to see it walk around.

Standing there in the pasture, looking at how small, nonthreatening, and pathetic the thing was, along with some nagging doubts about exactly what kind of animal it was … I decided I just couldn’t shoot it. Maybe I’m getting soft in my old age, or because we haven’t had a coon attack in a while. Regardless, I simply couldn’t bring myself to put a bullet in this animal.

When Mrs. Yeoman Farmer and I discussed it later that evening, she had an additional thought: given this little raccoon’s behavior (lethargic, just sitting there in the open for so long, not running away), it’s quite possible the thing is sick. We decided that if it were to show up again, it would be a good idea to dispatch it. I commented that if it were still out in the pasture now, in the dark, after all these hours, it definitely had something wrong. I grabbed the rail-mounted tactical light for my pistol and went out in the pasture to take a look. But by then, there was no sign of the raccoon. I shined the light all over the field, and even into the trees. No beady little eyes reflected anything back.

I wondered where the raccoon had gone, where it was now, and if it were healthy or not. Having been face to face with the little guy, and having looked into its eyes, I realized I didn’t really wish it any ill. As I walked slowly back to the farmhouse, under the stars and the moonlight, I even hoped it gets to enjoy a long and happy life — far, far away from our farm.

Free Feed

One fun part about having livestock is discovering the various ways you can put to use the various produce that others might simply discard. Goats, chickens, and even sheep are not terribly picky about what they eat. (I’d add that pigs in particular will eat virtually anything, but we have no personal experience raising them.) Especially in the dead of winter, the animals seem to appreciate getting an unexpected bit of variety in their diet. We’ve found a few ways to do this without much — if any — additional cost.

For example, this morning we stopped at Walmart to take advantage of 50% off wrapping paper and Christmas decorations. We discovered an even better deal, however: their leftover, fresh-cut trees were … absolutely free! Most people would scratch their heads and wonder what they could do with an extra tree now that Christmas is past. (Heck, I’m sure a lot of people are already taking their Christmas trees down today.) We didn’t have to wonder for an instant. The three oldest Yeoman Farm Children were with me, and our first thought was: the goats will love feasting on those pine trees. Every year, when the Christmas season is over, we dispose of our tree by tossing it into the goat pen; the animals go right at it, and before long nothing is left but the trunk and larger branches.

Fortunately, we’d taken our full-size van this morning. (It’s an extended Ford E-350, with the rear bench seat removed to give a huge cargo area.) Christmas would be coming early for the goat herd.

The store manager opened up the gate to the tree cage, we backed up the van, and then we loaded as many trees as we could fit. The manager was happy to see them go (he said they’d otherwise have to find a place to dispose of them), we were happy to get some feed for the goats (saving some hay in the process), and I’m sure the goats will be happy for some variety in their monotonous winter diet. A true win-win-win.


Over the years, we’ve become alert to this kind of deal. Another example that almost always becomes available: surplus pumpkins immediately after Halloween. There’s a big producer about five miles up the road from us, and virtually every year they have a lot of pumpkins go unsold. It’s mostly the blemished and odd-shaped ones, but that doesn’t matter to us. They pile the things up in huge bins by the road, and charge $10 per bin. One bin basically fills the back of a pickup truck. Or, if you don’t have a pickup truck handy, it’ll basically fill the interior of a Dodge Caravan.


The picture above is from a few years ago; I was so busy with election prep this year, I wasn’t able to get over there for surplus pumpkins. But when we can get them, we stockpile them in the upstairs part of the barn, along with the hay. Over the course of November and mid-December (until it gets so cold that the pumpkins freeze solid), we toss them to the sheep and goats a few at a time. (The Yeoman Farm Children actually have a blast smashing the pumpkins open for the animals.) As a bonus, the pumpkin seeds are a natural anti-wormer for the livestock. And the chickens clean up any scraps the sheep and goats miss.

If you keep your eyes open and learn what to look for, smaller-scale opportunities for free feed abound. For example, my oldest son and I are members of our parish’s Knights of Columbus council, and our whole family volunteers at the fish fry events held every Friday in Lent. As the evening progresses, there’s a fair amount of food waste generated in the kitchen that would otherwise have to be thrown out. Pieces of fish get dropped accidentally, potatoes and green beans get cold and can’t be served, and there’s always a lot of extra breading that doesn’t get used up. My brother Knights collect toss all of these scraps in a large box for me, and then I take that box home. It saves them some space in the dumpster, but above all it’s a nice treat for our chickens — and saves some perfectly good stuff from being wasted. We mix it in with their grain ration, a coffee can or so per day, and “recycle” those scraps into eggs.

And that’s really what all these exercises in frugality are about. The actual dollar savings to us are fairly minimal. The most meaningful, and satisfying, benefit is knowing that you’ve made good use of something that would otherwise have been wasted.

We may have to go back to town later today, to run another errand. I just hope Walmart still has some trees left. Just in case, I think I’ll take the old minivan that’s had all five rear passenger seats removed. We use it mostly for hauling animals and grain (and pumpkins!), but today it will hopefully be hauling Christmas trees.

One More Pearl Harbor Story

With today being the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, you’re no doubt reaching overload on stories commemorating the event. I’m hoping you can indulge me for a few minutes while I share just one more: our family’s.

My grandfather, Philip Gerhing, was a career Navy man. He enlisted in 1931, shortly after graduating from high school, remained on active duty until 1952, and then worked for the Navy as a civilian until his eventual retirement in the early 1970s. Growing up, my grandparents’ house was a trove of artwork and knickknacks that he’d brought home from all over the world (especially the far East).

In December of 1941, he was stationed at Pearl Harbor and serving as a “pharmacist’s mate.” My understanding is that he worked in the base hospital, assisting those who ran the pharmacy. He and my grandmother had three kids at the time: my mother (a few months shy of her fourth birthday), and her two brothers (aged five and two-and-a-half). My grandmother and the kids were living on the base with him, having come out to Hawaii on a civilian passenger ship to join him in early July.

Shortly before 8 am, seventy-five years ago, my grandfather had just finished an overnight shift at the base hospital. He was waiting for a shuttle to take him home, when he heard the drone of a large number of low-flying aircraft. He looked up, and said his first thought was: “Somebody sure did a sloppy job of painting those planes!” Of course, a moment later, when the bombs began dropping, he realized that the “sloppy paint” patterns were Japanese rising sun emblems.


Given that he was on his way home, and home wasn’t far, he continued on. He stayed at the house for just long enough to make sure his family was alright — and then went straight back to work. He seldom talked about what he did the rest of that day, but it generally involved assisting the medical staff in treating the wounded. My mother recalls him talking about being inside, and looking up, and noticing that large chunks of the building were missing.

Meanwhile, back home, my grandmother had three small kids to protect — plus some neighbor kids, who happened to be over. She pushed a large sofa in front of the window, and tried to keep the children entertained in the midst of the attack. Bombs were falling all over the neighborhood, as the family housing units were literally right on the base. Had so many of the bombs not been duds, the civilian death toll would have been much higher. One bomb in particular landed on the house next door to my grandparents’ house; had it gone off, there was apparently enough ordinance to level the block.

One thing that both of my grandparents told me: the Japanese planes were coming in so low, they could see the faces of the pilots. By far the most disconcerting part is that many of the pilots were looking down at them and smiling as they dropped their deadly payloads.

My mother, being just three years old at the time, has only hazy memories from that day — and my grandparents didn’t talk a lot about it. But for me, while growing up, having had family at Pearl Harbor personalized the event in a way that a history book could never do. And what’s really cool is that when the attack was over, my grandparents gathered up a collection of small artifacts (mostly shrapnel and parachute fragments). My mother had a small box with these historical souvenirs, and as a kid I remember being in awe every time she would bring it out. I became a junior Pearl Harbor buff, and read everything I could about the event.

There’s another chapter to the Pearl Harbor story, which is seldom discussed: what happened to the servicemen’s families afterwards. With a war now underway, and with the assumption that Hawaii itself would be a battleground, the Navy wanted to minimize the number of civilians in the area. In the weeks after the “day which will live in infamy,” the women and children  were loaded on passenger ships and evacuated to the mainland. The journey took upwards of a week, and for my grandmother it was a nightmare. Their ship was packed with women and small children, beyond its typical carrying capacity. The kids had very little to do, and the mothers were afraid to let them simply run around; it would be too easy to get lost or fall overboard. My grandmother ended up tethering her three kids together, so she could keep better track of them.

I never got all the details from her, but by all accounts it was an absolute nightmare of a trip. What made it even worse was the sense that they were sitting ducks, alone on this boat out in the middle of the ocean, days from anywhere. There were no naval escort ships. There were no patrol aircraft. The passenger ship of course had no anti-aircraft guns or other defenses. Everyone was fully expecting Japanese forces to materialize on the horizon, and send them to the bottom of the ocean.

This article has a nice summary of the civilian evacuation. What’s interesting is that the ship mentioned in the article, the S.S. Lurline, was the one my grandmother and her kids sailed on to get to Hawaii six months earlier. (I know they weren’t on it with the subject of this article, going back to the mainland, because they had no destroyer escort like is mentioned in the article.)

As a palate cleanser, I’ll leave you with this wonderful human interest story, about the oldest known Pearl Harbor survivor who was on active duty that day. He’s 104, and a couple of years ago resolved to keep himself in good enough shape to not only live to see the 75th anniversary, but to be strong enough to make the trip to Hawaii for today’s ceremonies:

He’s two years younger than my grandfather. Grandpa kept himself in incredible shape, and didn’t pass away until a few months short of his 95th birthday, but to my knowledge never went back to Hawaii for any of the commemorations. However, I’m sure my grandfather will be there in spirit with everyone today.

Turkey Time

On this chilly Michigan morning, I’m warming up a quart of rich, delicious turkey soup on the wood stove. Like pretty much everything else on the farm, it has a story.

We raised five turkeys this year. We brooded the baby poults along with a mixed batch of meat birds and pullet chicks we bought in mid-July. We didn’t really need five turkeys, but I figured it was a safe bet that at least two of them would die along the way. Fortunately for us, none did.

Anyway, after a week or so in the brooder, we moved all the birds out to a couple of movable pasture pens in the garden. All summer long, we moved those pens all over a large section of the garden that wasn’t being planted this year. All summer long, the birds happily mowed down their daily allotment of weeds and bugs. All summer long, they left their droppings behind for next year’s potato crop.

As weeks passed, and the birds grew, the pens got crowded. In early September, we moved all the pullets to the barn. They were easily old enough to free-range. We then began butchering the twenty or so Cornish Cross meat chickens. Every time I had some free time on a nice afternoon, I would butcher four or five of them. After a long day of squinting at a computer screen and building voter turnout models, I welcomed the opportunity to get my hands dirty doing something completely different. And there’s nothing quite as perfect as a summer evening with fresh pasture-raised chicken on the grill.

By late September, the five turkeys were down to one pen of their own. We used the remaining pen for a mother duck and her brood of ducklings. Day after day, they all continued to move around the garden. In late October, we turned Mother Duck and her brood loose in the barn.


That left the turkeys. They were now HUGE, and easily ready for butchering. Trouble was, I was still so busy with work, I didn’t have enough time to do it. Finally, when I returned from Washington DC after the election, I had my chance to begin chipping away.

A whole turkey, especially a fully-grown Tom, takes up an inordinate amount of space in the freezer. And how many families can use a turkey that large? We find it makes most sense to cut the turkey into pieces as we butcher it, and freeze the pieces separately. A leg quarter and a wing provides a full meal for our family. A breast piece can be thawed and used for two separate meals. And so forth.

That first turkey went into the freezer. I intended to butcher a couple more last weekend, but then we got some incredibly nasty weather; temps in the low twenties, blowing snow … sorry, but butchering just wasn’t going to happen. I threw a log on the fire and enjoyed an afternoon of football.

Tuesday afternoon of this week, the weather was clear enough to resume. Tom #2 woke up that morning having no idea he would become the centerpiece of this year’s Thanksgiving feast.


As I butchered, I carved off pieces of meat and added them to our large Crock Pot. I included a variety of white meat and dark meat. It ended up being able to hold basically a leg quarter, one full side of the breast, and part of another leg quarter. Both wings, a drumstick, the feet, and the carcass (including the neck) went straight into our big soup pot to simmer overnight. Everything else went into the freezer.

The Crock Pot was very full, but it could still take about a quart of water. I added this, and a quarter cup of salt, to make a nice brine solution. The whole thing then went in the fridge.

Early on Thanksgiving morning, I dumped the brine and rinsed the meat well. We then packed it back in the Crock Pot and seasoned it with basil, garlic, and paprika. I  poured in some apple cider vinegar, and put a couple of chopped onions on top. Then it cooked on High all day.

By mid-afternoon, so much liquid had come off the meat, the Crock Pot was overflowing. This ended up being the most moist and delicious turkey you could imagine.

If the whole “Norman Rockwell” carve-the-turkey-at-the-table thing isn’t important to your family, I highly recommend giving the Crock Pot a try next year.

In the meantime, I have three more turkeys to take care of. I think we’re going to turn them loose in the barn tonight, as they’ve done about as much as can be done outside. Hopefully we’ll have enough good weather this coming week, so I can get all three of them into the freezer. The only mystery is which one will end up being the centerpiece of our Christmas feast.


Stretching Hay

We’re getting to that time of year when everything is shutting down. The pasture is basically gone, so we’re no longer bothering to take the goats out during the day to graze. That means they’re confined to a fenced area near their part of the barn, with access to the barn itself if they prefer to be inside. With the weather getting increasingly gray and cold, I don’t blame them for wanting to stay in.

However, they still need to eat. The milkers get a good ration of grain twice a day, and we feed some hay to the whole herd at the beginning and end of the day (at the same times we bring hay down for the sheep). The middle of the day is the problem. Our hay supply is limited, especially so this year because we didn’t get more than one cutting (a confluence of a couple of problems, including weather and being overdue for more fertilizer). We did buy quite a few bales from other farmers, so if we’re vigilant we should have enough to make it through the winter. There just isn’t a lot of extra.

Although the hay didn’t get long enough for an additional cutting, there is some good growth out there. I’d love to be able to turn the animals loose to graze it, but the hay field isn’t fenced. They’d be in our neighbor’s yard (and then all over the county) in the blink of an eye. And yet I hate to see all that nice grass go to waste. If we leave it, it’ll just die back over the winter and be lost.

Our solution: since we can’t take the goats to the hay field … we’ll take the hay field to the goats! Our push mower has a detachable grass catcher, which is the primary tool we need. (I wish we had one of those giant bagger attachments we could attach to our lawn tractor, but we don’t. So, it’s the push mower or nothing.) Some of the older kids and I take turns running it up and down the hay field, stopping every so often to empty the grass catcher into a wheelbarrow. Once the wheelbarrow is full, we leave the mower out in the field and run the wheelbarrow over to the fence of the goat area.

What’s funny is that we’ve been doing this for so many days now, the goats have learned that when the mower fires up … they get fed! They tend to hang out inside the barn most of the time. Then, once I get the mower running, they come stampeding out. By the time I fill the wheelbarrow and reach their feeder, they’re impatiently wondering what’s been taking me so long. As soon as I begin stuffing handfuls of grass clippings into their feeder, they’re literally climbing all over each other to get it.


We fill the feeder a couple of times, and leave the rest in the wheelbarrow. There’s usually enough left for another feeding, which we try to give them about an hour later. Then it’s off to cut some more grass.

With the kids taking turns with me, it’s not too much of a burden. And for me, it’s a nice break from the work I do in my office. It gets me out and moving in the fresh air, which usually helps clear my head nicely before returning to work. The only days we don’t run the mower is when it’s raining or snowing steadily. Then, it’s back to stored hay.

We’ve had a good string of days lately where we’ve been able to cut. Hopefully we’ll get plenty more before the dead of winter arrives next month.


Election Time

The last few months have been a blur, and I apologize that it’s been so long since I’ve managed to put up a post. I spent the summer and early fall doing voter microtargeting models and analysis. Then, beginning a little over a month ago, things heated up with CNN. As I’ve noted before, I’m part of CNN’s decision team; we’re the analysts you see in the background, studying the way the vote comes in on election night, and who ultimately decide when to project the outcome of particular races.

In the weeks leading up to election night, we would regularly rehearse with simulated data; most of us simply connected via conference call and computer for this. Then, we all spent the weekend before the election in Washington, DC for studio rehearsals. Finally, we were of course up all night on Tuesday the 8th. I got back to my hotel around 4am, went to bed at 4:30am, and managed to get a couple of hours of sleep. Since arriving back home, it’s taken until now to get fully caught up on sleep.

There have been some interesting happenings on the farm in these past months. One story in particular, about a sheep, I’ve been wanting very much to tell. It’s a bit involved, however, so it hasn’t been easy to put a post together. I promise to get this up for you soon.

Back to the election. I’ve been a student of politics, and a fan, my entire life. I live for the campaign experience, and for me election night has long rivaled Super Bowl Sunday. To say that this particular campaign was the most unusual of my lifetime would be a gross understatement.

If the subject interests you, you’ve no doubt read all kinds of analyses about how Donald Trump managed to surprise so many. I think this story from the Los Angeles Times gives a good, highly readable overview of how the candidate coalitions changed this time around, and how the Trump victory was a matter not so much of his mobilizing previously disaffected voters as it was of Democrats failing to turn out for Hillary Clinton the way they had for Barack Obama. For a good story about how Trump flipped the state of Michigan in particular, I’d recommend this one from National Review.

Virtually all of the commentary you will read (including what I’ve linked to above) focuses on vote patterns at the county or state level. Those are fine as far as they go, and certainly help give the big picture, but they share a common problem: counties themselves are often very diverse, both politically and demographically. Looking at how a county as a whole votes can miss a good part of the story. Later this winter, I plan to put together an analysis of Michigan vote patterns at the township level; townships are much smaller, more homogeneous, and closer to the level of the individual voter.

In the meantime, the county where I live (Ingham) is an interesting example. It includes a large urban center with a significant minority population (the state capital, Lansing), Michigan State University (East Lansing) and its affluent liberal neighbor (Meridian Township), semi-suburban bedroom areas at the fringe of Lansing proper, and many highly-rural townships and small towns (one of which is home to our farm). In all, Ingham County has twenty-one separate administrative jurisdictions which tally and report votes independently, and for which Census data are available.

Ingham County is much more Democratic than the state’s median, and Democrats routinely sweep countywide elections. It’s hardly a bellweather for anything, and it’s not a microcosm of the state or the nation. Still, Ingham’s intra-county diversity makes it an interesting place to study, and I think the preliminary township-level results give an instructive look at what happened in the state (and country) at large on Tuesday night. Think of what comes below as a first step in my larger analysis of how changing vote patterns flipped Michigan from the Democratic to the Republican column.

First, a quick overview: Ingham had 208,586 registered voters going into the 2016 general election. A total of 136,160 ballots were cast, for a turnout rate of 65.3%. This was up slightly from 63.5% in 2012. Much to my surprise, given how much we’ve heard about the unfavorability of both parties’ nominees, the percent abstaining in the Presidential race actually declined (from 2.4% to 0.9%). However, the percent of Presidential voters choosing a third-party or write-in candidate did increase sharply: from 1.7% to 6.9%. As a result, although turnout was up, and nearly 5,000 additional people came to the polls, the number of votes for major party candidates actually decreased by over 500. The Republican ticket got 952 fewer votes than last time, and the Democratic ticket improved by 419.

Countywide, the 2012-to-2016 vote totals are very similar. Trump got 35.3% of the two-party vote, down only slightly (-0.6%) from what Romney got. (Because we’re talking about shares of the two-party vote, Clinton is of course the mirror image; she improved by 0.6% over Obama.) But how the candidates arrived at these totals is different from how the 2012 nominees did so — and I think tells an interesting story about what makes this election as a whole quite different.

Let’s start with the county’s one big urban center: the City of Lansing. Lansing accounts for 35% of the ballots cast in the election. Nearly one-third of the city’s adults are black (22%) or Hispanic (10%). Interestingly, Donald Trump got 128 more votes here than Mitt Romney did — but the big story is on the Democratic side. Hillary Clinton won 954 fewer votes in Lansing than Barack Obama. In other words, she was unable to mobilize the urban component of the party’s coalition as effectively as Obama had.

In this year’s election commentary, much has been made of Trump’s support from working class whites (especially those living in more rural areas). Ingham County has eleven jurisdictions which are (1) highly rural, (2) almost entirely white, and (3) in which the percentage of adults with a college degree does not reach 25%. Using this as a rough definition of “rural, working-class white,” in these eleven jurisdictions Trump rolled up 1,115 more votes than Romney — and in some cases posted double digit improvements in his share of the two-party vote. These areas had been open to voting for Barack Obama; he scored 1,239 more votes here than Hillary Clinton was able to manage. Clearly, Trump’s appeal to rural, working-class whites was real — and made a notable impact on the coalitions he and Clinton assembled.

So, where did Hillary Clinton make up the difference? In the highly-educated liberal enclaves of East Lansing and neighboring Meridian Township. In East Lansing alone, Clinton garnered 1,310 more votes than Barack Obama, more than cancelling out her decline (from Obama’s total) in the rural working-class jurisdictions. Trump’s total was down 412 votes (or 3.8 percent of the two-party total) from Romney’s in East Lansing. But by far the biggest swing was in bordering Meridian Township, where 60% of adults hold a college degree. Clinton improved by 1,440 votes here over Obama, while Trump got nearly 1,300 votes fewer than Romney (for a 6.3% smaller share of the two-party vote).

The pattern was similar, but to a lesser degree, in the more Republican Williamstown Township, the next jurisdiction out from Meridian. Here, fully half of adults hold a college degree, and the median income is the highest in the county. Romney won Williamstown Township with 53% of the two-party vote, but Trump narrowly lost it (winning only 49.8% of the two-party vote).

There are some additional jurisdictions in Ingham County which are rural but with more adults holding college degrees, or less rural but with a good number of working class whites. In these jurisdictions, both candidates tended to be down a bit from their 2012 counterpart, or they did basically the same as the 2012 nominees did. While not exactly “suburban,” these tend to be bedroom communities (or within fairly easy commuting distance) to Lansing, such as Delhi Township and the City of Mason.

The full table of results:

Ingham Results.jpg

Obviously, given that Clinton improved slightly over Obama’s performance in Ingham as a whole, this county’s usefulness in explaining Trump’s statewide improvement over Romney is limited. As much as Trump improved in rural, white working class areas, there just weren’t enough such voters in Ingham County to keep pace with Clinton’s improvement in places like East Lansing and Meridian Township. Fortunately for Trump, statewide, there were more working class whites and fewer college town voters than in Ingham County. That’s why this analysis is meant as a simple preview, and is more suggestive than definitive. Still, these shifts in voting patterns (even in a Democratic stronghold such as Ingham) give a good hint as to how the party coalitions in Michigan changed this year.

On a less scientific, and more purely on-the-ground observational note: Trump’s victory didn’t surprise me very much. Especially down the stretch, both campaigns were treating the state as if it were in play. A lot of money was being spent here, and the candidates were making more visits than we usually see in a Presidential year.

The biggest “early warning” indicator to me, however, was the observable difference in enthusiasm between supporters of the two candidates. It wasn’t just a question of yard signs, though that was part of it. My daughter and I spent a lot of time this summer and fall on our bikes out on rural roads. We were struck by more than the sheer number of Trump signs (especially compared to the paucity of Clinton/Kane signs). People were also making their own homemade Trump signs. Some of these were HUGE. Also, out in the country, it’s not uncommon to see flag poles in people’s yards. What is unusual is to see a Presidential candidate flag flying on a flag pole — and we saw a lot of Trump flags. I’ve been a student of politics my whole life, and I’ve lived in a lot of different places. But I confess that I’ve never before seen someone (let alone many someones) literally flying a flag for a candidate.


But the most colorful anecdote is something that happened just around the corner from where we live. In late summer, one of our neighbors put up a sign in her yard which read, in large all-caps, TRUMP THAT [FEMALE CANINE]. Then, in smaller print at the bottom: “Before It’s Too Late!” I’ve obviously cleaned up the language; I don’t use words on the blog that I wouldn’t let my kids use. Suffice it to say that it shocked our family that someone would put something up in their yard which was so provocative. And, given the provocative language, I expected that sign to get torn down within a day or two. After all, every election year, political signs get torn down all the time.

This one didn’t. Day after day, we drove past that sign. Then week after week. Still there, still taunting every Clinton supporter in the township (and this was a fairly well-traveled road). When the sign had remained in place for two weeks, I suspected there had been a serious shift in the electorate — because in any other year, the passionate supporters of any other candidate would have destroyed a sign like that within hours. Or possibly within a day or two at the most. Instead, this sign remained up for two full months. And when it did finally disappear, shortly before the election, the owner took to the local Facebook page to express her anger that someone had taken it. Turns out, she’d bought that sign herself. In the comments on her post, a large number of people commented as to how much they’d liked it.

Let that sink in for a moment: she bought the sign herself. Don’t campaigns usually supply yard signs? When was the last time you heard about someone passionate enough to buy her own campaign sign? As I thought about it, I realized those Trump flags I’d seen flying must have also been purchased. (Turns out, you can still buy them on Amazon. And they’re not that expensive.) The more I reflected on this, the more I realized just how much of a “voter passion gap” was emerging in my state’s rural electorate.

All of this is a long-winded way of saying: I wasn’t terribly surprised when I saw the Michigan votes roll in for Trump last Tuesday. Once I get the more complete township-level analysis put together this winter, I will share it here on the blog.

September Soundtrack

September is one of my favorite months. The really hot temperatures have largely subsided, but the weather is still very nice. The first leaves on the trees are beginning to turn and tumble to the ground. Harvest is rolling in, and we’re feasting on fresh vegetables every night. Freshly-butchered chicken is on the grill any time we want it. The lambs are growing up, reaching their potential. Fleeces are filling out. Football is back. The baseball season – and playoff hunt – is going down to the wire.

September is also a time of melancholy and of introspection. Summer seems to have vanished in a flash. Much of the year is gone, but much remains to be done. And September is often a month of transitions and new beginnings, especially with school starting. Feeling the cool morning air, I’m often taken back to the beginnings of new school years in my youth. Just yesterday, when my daughter and I were out on our bikes and got passed by a large tractor, the smell of unfiltered diesel exhaust connected straight back to what I remembered from 1970s school buses. It was like no time at all had passed, as I was immersed in a familiar — and reassuring —childhood aroma. The bus is here. It’s going to take me home.

So, I don’t find it surprising that there seems to be more popular songs about September than about any other month. Yes, there are lots of songs about holidays or seasons that happen to take place during other months. But tell me … right off the top of your head, how many songs are there about December as a month? (Songs about Christmas and Winter Wonderland don’t count.) I really like GNR’s “November Rain,” but how many other popular songs even mention that month by name? Even the hit songs about summer don’t usually mention any particular month.

There’s something about September that has inspired quite a lot of emotional expression in music.Let’s count down the list of my own personal favorites:

#7 September (Earth, Wind and Fire). Attend any major league baseball game at this time of year, and I bet you’ll hear this one blasting over the stadium sound system at least once between innings. There’s nothing quite like it to get you on your feet, clapping your hands, and hoping your team can still win enough games to snag a playoff slot. And even if you’re not at a MLB game … who can resist the song’s terrific, psychedelic seventies music video? There’ll never be a cloudy day as you rock out to this one.

#6 See You in September (The Happenings). This one has been recorded several times, by different artists, but this version from 1966 is my favorite. Living in the days of instantaneous (and constant) communication, it’s easy to forget that it wasn’t always that way. I still remember saying goodbye to friends for the summer, and knowing you weren’t going to see them again for months. No Facebook updates. No emails. No tweets. Getting a letter or two in the mail was a really big deal. This song captures, really nicely, the angst of being separated for a few months (even the glorious months of summer) from a young romantic love or crush, and wondering what the person will be like when the new school year finally starts. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I certainly had my own experiences with this 25-30 years ago … and song brings back a lot of memories of those earlier days.

#5 Come Monday (Jimmy Buffett). Admittedly, it does not mention “September” by name, but it’s the only song I know of that specifically mentions Labor Day. I always have it my head all weekend at this time of year. This is by far my favorite Jimmy Buffett tune, as I think it so nicely captures the feelings of sadness as summer comes to a close. I set it to loop over and over again yesterday as I cleaned my office and prepared to make a fresh start after the holiday weekend.

#4 September Morn (Neil Diamond). Now we’re getting even more emotional and introspective. But what I like most about this song is how — like the smell of diesel exhaust — it always takes me straight back to the crisp mornings of fifth grade, watching from the window of a big yellow school bus as the semi-rural scenery rolls past. The song came out in 1979, and the station my bus driver listened to played Neil Diamond all the time. When I hear those mournful strings, I can practically smell the black vinyl of the bus seats, and feel the coolness of the window against my nose, as I wonder what the new school year will bring.

#3 Wake Me Up When September Ends (Green Day). Billie Joe Armstrong wrote the song about his father, who died of cancer in September of 1982, when Billie was ten. The sense of loss permeates it; anyone who’s suffered a significant loss will find this song resonates deeply. The artistry with which he connects the loss of his father with the general sense of loss many of us feel in September is simply masterful.

#2 September (Daughtry).  This is almost my favorite song on the list. It’s by far my favorite official music video of any song on this list (and one of my favorite music videos, period). The introspective lyrics, about time going by but memories still remaining, mixed with images from old home movies (clearly shot around the time of my own childhood) always give me chills. What I personally find most powerful comes late in the song, when he says “you know we had to leave this town.” For those of us who grew up with the sense that we had to leave our hometown to find all that life had in store for us, and don’t really have regrets, but do sometimes reflect on what could have been had we chosen differently … this really captures the emotions all tied up in the experience.

What I find especially moving is the visual he chooses for this section: speeding through a tunnel. Every time I watch it, and hear “you know we had to leave this town,” I go straight back to the Interstate 90 tunnel running east out of Seattle. Early on a summer morning in 1991, that was me — starting a cross-country trek in my burgundy-colored 1983 Volvo coupe, college diploma and all other worldly possessions jammed in the trunk, getting ready to launch my career in political polling.

#1 The September of My Years (Frank Sinatra).  Sinatra has long been one of my favorite performers, and no one has a voice quite like his. I became a fan of his at the age of eleven (long story), and I’m still a fan today. All I’m going to say is: the older I get, the more I appreciate and truly love this song. I can’t think of any other commentary to make. Just close your eyes and listen, and you’ll know why it’s my favorite song about my favorite month:

Hope you all have a terrific September!