Local leaders' evaluations of Michigan's direction and Governor's performance during the COVID-19 pandemic's arrival

July 2020

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 2020 wave of the Michigan Public Policy Survey (MPPS)— conducted between March 30 and June 1, 2020, the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic in Michigan—and tracking comparisons to previous spring waves.

Key findings

  • Statewide, nearly half (46%) of Michigan’s local officials said in April and May 2020 that the state has gotten off on the wrong track, while 39% said the state is generally going in the right direction, an improvement over assessments in 2019. However, the percentage saying “right direction” declined over the course of the survey field period, in conjunction with the spreading COVID-19 pandemic.
    • As in previous MPPS tracking, local leaders’ views on the state’s direction are strongly associated with partisan identification. In Spring 2020, among local officials who self-identify as  Republican, just a quarter (26%) said the state is headed in the right direction, down from 31% who said the same last year. Meanwhile, among Independents, 39% said the state is headed in the right direction, up from 24% last year. And among Democratic local officials, 72% said the state is headed in the right direction, up sharply from 51% who said so in 2019.
    •  However, views shifted over the survey’s two-month field period, as impacts of COVID-19 spread across the state. Although 40% of officials overall believed Michigan was headed in the right direction during the week of March 30-April 6, only 24% said so during the final week ending June 1. Local concerns over not getting the financial and public health resources their governments need to respond to the pandemic are associated with beliefs that the state is on the wrong track. 
  •  Although only 39% of local officials statewide rated Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s job performance as “good” or “excellent,” this was significantly higher than her 2019 ratings (23%), with most change coming from those who said “don’t know” last year, when she had been in office for just a few months. By contrast, 27% rated the Governor’s performance in 2020 as only fair and 31% rated her performance as poor.
    • Evaluations of Governor Whitmer improved across all partisan groups in 2020. Positive ratings for the Governor were found among 82% of Democratic local leaders (up from 63% last year), 45% of Independents (up from 23%), and 18% of Republicans (up from 12%).
    • However, the Governor’s positive ratings also declined over the course of the survey period, from 41% during the first week of April to 27% by June 1, driven primarily by declines among Republican officials. 
  • Although just 31% of local officials statewide said the Michigan Legislature’s performance is either excellent or good in 2020, this is up from 21% last year and represents the highest ratings for the Legislature since the MPPS began tracking them in 2011.