Michigan voters are skeptical of EVs and the value of college in new poll
- Michigan education and EV policy priorities are not aligned with voters, according to a statewide poll released Thursday
- 48.6 percent of voters do not consider college ‘worth the money’
- And as Michigan fights for EV jobs and braces for contraction in gas-fueled auto production, almost as many state voters oppose the shift as support it
Michigan officials and the state’s business leaders share a vision of the economy, the role of college degrees in employment success and the need to solidify an electric vehicle manufacturing base here.
But the consensus ends when voters join the mix, according to results of the latest statewide poll by The Glengariff Group Inc. of Lansing and the Detroit Regional Chamber.
Education and success
Voters were asked what the minimum level of education needed to be successful in Michigan:
- 35.8% High school diploma
- 32.9% Certification in a trade program
- 11.3% Two-year associate degree
- 8.0% At least some college courses
- 7.8% Four-year college degree
Source: Detroit Regional Chamber poll by The Glengariff Group Inc., February 10-13
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The chamber released results on Thursday that raised concerns about what chamber President Sandy Baruah called “an increasing disconnect between voters’ perceptions and official economic data.”
- When it comes to electric vehicles — a rapidly developing industry for whose jobs and investment Michigan is battling other states — voters are nearly evenly divided between support and opposition. And a full third of voters strongly oppose the industry’s shift from gas-powered vehicles to electric.
- A bachelor’s degree is a foundation for two-thirds of the state’s “hot jobs” expected to grow by 2030, but just 27 percent of Michigan voters believe a college education is very important for a successful job in Michigan. About the same number say a college education is not important.
- As the state devotes millions of dollars toward the goal of getting 60 percent of the population post-secondary credentials — 69 percent of voters said they believe a high school diploma is the minimum level of education needed to be successful in the state. However, research from Michigan Future Inc., a think tank that promotes the value of a college education, shows that 79 percent of the state’s jobs that pay more than $64,000 per year are held by people who’ve earned a bachelor’s degree or higher.
- And while 70 percent of state voters say they’re doing better or the same economically today than in the past, two-thirds say the overall economy is worsening or in a recession.
“One of the great things about survey research is you can match up the state's priorities with the voters' priorities,” Richard Czuba, president of The Glengariff Group, told Bridge Michigan. “And I think what this survey shows is just how difficult it is to move voters along in these conversations.”
The results, Czuba added, indicate “there's a lot of work to be done.”
The chamber started the polling with the Glengarriff Group in 2020 to better understand voters’ views on economic issues and to inform business decision-makers and policymakers.The most recent poll targeted 600 registered voters across the state between Feb. 10-13.
That timing is when news of Ford Motor Co. choosing Marshall for a $3.5 billion EV battery factory was emerging, with the state investing over $1.6 billion in incentives in the facility.
While economic developers say such projects are crucial for the state as the auto industry transforms to EVs — and a way to maintain auto industry relevance as gas-fueled auto production declines — voters are less confident about the industry transition.
Among people who oppose the shift, 19.6 percent said the electric grid cannot handle it (19.6 percent), 18.4 percent said EVs and their infrastructure are too expensive (18.4 percent) and 13.3 percent said the state’s infrastructure can’t support them.
Fewer than one-fifth of voters (18 percent) said they believe consumer demand is driving the EV shift, with others saying that the government and environmentalists are pressuring automakers.
The responses do not indicate an understanding of the global forces behind the industry change, said Brad Williams, vice president of government relations for the chamber. Michigan’s largest automakers — which also are among its largest employers — are likely to forge ahead with their plans to electrify despite skepticism among Michigan voters.
“It’s clear where the market is headed,” Williams told Bridge. “What's also clear is that Michiganders haven't quite caught up with where the reality is.”
Top skeptics are voters who lean strongly Republican, according to the poll results. For example, 84 percent of Republicans said they would not consider an EV, while 65 percent are against investing in EV infrastructure.
The survey results on education came as a surprise to poll-designer Czuba. He said it reflects their sentiment on the value of college. Average tuition costs increased 31 percent from 2010-2020.
“Voters aren't saying it's not important,” Czuba said. “They're saying it…costs too much.”
Baruah, the chamber president, said that’s a business concern “in an increasingly technical economy with employers scrambling for well-educated employees.”
However, 80 percent of voters do support state financial aid for two years of schooling after high school for every student in Michigan. Yet the poll also said that most Michigan voters are not aware of new state education programs for high school graduates, such as Michigan Reconnect, which offers free community college for non-degree holders age 25 and older.
“My hope is that if we're successful in making college more accessible, that that will help turn around some of the perception,” Williams said. “It's hard to say that a college degree is really important if you're not sure that's something that you're going to be able to provide for your family or that's not something you've been able to obtain for yourself.”
Meanwhile, the political divide also is apparent in some of the educational attainment questions, with one third of voters who describe themselves as strong Republicans saying a college degree is not important, compared with 14.2 percent of Democrats.
When it comes to the political divide on EVs, Czuba said public reaction “is getting caught up in the culture wars of the moment.”
However, the split between Democrats and Republicans — already apparent in a narrowly Democratic state House and Senate — also will be a concern for policymakers and advocacy organizers, like chambers.
“This growing polarization will make it increasingly difficult … to drive consensus and enact solutions that position Michigan for success in an increasingly competitive economy,” the chamber said in its take on the polling.
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