Detroit Regional Chamber > Media Coverage > Michigan Voters Losing Trust in Democracy, Education and Economy, Poll Finds

Michigan Voters Losing Trust in Democracy, Education and Economy, Poll Finds

May 29, 2024

The Detroit News
Melissa Nann Burke
May 28, 2024

A new survey of Michigan voters suggests their trust is declining in the institution of democracy, the value of a college education and the stability of the economy, even among those who say they’re personally doing better than before the COVID pandemic.

The poll also asked about whether the use of force, threats or violence is justified under any circumstances in a democracy, and 35% of poll respondents said they believe it is.

Separately, 5% of Michigan voters said that violence is justified if their preferred candidate for president loses the 2024 election after all votes are counted “fairly.” Ninety percent said there would be no justification for violence in that case.

The wide-ranging poll commissioned by the Detroit Regional Chamber ahead of this week’s Mackinac Policy Conference that starts Tuesday in several areas points to a disconnect between reality and what voters perceive to be the truth, particularly regarding the economy and the rate of inflation.

“One thing we’re seeing not just in this survey, but in a multitude of surveys, is voters no longer can agree on some basic facts. We are in this era of misinformation,” said pollster Richard Czuba, founder of the Glengariff Group who conducted the survey. “And because we can’t agree on facts, they can’t analyze the basic fundamentals of what they’re seeing in front of them.”

Some of the survey’s most striking results related to how respondents view the state of democracy, with Czuba blaming the political polarization that’s resulting from misinformation for “undermining” a once shared belief in the institution.

A bipartisan majority, 68% of respondents, said they’re dissatisfied with the condition of American democracy. Only 26% of voters said they were satisfied.

Asked why they’re unhappy with the state of democracy, Republicans responded “Joe Biden and the Democrats” (23%) and that politicians don’t listen to people (9%), while Democrats blamed partisanship and infighting (27%) and “Donald Trump and the Republicans” (16%). Independent voters also blamed partisanship and infighting (17%).

“We’re doing a lot of pointing fingers at each other,” Czuba said.

The survey of 600 registered voters was conducted May 1-5 and had a margin of error of plus-minus 4 percentage points.

Are authoritarians preferable?

One-third of voters in the poll would not say that democracy is the best form of government. Sixty-seven percent agreed that it was, and one in six (17%) said it “doesn’t really matter” if the U.S. government is democratic or non-democratic.

Another 5% said under certain circumstances, an authoritarian government can be preferable, and 11% did not offer an opinion, according to the survey results. Authoritarian regimes concentrate political power in the hands of a single header or a small group and don’t provide citizens with political rights or civil liberties.

Centrist voters, according to the poll, were more likely to say the form of government doesn’t matter than base Democratic and GOP voters. In addition, 34% of Black respondents said the form of government didn’t matter, compared with 15% of White voters.

Eighty-six percent of Michigan voters consider political violence to be a threat to democracy, with half saying it’s a “serious” threat and 35% saying somewhat a threat. When asked about circumstances when violence or threats might be justified in a democracy, 52% said no circumstances justify violence, but 35% said there are circumstances.

Those circumstances, respondents said, include when a crime is committed (33%), rioting or mobs (8%), terrorism or threats from a foreign power (8%), police responding with force (6%), revolution against federal overreach (5%), the Jan. 6 Capitol riot (5%) and “protests going overboard” (4%).

Ninety percent of respondents said there’s no justification for violence if their preferred presidential candidate loses the 2024 election after their votes are counted fairly, but 5% said violence would be justified. Another 1.5% said it depends on if the votes were really counted fairly, and 4% were undecided.

“While that may not seem like a large number, 5% of our population is a lot of people. I want to point that out,” Czuba said. “That’s a lot of people who believe violence is justified.”

The survey also asked if there would be justification for violence or threats if their presidential candidate loses the 2024 election and their candidate believes the opposing party took illegal or unfair actions to win, despite election officials deeming the count fair.

Eighty-seven percent said there would be no justification for violence, and 6% said there would be, with the survey showing that 6% was “almost exclusively” Republican voters, Czuba said — Republican men being a large portion of them. Thirteen percent of strong GOP voters said there is a justification for violence in the situation.

“That is a red flag, but it’s also a reflection of what we’ve been discussing in this country for the last four years,” Czuba said. “The attacks on the Capitol polarized this country, and there is a segment of specifically the strong Republican base that thinks this is justified, and that’s really concerning number.”

The survey also reflected an erosion in voters’ beliefs in individual democratic principles such as freedom to worship, freedom of speech, and votes being counted accurately and the same as everyone else’s.

A majority of Republican voters (60%), independents (51%) and Black voters (56%) expressed not having confidence in their right to free speech.

A majority of GOP voters (57%) also doubted that their vote counts the same as everyone else’s. Voters over age 65 were most confident that their vote counts the same as others’, 73% to 25%. Sixty-one percent of Republicans also are not confident their votes are counted accurately.

Czuba noted that no demographic group in the survey expressed confidence that federal law enforcement applies the law equally and fairly without bias, with 67% of GOP voters expressing no confidence in this statement.

Confidence in local law enforcement is lowest among Black voters, 69% of whom don’t have confidence in local cops, compared with 64% of White voters who do have confidence that local law enforcement applies the law fairly without bias.

Conflicting views of the economy

The economy provided another example of striking differences in perceptions among voters.

For instance, 61% of respondents view the economy as weakening or in a recession, even though gross domestic product, or the nation’s economic output, grew 3.4% in the last quarter of 2023, the stock market is up and Michigan unemployment remains low at 3.9%.

The 61% of voters who perceive a weakening economy represents a 7.6 percentage point drop since November, with Republicans becoming more pessimistic in their assessment of the economy as weakening, while Democrats and independent voters are more positive and boosting their economic assessments, Czuba noted. Independent voters, however, are still pessimistic by a margin of 37% to 59%.

Only 28% of respondents correctly stated that inflation has been at or below 4% for the last year, while 37% believe inflation is running at more than 6%. Inflation as of April is 3.4%). Again, strong Republicans were more likely to say inflation was over 6%.

Only 22% of survey respondents said a four-year college degree is worth the money. About 64% of “strong” Republican voters and 49% of self-identified independent voters said a four-year degree was not worth the cost.

Eighty-two percent of all respondents said a four-year degree at Western, Central, Eastern or Northern Michigan universities costs more than a new car. The chamber said the average cost of public university tuition in Michigan is $11,000 a year.

“It’s very hard to rationalize why the level of consumer confidence in the University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment Survey is lower today than it was during the Great Recession of 13 years ago. Very hard to understand,” said Sandy Baruah, president and chief executive officer at the chamber.

He did note that the core inflation rate doesn’t include things like gasoline and grocery store prices because those prices tend to fluctuate and that some people, depending on what they buy and where they are, might be experiencing a higher inflation rate.

About 60% of respondents said they’re doing the same or better economically than before the pandemic. Just over 26% said they’re doing better, 34% said the same and 38% said worse.

Czuba noted that Republican voters are driving the number of respondents who identified as doing worse, with 64% of them selecting this option. About 18% of Democrats said they’re doing worse and 38% of independent voters.

At the same time, 14% of respondents said they’re concerned about losing their job, while 85% are not concerned.

“This is one of these rare moments, where Michiganders are not concerned about losing their job,” Czuba said. “And yet, by a margin of 39% to 52%, voters said the state’s economy is on the wrong track,” disproportionately blaming inflation and costs of goods, including food.