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April 18, 2016

Flint fallout: Snyder’s popularity plummets

Gov. Rick Snyder’s approval ratings plummeted in the wake of the Flint water crisis, and Michiganders now consider city infrastructure the state’s biggest problem, according to Michigan State University’s latest State of the State Survey.

Snyder received a “poor” job-performance rating from 44 percent of respondents in the winter survey, up sharply from 21 percent in the previous survey and the worst mark of the Republican governor’s five-year tenure. It’s also the highest “poor” rating for a governor since Jennifer Granholm’s 46 percent in summer 2010.

Further, 57 percent of residents blamed the Flint water crisis on either Snyder, state government or Darnell Earley, Snyder’s appointee as emergency manager for Flint. It was under Earley’s watch in 2014 that Flint starting using water from the Flint River as a cost-saving move, leading to a public health emergency when high levels of lead leached from pipes into the water supply.

The survey was conducted from Jan. 25 to March 26 while the Flint crisis was making major headlines. Only 25 percent of respondents gave Snyder a “good” or “excellent” job rating – down from 42 percent in the previous survey.

“Clearly, the Flint water crisis has done a lot of damage to Gov. Snyder’s approval ratings among Michigan residents,” said Charles Ballard, director of the State of the State Survey and professor of economics at MSU. “His ratings deteriorated across the board. His ratings of ‘excellent’ or ‘good’ fell by 14 percentage points among Republicans, 14 points among Democrats and 20 points among Independents.”

“In addition, 17 percent said that ‘everyone’ is responsible for the Flint water crisis,” said Ballard. “If we add the 17 percent who said ‘everyone’ to the 57 percent who specifically mentioned Gov. Snyder, the state government or the emergency manager, we find that an overwhelming majority of Michiganders assign at least some of the responsibility to the state government. However, 13 percent placed the responsibility on elected officials in Flint, the Flint water department or the people of Flint.”

Most pressing problem

The quarterly survey also asked residents to pick the most important problem facing the governor and state Legislature. “Jobs/economy” has dominated the answers for about 15 years.

But in the winter survey, for the first time, “infrastructure of cities” (which includes drinking water quality) was identified as the state’s biggest issue.

Some 33 percent of respondents chose city infrastructure as the worst problem. That was followed by jobs/economy, at 24 percent, and education quality/finances, at 13 percent.

Not all bad news

There was some good news for the Snyder administration.

The survey asked how Detroit fared as a result of city’s 2013 bankruptcy that occurred while the city was under emergency management by the state. Nearly 78 percent of respondents said Detroit is somewhat or much better off as a result of the bankruptcy.

And while Snyder’s ratings suffered a big fall, this did not correspond to a major loss in trust in state government. The survey measures trust in government once a year.

The fraction of respondents who said they could trust state government “seldom” or “almost never” increased from 31 percent in 2015 to 36 percent in 2016. But the fraction who said they could trust state government “nearly all or most of the time” also increased, albeit slightly, from 19.8 percent to 20.4 percent.

“In fact, after a long period of decline, trust in all levels of government – local, state and federal – has shown a modest increase since 2012,” Ballard said.

Trust in local government is far and away the highest, followed by state government and then, at the bottom, federal government.

The survey also measured President Obama’s approval ratings, which improved slightly, and broke down results for some issues by region and political party. The winter survey was based on 995 interviews and has a margin of error of +/- 3.11 percent. For more details, see the presentation here.

The State of the State Survey is the only survey conducted in Michigan designed to systematically monitor the public mood on important issues statewide. The survey has been conducted since 1994 by the Institute for Public Policy and Social Research. IPPSR is a unit of MSU’s College of Social Science.