On Dodge Avenue in this blue-collar suburb of Detroit, Carole Lee is a 1982 standout. Two years ago, when I last went door-knocking on these blocks, she was one of many Democrats who were bolting their party to vote for Ronald Reagan.
The tide of disillusionment of which Lee was a part dropped Jimmy Carter from the 62 percent vote he got in Roseville Precinct 2 in 1976 to 52 percent in 1980. Similar shifts in blue-collar precincts throughout the Midwest contributed to the Reagan landslide.
But Sept. 25, when I made my rounds again, Lee, the wife of a veteran Ford worker, was a standout because she said she is sticking with her 1980 decision. She is an angry voter -- angry, still, at Carter for "giving away" the Panama Canal and pardoning draft resisters, but angry now at other things as well: the "tide" of immigrant workers and foreign products, the sight of poor old men in the supermarkets "buying dog food for themselves," the spectacle of Jerry Falwell "trying to impose his morality on other people."
But most of all, she is angry at her old party, the Democrats, for "really letting the president down. I think the Democrats are losing sight of the fact that America is a sick, wounded animal that has to be treated, and Ronald Reagan happens to be the vet. It's going to have to get worse before it gets better," she said of the economic situation, "but I really do think a lot of his (Reagan's) programs will work. The trouble is, Tip O'Neill and too many other Democrats just don't seem to want them to work." Feeling that way, she is inclined to vote Republican again this year, just to send the Democrats a message. 2 But she is the exception, as these Roseville voters confirm, with their comments, the national polls showing many of the blue-collar Democrats who bolted to Reagan are "coming home" this year.
Far more typical is Clyde R. Wilkins, a Teamsters Union member whose local last year voted to give up some of its pay and allowances to enable his small freight-company employer to stay in business.
Two years ago, he went with Reagan because "Carter just tried to please everybody and never did get anything done." But since Reagan has been in, Wilkins said, "the unions and the small businesses have been making all the concessions, and the big guys aren't giving up a thing; they're just grabbing more."
He is voting Democratic, he said, "to get the working man back on his feet."
But he is doing so with a shrug of resignation, rather than a surge of conviction. That sense of weariness is there in so many conversations that a visitor is left wondering how many of these returning Democrats will actually bother to vote on Nov. 2.
Frances Climard is keeping house for her grown son again because he has been to Texas and back, looking for work, and has not been able to find anything that pays more than the minimum wage.
"It was bad before Reagan got in," she said, "but he promised he'd do something about it, and he's just made it worse." If she votes this year, she says, she will vote Democratic, "but I'm beginning to wonder if there's any point. We're in a crisis now that I don't know how anybody can get us out of. They all talk a good line, but when they get in office, there are so many interests they've got to please, they don't do anything."
Roy Holbrook, a 60-year-old millwright who has been out of work since the Detroit Steel Products plant where he worked was shut down two years ago, voted for Carter in 1980, even though "I didn't think too much of him." If he votes this year, it will be Democratic because "they're for the working people." But as far as having some plans that will put him back to work? "It's a tossup," he says. "I'm not sure either party knows what to do."
It is not just the older workers whose impulse to vote has been beaten down by this economic squeeze. Lee Carol Luttrell is a 21-year-old chemical engineering student at Wayne State who cast her first presidential ballot in 1980 for independent John B. Anderson. She is concerned about military spending increases and cutbacks in education and health funds--one would think a likely supporter of the liberal Democrats on the Michigan ballot.
But, she says, "the Democrats don't seem too different. It's just a different label."
Perhaps the last month of campaigning will shake these folks out of their political lethargy and recharge them with the conviction that their votes can improve their own futures. But today, they are both pained and passive -- as uncertain about the Democrats as most of them are disillusioned with Reagan.