Economic Development and Higher Education

Survey reveals optimism

Confidence rates vary by gender, political affiliation and race among state residents.

July 1, 2016
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Many Michigan residents feel pretty good about the economy these days.

That’s the main finding from Michigan State University’s State of the State Survey.

SOSS, founded in 1994, is administered by the Institute for Public Policy and Social Research, part of MSU’s College of Social Science. The survey is usually done about three times per year.

“In every survey, we ask a complete set of demographic questions,” said Charles Ballard, SOSS director and economics professor at MSU. “Also in every survey, we ask about approval of the president and approval of the governor, and about our respondents’ financial situation.

“Then the rest of the survey is filled out with questions sponsored by clients. Over the years, these have covered an enormously wide range, from taxes to roads to border security to education policy to human interactions with wolves. You name it.”

The SOSS team tries to have 1,000 completed interviews in each survey. The latest interviews ran from Jan. 25-March 26. The survey’s margin of error was about 3.1 percent.

“SOSS is a telephone interview survey. We use both landlines and cellphones. The importance of using cellphones was highlighted in March of this year,” he said. “SOSS was the only survey to indicate that the primary race between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders was close. Some landline-only surveys had Clinton leading by as many as 20 percentage points.”

In the most recent survey, 56.9 percent of Michigan residents said their current situation was excellent or good. About 30 percent said it was fair and 12.9 percent said not so good or poor.

When asked if they felt they were better off than one year ago, 43.8 percent of Michigan residents said yes, 30.4 percent said they were about the same and 25.9 percent considered themselves worse off.

The assessments of the economy were very similar to ratings one quarter ago, Ballard said.

“By these measures, confidence in the economy is staying relatively strong,” he said.

“Those who believe their current finances were excellent or good decreased very slightly in the current survey. So did the percentage of those who consider their current circumstances to be not so good or poor.”

All of the ratings are much better than they were from 2006-11 but are still lower than in 1999, the year Michigan’s financial confidence seemed to crest. In 1999, 70 percent of the respondents predicted they’d be better a year into the future.

“I was not particularly surprised by what we found.  Michigan’s economy has many problems, but it has continued to make progress. The biggest variable that is correlated with our results is the unemployment rate,” Ballard said. “As it has continued to fall, it is not surprising that our measures have improved. Our measures seem to have reached a plateau in the last year or so, but they are still well above where they were.

“West Michigan has been doing pretty well economically. Kent and Kalamazoo counties have moved up in the income rankings. Thus, we often find that West Michigan does a bit better than many other parts of the state.”

In terms of gender, the latest SOSS found 60.6 percent of men described their finances as good or excellent, compared with 53.4 percent of women.

Politically, 71.8 percent of Republicans said their current finances were excellent or good, compared with 46.7 percent of Democrats.

The SOSS also revealed a racial split: 61.9 percent of white respondents saw their current finances as excellent or good, compared with 27.5 percent of black respondents.

Ballard said that’s not an unsurprising discrepancy.

“Median household income for Michigan blacks has been less than 60 percent of median household income for Michigan whites in recent years,” he said.

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