MPPS Policy Brief: Michigan local government leaders’ assessments of democratic functioning improve from 2021 low, but first signs of trouble at local level emerge

December 2023

This policy brief presents the views of Michigan's local government leaders regarding the functioning of democracy in their jurisdictions, across the State of Michigan, and across the United States as a whole. These findings are based on statewide surveys of local government leaders in the spring 2023 wave of the Michigan Public Policy Survey (MPPS), and includes comparisons to Spring 2020, 2021, and 2022 wave responses.

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Key findings

  • As of spring 2023, Michigan local leaders' ratings of the health of American democracy at the state and federal levels remain low, though there has been some improvement from earlier surveys.
  • Statewide, 60% of Michigan local leaders give poor ratings to the functioning of democracy in the U.S. as a whole (a 1-4 on a 10-point scale). This is an improvement from the 63% who gave poor ratings in 2022 and the 66% who said the same in 2021.
  • Meanwhile, 35% of the state's local leaders rate democracy in the state of Michigan poorly, which represents a slight increase over 32% who gave poor ratings in 2022. However, positive ratings for the functioning of democracy in Michigan have increased as well. Currently, 30% of local leaders say Michigan democracy is relatively strong (between 7-10 on a 10-point scale), up from 27% who said the same in 2022, and just 20% in 2021.
  • By contrast, most Michigan local leaders (79%) give high ratings to the functioning of local democracy in their own jurisdictions and only 4% say local democracy is functioning poorly. However, high ratings are down for the first time since 2020, where for the past three years 84% of local officials statewide have reported that democracy in their local community is high functioning.
  • This decline in high ratings for local democracy is particularly concentrated among a few sub-groups of respondents. For example, among political partisans, the largest drop in assessments is among those who declined to provide their partisan identification (or don't have one). Among this group, just 71% rate democracy in their communities highly in 2023, down from 81% a year earlier, and significantly lower today than local leaders who identify as Independents, Republicans, and Democrats. By jurisdiction type, Michigan's village leaders report the largest decline in these positive assessments (from 77% in 2022 to 70% in 2023). And by the population size of Michigan's communities, the largest places with more than 30,000 residents report slightly improved assessments of local democracy this year, while sharp drops stand out among smaller jurisdictions, especially among mid-sized places with 5,001-10,000 residents (from 95 % in 2022 to 81% in 2023).