For residents across Michigan, 2014 is the year for getting back to basics. Among their most urgent demands of elected leaders:
- Make college affordable. Too many students and families can’t afford a basic two- or four-year degree.
- Fix roads and bridges. And not just a quick-fix, but doing it right. Even if it means more taxes.
- Improve education and job training. Residents want schools they can be proud of, and skills that lead to jobs.
- Do something about poverty. Too many people are seeing too many neighbors struggling.
The nonpartisan Center for Michigan’s fourth annual report, “Michigan Speaks: The Citizens’ Agenda for the 2014 Elections,” reflects the anxieties and aspirations of more than 5,500 residents from every corner of the state.
What makes the findings invaluable, not just for the men and women running for political office this year but for anyone who cares about Michigan’s future, is the breadth of opinion.
Public sentiment was collected and synthesized over a seven-month span from 166 Community Conversations in 79 cities and towns, along with two statewide polls and online versions of the community conversations. The Center’s outreach roughly reflects the state’s vast geography and its political, financial, racial and age demographics, providing a complete and nuanced view of what voters want from their leaders this election year.
And what they want, in the most unified, spanning-the-political-divide way, are roads that are not just cosmetically patched after years of neglect and a brutal winter, but remade for the long run. And, yes, in a state that is tax-averse, residents are willing to pay more for the job to be done right.
Residents also want action on schools. This year’s results seem to speak to a desire for less culture-war rhetoric on education, and more bottom-line improvement for Michigan students. Higher performance, a more pragmatic approach to skills that lead to jobs, and a college and university system that is more financially accessible to families at all income levels.
Some of the most nuanced findings are also the most interesting. Notably, Michigan residents are starkly divided on taxes. In Community Conversations, for instance, there was virtually equal support for raising taxes, lowering taxes and keeping Michigan’s tax levels where they are. And yet there was strong sentiment that Michigan needs to devote more resources to education and combating poverty, in addition to roads. One expert looked at these survey numbers and concluded that Michigan residents want something for nothing. But perhaps there’s a more benign takeaway for political leaders: work more creatively with the money on hand.
Today and Thursday, Bridge staff writers offer detailed analysis on four major issues addressed in the Center for Michigan report.
On Thursday, Nancy Derringer and Chastity Pratt Dawsey break down public sentiment on quality-of-life and education issues.
You can also share your insights and opinions on the Michigan Speaks report, and the Center's engagement work using hashtag #MiVoice.
With Michigan poised to elect a governor, 38 senators and 110 representatives this November, every candidate would be wise to study the report’s detailed findings on some two dozen policy, tax and spending issues. Regardless of politics, we all want a better future for Michigan.
Michigan Speaks provides a road map for getting there.