Survey: Gov. Whitmer and Michigan Legislature on Wrong Track

Nearly 60 percent of Michigan’s local government leaders say the state is on the wrong track in 2023, according to a recent University of Michigan survey.
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Michigan Capitol
Many Michigan local government leaders, when surveyed, say the state is on the wrong track. // Photo courtesy of U-M Center for Local, State and Urban Policy

Nearly 60 percent 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 percent see the wrong track, less than the 62 percent in 2022 and the high of 67 percent reported in 2021. Meanwhile, a low of 30 percent believe the state is generally going in the right direction, a slight improvement from 28 percent last year and the series low of 23 percent in 2021.

Overall, 11 percent are unsure about the direction the state is headed.

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 percent) of local leaders statewide rate Whitmer’s performance as “excellent” or “good,” and less than the 34 percent who say the state is headed in the right direction.

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

Whitmer has yet to deliver on some of her original campaign initiatives such as “fixing the damn roads,” for two years she delayed in assisting Benton Harbor in replacing its lead water lines, she’s trying to shut down the Line 5 gas line without a plan to replace fuel deliveries that will see many more trucks on the roads, and during COVID-19 created a crisis in nursing homes by not properly separating those affected with the virus from other residents, which led to hundreds of deaths.

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 percent), and ratings of fair dropped from 51 percent in 2022 to 42 percent in 2023. At the same time, those who view its performance as poor jumped from 27 percent last year to 35 percent today.

Republican local leaders’ positive ratings for the legislature have dropped from 19 percent last year to 7 percent this year, while Democrats’ have more than doubled, from 20 percent to 48 percent. The survey was performed during the earliest days of the new legislative session under Democratic control.

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 U-M 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,” says Tom Ivacko, executive director of CLOSUP. “For example, 53 percent of Republican local officials give Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s performance a poor rating — a significant drop from the 62 percent 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 percent of respondents self-identify as Republicans, while 17 percent say they are Independents, and 23 percent identify as Democrats.

Debra Horner, the survey’s senior program manager, says with the current trifecta of Democratic control of the state government, 13 percent of Republican local officials and 32 percent 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 percent from 72 percent in 2022.

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

To learn more, go to the survey.