Michigan local leaders say local democracy is strong, as their trust in government and citizens rises

October 27, 2020

This report presents local government leaders’ views regarding the functioning of democracy in their jurisdictions, the State of Michigan, and the United States as a whole, as well as their levels of trust toward the federal, state, and other local governments. 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. It also contains comparisons to opinions expressed in the Spring 2009, Fall 2012, Spring 2013, and Fall 2016 waves of the Michigan Public Policy Survey (MPPS).

Key findings

  • Michigan’s local leaders are significantly more positive about the functioning of democracy in their jurisdictions than they are about democracy at the state or federal levels today.
    • On a ten-point scale—where 1 means a total breakdown of democracy and 10 means a perfectly functioning democracy—84% of local leaders rate democracy in their jurisdiction at 7 or higher, compared to just 41% for democracy in Michigan overall, and just 21% for democracy across the U.S.
    •  Partisan identification plays a larger role in assessments of the functioning of democracy at the state and national levels than locally. For local democracy, Republicans (88%) are just slightly more likely than Democrats (83%) or Independents (81%) to give high ratings. However, for Michigan’s democracy overall, Democrats (59%) are more likely to give it high ratings than Republicans (42%) or Independents (32%). And for democracy across the U.S., just over a quarter (26%) of Michigan’s Republican local officials give high ratings, while the same is true of only 14% of Independents and 11% of Democrats. 
    • Similarily, there are few differences in assessments of local democracy across the urban-rural spectrum, with bigger differences regarding democracy across Michigan and the U.S. For instance, 57% of urban leaders rate democracy across the state of Michigan as high functioning compared to just 39% of leaders from rural places. Meanwhile, 55% of leaders from “mostly urban” places rate democracy in the U.S. as poorly functioning, compared to just 33% from fully urban places.
  • When it comes to trust in government, there is a similar pattern in attitudes among local leaders, with high levels of trust in other local governments (72%), followed by much lower trust in the state government (25%), and finally least trust in the federal government (12%).
    • The 72% of Michigan local leaders with high trust in other local governments is up from 65-66% saying the same on previous MPPS surveys from 2009 to 2016. High levels of trust in the state government have also risen over time, from 9% of local leaders in 2009 to 25% today. Trust in the federal government has been more stable, rising slightly from 10% of local leaders in 2009 trusting the federal government to 12% today.
    •  Local leaders who identify as Independents are less likely in 2020 to indicate high levels of trust in other local governments (65%) or the state government (16%) compared with Democrats (74% and 25%, respectively) or Republicans (75% and 37%). And regarding the federal government, Republican local leaders (18%) are three times as likely to express high trust, compared with Democrats or Independents (6%  each).
  • To round out assessments of trust, the MPPS also asks local leaders how much they trust their citizens to be responsible participants in local governance. Here, levels of trust have also risen slightly over time, with 63% trusting their residents nearly always or most of the time today, up from 53% in both 2012 and 2016.

Rating Local Functioning of Democracy


Most Michigan local government leaders say democracy is functioning well at the local level in their jurisdiction. Spring 2020 MPPS

Rating National Functioning of Democracy


Local government leaders are much less likely to give high ratings to the functioning of democracy nationally in the U.S. Spring 2020 MPPS

Trust in citizens


Almost two-thirds of Michigan local leaders trust their residents to be responsible participants in local governance. Spring 2020 MPPS