Michigan local government officials worry about local impacts of national political discord

January 26, 2022
Written By:
Jeff Karoub
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In the face of a worsening national political tone, civic discourse on the local level in Michigan remains generally positive, according to elected officials across the state.

This is true concerning both interaction among elected officials, and between the public and those elected officials. Yet, those officials assess that discourse among the residents themselves remains fairly divisive.

The views expressed are reported in key findings of the Michigan Public Policy Survey, which has been examining the question of civic discourse since 2012. The attitudes expressed are generally unchanged, but concerns about the local impacts of national political partisanship are growing.

A full 61% of Michigan’s local leaders believe the current environment of national partisan politics hurts relationships among their residents, including 29% who say it hurts residents’ relationships significantly. Almost half (45%) of local officials say that national partisan politics already is hurting relationships among members of their board/council, up from only 15% who said the same just three years ago.

The survey asked local leaders to characterize the general tone of discussion and communication that takes place around local policy issues in their communities.

“This report is both heartening and worrisome. Making government work better requires collaboration,” said Tom Ivacko, executive director of the Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy at the University of Michigan Ford School of Public Policy. “The fact that some 73% of local officials say they have generally constructive discourse is encouraging. Yet the dark clouds of hyperpartisanship nationally appear to be causing increasing harm to those relationships.”

The study finds the assessments are generally nonpartisan.

When it comes to the partisan identification of the respondents, 77% of local officials who identify as Republican say discussion between elected officials is generally constructive, relatively unchanged over time. Democrats are similarly positive (79%), but this represents a significant increase in constructive assessments compared with 2018 and 2012. Finally, self-identified Independents are the least likely to say discussion among local elected officials is constructive (67%), though this is still two-thirds of such respondents.

“The largest communities in the state reported the highest levels of concern,” said Debra Horner, CLOSUP project manager. “Only 17% of local officials in those communities said that discourse among their residents is primarily constructive, which represents a significant drop since 2018.”

CLOSUP conducted the spring 2021 wave of the MPPS between April 5 and June 7, 2021.

The MPPS is an ongoing census survey of all 1,856 general purpose local governments in Michigan conducted by CLOSUP since 2009. Respondents for the spring 2021 wave include county administrators, board chairs and clerks; city mayors, managers and clerks; village presidents, managers and clerks; and township supervisors, managers and clerks from 1,364 jurisdictions across the state. The survey is conducted in partnership with the Michigan Association of Counties, Michigan Municipal League and Michigan Townships Association.