Most Michigan local officials continue to say state is on the wrong track, though outlook slightly improved

May 17, 2023

Despite a two-year trend of improvement, nearly 60% of Michigan's local government leaders say the state is on the wrong track in 2023, according to a recent University of Michigan survey

Specifically, 59% see the wrong track, less than the 62% in 2022 and the high of 67% reported in 2021. Meanwhile, 30% believe the state is generally going in the right direction, a slight improvement from 28% last year and the series low of 23% in 2021. Overall, 11% are unsure about the direction the state is headed.

The spring 2023 wave of the Michigan Public Policy Survey, conducted Feb. 6-April 17, saw the assessments closely linked to local leaders' partisan identification and whichever party controls the governor's office. In other words, GOP local leaders express more support for the state's direction when a Republican is governor and less when a Democrat is in office, and vice versa.

The survey, managed by the Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy at the Ford School of Public Policy, has tracked the connection between local officials' partisanship and their views of the state’s direction since 2011, and the 2023 survey continues to reveal stark differences in how the partisan groups feel about the state’s direction.

"The assessments of the overall direction of the state, and the job performance of the governor and the legislature historically fall along partisan lines, though we see some movement in a more positive direction even among Republicans," said CLOSUP executive director Tom Ivacko. "For example, 53% of Republican local officials give Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's performance a poor rating—a significant drop from the 62% who said the same last year."

The makeup of the state's local governments includes 1,240 townships—most of which are rural and small in terms of population, and led by Republicans. That compares with 533 cities and villages, which are more often led by Democrats, and 83 counties. Indeed, in 2023, 60% of respondents self-identify as Republicans, while 17% say they are Independents, and 23% identify as Democrats.

Debra Horner, the survey's senior program manager, said with the current trifecta of Democratic control of the state government, only 13% of Republican local officials and 32% of self-identified Independents say the state is going in the right direction. By comparison, the percentage of self-identified Democrats who think Michigan is headed in the right direction jumped significantly this year to 85% from 72% in 2022.

Beyond the overall direction of the state, the survey has tracked the evaluation of the sitting governor's job performance since 2009. In 2023, less than a third (30%) of local leaders statewide rate Whitmer's performance as "excellent" or "good," and less than the 34% who say the state is headed in the right direction. 

Meanwhile, 27% rate the governor’s job performance as "fair," up slightly from 23% a year ago. Over a third (38%) rate her performance "poor," a decrease from 44% last year.

 With the change in partisan control of both the Michigan House and Senate from Republicans to Democrats after the 2022 elections, relatively few local leaders overall believe the Michigan Legislature is doing an outright excellent or good job (16%), and ratings of fair dropped from 51% in 2022 to 42% in 2023. At the same time, those who view its performance as poor jumped from 27% last year to 35% today.

Partisanship takes a major role here as well. Republican local leaders' positive ratings for the legislature have dropped from 19% last year to 7% this year, while Democrats' have more than doubled, from 20% to 48%. The survey was performed during the earliest days of the new legislative session under Democratic control.

Respondents include village, township, city and county officials from 1,307 jurisdictions statewide, resulting in a 70% response rate by unit. 

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