Michigan local government leaders say civic relationships and civil discourse remain healthy, despite worsening national politics

October 2022

This report presents the opinions of Michigan’s local government leaders regarding the state of public discourse in their communities, including how constructive or divisive it is, as well as their assessments of civic relationships among elected officials, between elected officials and residents, and among residents themselves. These findings are based on statewide surveys of local government leaders in the Spring 2022 wave of the Michigan Public Policy Survey (MPPS), with comparisons from 2021, 2018, and 2012 MPPS waves, as well as MSU’s State of the State Survey (SOSS) of Michigan residents.

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  • Although the tone of political discourse across the state and nation seems increasingly antagonistic, at the community level in Michigan local leaders report that civic relationships and discussions of local policy issues continue to be positive, some even reporting slight improvements.
  • Assessments of relations among local elected officials themselves remain stable and generally strong. Statewide, 70% say discourse among their own jurisdiction’s elected officials on local policy issues is constructive, and a large majority (84%) rate the relationships among their elected officials as good or excellent. Meanwhile, 15% say relationships among elected officials in their jurisdiction are only fair (11%) or outright poor (4%).
    • These assessments of discourse and relationships are significantly less positive among jurisdictions that identify as urban compared to more rural communities. However, assessments of elected officials’ discourse have improved among urban jurisdictions since 2021.
  • Although assessments of discourse between local elected officials and residents have worsened slightly in the last year, two-thirds of local officials still say this discourse is primarily constructive, while 82% rate relationships between officials and residents as good or excellent.
    • In a reversal from patterns seen in 2018 and 2021, officials from mostly urban and fully urban communities are now more likely to report this discourse as primarily constructive compared to officials in mostly rural and rural communities. 
    • A recent MPPS report on public harassment of jurisdiction personnel raised significant concerns about the relationships between elected officials and residents. Looking at communities where such abuse has been reported, relationships have indeed been negatively impacted, with almost a quarter (24%) saying they are currently just fair or poor. Nonetheless, even in those jurisdictions where abuse has occurred, most local officials say both discourse and civic relationships are generally positive.
  • Assessments of discourse among residents themselves have improved compared to previous years. Statewide, 42% say discourse among their community’s residents on local policy issues is constructive, up from 35% in 2021, and also higher than in 2018 (38%) and 2012 (30%). Meanwhile, 65% rate relationships among residents as good or excellent, up from 60% in 2021.
    • Urban jurisdictions in particular have seen large improvements in assessments of residents’ discourse and relationships in the last year.
  • Comparing the MPPS to statewide public opinion data collected around the same time, Michigan local officials are much more likely than Michigan residents to rate each type of discourse as constructive.