CLOSUP poll: Half of Michigan's local officials say state on the wrong track

August 4, 2011

Half of the local government officials surveyed in Michigan say the state is generally on the wrong track, while 32 percent think the state is going the right way, a new University of Michigan poll says.

Democratic officials were most likely to be critical of the state's direction. But even among local Republican officials, fewer than half (46 percent) believe the state is going the right way, the poll says.

The statewide survey was conducted as part of the ongoing Michigan Public Policy Survey by U-M's Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy (CLOSUP) at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy.

"Local governments are key players in implementing state-level policy decisions, so this high level of concern about the state's direction among local officials should be on the radar for the governor and state legislators," said Brian Jacob, professor of public policy and director of CLOSUP.

"Local officials know the conditions on the ground, where the policy rubber meets the road, so their views can provide important guidance to state policymakers. Ideally we would see a higher level of alignment in the views of our state and local policymakers."

In the first half of 2011, significant policy changes have reshaped the relationship between Michigan's state and local governments. Major developments include the new emergency manager law and revenue sharing changes to incentivize local government reform.

"This study finds mixed-reactions among Michigan's local government leaders to these changes," Jacob said.

There was also a change in the governor's office, with Republican Rick Snyder replacing Democrat Jennifer Granholm.

Local officials are divided about Snyder's job performance, with 37 percent rating him as good or excellent and 22 percent giving him a poor rating, the survey says. Unsurprisingly, Republicans are more supportive of Snyder, but only a bare majority of them (52 percent) say his performance was either good or excellent.

Despite the dissatisfaction, Snyder's approval levels are higher than those reported near the end of Granholm's tenure in a CLOSUP survey in fall 2009. At that time, 52 percent of the local officials thought Granholm was doing a poor job, compared with only 22 percent giving Snyder a poor performance rating.

"The gridlock that dominated Lansing toward the end of Gov. Granholm's tenure has been replaced by one-party Republican control and a stream of significant policy changes," Jacob said. "While local officials think state policymakers are doing a better job now than in 2009, a majority of them also think the state is heading in the wrong direction. I suspect their views on the state's direction are tied to their views of the high profile policy changes coming out of Lansing."

Local officials are also critical of the state legislature. Only 21 percent of the officials rate its performance as either good or excellent, while 36 percent say it's poor.

The poll, conducted from April 18 to June 10, involved online and hardcopy surveys sent to the top elected and appointed officials in all counties, cities, villages and townships in Michigan. A total of 1,272 jurisdictions returned valid surveys, resulting in a 69 percent response rate. The margin of error was plus or minus 1.5 percentage points.

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