New report from CLOSUP: Rising confidence in Michigan’s direction but partisan differences remain

July 27, 2018

An annual survey by University of Michigan researchers has tracked two straight years of improving evaluations for the Michigan legislature and the governor by the local government leaders of the state.

About 56 percent of Michigan’s local leaders say they are optimistic about the state’s direction, while 33 percent say the state is on the wrong track. These views are strongly correlated with partisan views, the researchers say.

“We continue to track fundamental differences in these opinions, based on the party identification of the local leaders,” said said Tom Ivacko, associate director of the Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy (CLOSUP) at U-M’s Ford School of Public Policy.

“Michigan’s state government is under unified Republican control, and at the local level, Republican local leaders are much more likely than either Independents or Democrats to have positive evaluations of the state’s direction and the job performances of state policymakers today.”

The data comes from the Michigan Public Policy Survey, an ongoing poll of Michigan’s 1,856 local governments conducted by CLOSUP. The spring 2018 survey received a 74-percent response rate with results from 1,372 jurisdictions.

Among the respondents, about 60 percent of local official respondents identify as Republicans, compared to 24 percent as Democrats and 16 percent as Independents.

By comparison, according to Gallup polling in 2017, 38 percent of Michigan citizens identified themselves as Republicans, while 45 percent identified as Democrats and 17 percent identified as Independents.

Among the survey’s key findings:

  •  The job approval rating for Gov. Rick Snyder has also risen for the second year in a row: 52 percent rate his performance as good or excellent in 2018, compared to 46 percent last year and 41 in 2016, and 13 percent rated his performance as poor this year—down from 20 percent in 2017.
  •  The job evaluations for the Michigan legislature’s performance remains significantly lower than those of the governor. About 29 percent of local officials say the legislature’s performance is good or excellent while 29 percent rated the legislature’s performance as poor. However, this is the smallest “poor” rating since MPPS tracking started in 2009.
  •  About 57 percent of local leaders from rural jurisdictions think the state is heading in the right direction, compared with just 43 percent of those from urban areas.

Among the key reasons tracked in a 2016 survey, local leaders who believed the state was heading in the right direction most often commented on the state of the economy, noting that unemployment was falling, while hiring was up; rising property values and increased homebuilding; and greater tourism, thanks in large part to the Pure Michigan campaign.

Those who thought the state was on the wrong track tended to mention the broken relationship between the state and local governments; concerns about the state’s emergency manager law; concerns about the state taking away too much local authority; disagreement with the state’s tax and spending policies; and concern about dysfunction in Lansing.

“​Despite the partisan differences, it’s clear that more local officials of all stripes are feeling optimistic about the direction Michigan is heading than we’ve seen in awhile,” said Debra Horner, project manager at CLOSUP.