New Governor, new evaluations of the direction Michigan is headed among local leaders

August 2019

This report presents the opinions of Michigan's local government leaders regarding the direction in which the state is headed, as well as their evaluations of the job performance of Governor Gretchen Whitmer and the Michigan Legislature. These findings are based on statewide surveys of local government leaders in the Spring 2019 wave and tracking comparisons to previous spring waves of the Michigan Public Policy Survey (MPPS).

Key findings

  • In the first year under a newly-divided state government with a new Democratic Governor and a Republican legislature, Michigan’s local government leaders are themselves divided about the direction the state is headed. Overall, nearly half (47%) of local officials say the state has gotten off on the wrong track, while 33% say the state is generally going in the right direction.
    • As in the past, these views are strongly associated with partisan identification. In 2019, among local officials who self-identify as Republican, only 31% say the state is going in the right direction, a steep decline from the 72% who said the same last year. Among officials who identify as Independents, only 24% believe the state is on the right track, down from 46% last year. Conversely, among Democratic local officials, just over half (51%) say that Michigan is going in the right direction, an increase from 30% who said so in 2018.
    • These views on the direction Michigan is headed are even more strongly correlated with local officials’ evaluations of the job performance so far this year of the Governor and of the Michigan Legislature.
  • Although local officials took this survey just a few months into the new Governor’s first term, many are skeptical in their initial evaluations of Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s job performance so far. Overall, 23% rate her performance in 2019 as good or excellent, but 28% say it is only fair and 28% rate her performance as poor. Another 20% say they don’t yet know how to rate Governor Whitmer’s performance.
  • Again, these ratings are correlated with partisanship. Positive ratings for Governor Whitmer are found among 63% of Democratic local leaders. By contrast, only 23% of Independents and 12% of Republicans rate Governor Whitmer’s performance as good or excellent so far. These ratings are nearly the exact reverse of those given by local leaders to Republican Governor Rick Snyder in his first term back in 2011. 
  • Job evaluations of the Michigan Legislature’s performance remain lukewarm. Statewide, local officials are most likely to say the Legislature’s performance in 2019 is just fair (42%), similar to last year (40%). Meanwhile, 29% of local leaders rate the Legislature as “poor,” essentially unchanged from 28% who said the same last year. And fewer than a quarter (21%) of local officials say the Legislature’s  performance is good or excellent, down from 28% in 2018.
    • Positive ratings for the Legislature are found among 26% of Republican local leaders, compared with 13% of Independents and 18% of Democrats.