Michigan local government officials worry about local impacts of national political divisiveness


In the face of a deteriorating national political tone, civic discourse at the local level in Michigan remains generally positive, according to elected officials across the state.

This applies both to the interaction between elected officials and between the public and those elected officials. However, these officials believe that the discourse between the residents themselves remains quite divisive.

The opinions expressed are reported in the key findings of the Michigan Public Policy Survey, which has been examining the issue of civic discourse since 2012. The attitudes expressed are generally unchanged, but concerns about the local impacts of national political partisanship are growing.

61% of local leaders in Michigan think the current environment of national partisan politics is hurting relationships among their residents, including 29% who say it significantly hurts resident relationships. Almost half (45%) of local officials say national partisan politics are already hurting relationships among their board members, compared to just 15% who said the same just three years ago.

The survey asked local leaders to characterize the general tone of discussion and communication that takes place around local policy issues in their communities.

“This report is both encouraging and disturbing. Making government work better takes collaboration,” said Tom Ivacko, executive director of the Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy at the University of Michigan’s Ford School of Public Policy. “The fact that some 73% of local elected officials say they have a generally constructive discourse is encouraging. Yet the dark clouds of nationwide hyperpartisanship seem to be doing more and more damage to those relationships.

The study finds that evaluations are generally non-partisan.

In terms of respondents’ partisan identification, 77% of local elected officials who identify as Republicans report that discussion among elected officials is generally constructive, relatively unchanged over time. Democrats are also positive (79%), but this represents a significant increase in constructive ratings from 2018 and 2012. Finally, self-identifying independents are the least likely to say the discussion among local elected officials is constructive (67%), although this is still two-thirds of those respondents.

“The largest communities in the state reported the highest levels of concern,” said Debra Horner, CLOSUP project manager. “Only 17% of local leaders in these communities said the discourse among their residents was mostly constructive, which is a significant drop since 2018.”

CLOSUP led the spring 2021 wave of the MPPS between April 5 and June 7, 2021.

The MPPS is an ongoing census survey of Michigan’s 1,856 general-purpose local governments conducted by CLOSUP since 2009. Respondents for the Spring 2021 wave include county administrators, council chairmen, and clerks; mayors, managers and city clerks; village presidents, managers and clerks; and township supervisors, managers and employees from 1,364 jurisdictions across the state. The survey is conducted in partnership with the Michigan Association of Counties, the Michigan Municipal League and the Michigan Townships Association.

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