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Patricia Lesko

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New Study Shows Michigan Ranks in Top 10 Among States in Which State and Local Politicos Ignore Public Opinion

Posted: 11/21/11 06:49 PM ET

The complaint is pervasive: state and local politicos are unresponsive. They ignore public opinion when crafting policies. Meanwhile, elected officials claim to represent the views of their constituents, to be the "decision-makers." Turns out, the majority of local and state officials are, in fact, ignoring majority public opinion when crafting policy. The result is chilling. There is polarized policy being imposed on unpolarized voters all over the country, and Michigan ranks among the states where this happens most frequently.

Two professors from Columbia University who study how well elected state and local officials translate public opinion into policy, have determined that Michigan ranks fourth in the nation among states in which elected officials are most likely to shrug at what the people want, then make policy decisions to suit their personal, ideological and political agendas. Dr. Jeffrey R. Lax and Dr. Justin H. Phillips study "how well states translate public opinion into policy. Using national surveys and advances in subnational opinion estimation, we estimate state-level support for 39 policies across eight issue areas, including abortion, law enforcement, health care, and education. We show that policy is highly responsive to policy-specific opinion, even controlling for other influences," according to their paper published in June 2011 and titled "The Democratic Deficit in the States."

The two profs uncovered a significant "democratic deficit."

In Michigan, where the governor's approval ratings hover at just over 32 percent as of August 2011, it's quite obvious that voters are not at all happy with the ideology-based "fixes" being implemented by pols. Lax and Phillips write, "[S]tates effectively translate majority opinion into policy only about half the time, a clear 'failing' grade on the congruence test. This is true even when majorities are large and when salience is high, which raises significant questions about the democratic performance of state government." This is certainly the case in Lansing, where policies being implemented do not represent the relatively liberal opinions of the majority of the voters.

In Wisconsin and Michigan citizens launched massive recall efforts in response to political decisions made in those respective state capitols. The Columbia University researchers looked at the impact of citizen initiatives and ballot drives on whether local and state politicos will craft policy that reflects voter opinion. Lax and Phillips found that "the citizen initiative does not enhance responsiveness."

So what can the average citizen do to get local and state politicos to stop "being overresponsive to ideology and party -- leading policy to the polarized relative to state electorates?"

Matthew Yglesias, in his Think Progress blog puts it best: "The way I see it, citizens are sharply bounded in the amount of time and attention they give to politics. Voters know the President...and something about him. But very few voters are up to speed on state senate elections or what the difference between the State Treasurer and the State Comptroller is....For you in your personal life, the lesson is (as it often is) to get more involved with politics on a state and local level."


 

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