Two-thirds of local leaders see Michigan moving in wrong direction, according to annual U-M survey

July 6, 2021
Written By:
Jeff Karoub

The combined crises of the past year have darkened the attitudes of local government leaders, according to the first results of the University of Michigan’s 2021 Michigan Public Policy Survey.

Numerous challenges have dominated public policy and governance across the state, including the health, education and economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the political arguments about lockdowns, mask wearing, vaccine distribution and other public health measures.

Beyond the pandemic, the year saw a contentious presidential race, widespread protests spurred by the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis and a plot to kidnap and murder Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

Among the survey’s key findings:

  • Statewide, 67% of local government officials say Michigan has gotten off on the wrong track—the highest level of pessimism reported since tracking began in 2011. Meanwhile, just 23% say the state is generally going in the right direction, a record low number.
  • As in the past, these views are strongly associated with partisan identification, though declining assessments of the state’s direction are found among all partisan groups. Among self-identified Republican local leaders, just 10% say the state is going in the right direction, down from 26% last year. Among Independents, 24% believe the state is currently headed in the right direction, down from 39% in 2020. And while 63% of Democrats remain optimistic about the direction of the state, this percentage is also down from last year’s high of 72%.
  • Evaluations of Whitmer’s job performance have also fallen sharply in the past year. Nearly half (48%) of Michigan’s local officials rate her performance in 2021 as poor, compared to 31% in 2020. Roughly a third (30%) currently rate her performance as either excellent or good, down from 39% last year. Ratings of good or excellent for Whitmer are found among 79% of Democratic local leaders, compared with 41% of Independents and 10% of Republicans.
  • One element that all parties seem to agree upon is a low view of the performance of the Michigan Legislature. Statewide, 40% of local leaders say the legislature is doing a poor job, compared to 19% who said the same in 2020. Only 14% say its performance is either excellent or good. These are the lowest ratings for the legislature since tracking of these views began.
  • Although Republican local leaders have been the most likely to give the legislature positive ratings in prior surveys, these have dropped substantially. Today, just 15% of Republicans say the legislature is doing an excellent or good job, in line with assessments by Independents (12%) and Democrats (15%).
  • Another area of bipartisan agreement: In addition to the direction of the state overall, the survey asks for views on the direction of both the U.S. as a whole, and of their own local county, township, city or village. While partisan differences are clear at the state and national levels, when it comes to confidence in their jurisdiction’s direction, local leaders are uniformly positive.

The Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy at U-M’s Ford School of Public Policy conducts the MPPS every spring. The 2021 Michigan Public Policy Survey gathered that information during April and May, through its census survey of 1,856 general purpose local governments throughout the state.

“The last year has brought significant challenges for our state, its communities and citizens, including many impacts from the historic pandemic,” said Tom Ivacko, director of CLOSUP. “Local leaders across Michigan are telling us that state leaders haven’t met these challenges yet, and as a state we’re heading in the wrong direction today.”

MPPS project manager Debra Horner said “even though local leaders across the state report that their individual communities tend to be on the right track, the current pessimism about the direction of both Michigan and the U.S. is widespread.”

Launched in the wake of the Great Recession in 2009 by CLOSUP, the MPPS is conducted in partnership with the Michigan Association of Counties, Michigan Municipal League and Michigan Townships Association.