How to make democracy work in Michigan

Eric Lupher

One recent Pew survey found that about 13 percent of adults consistently hold liberal values and about 10 percent consistently hold conservative values. That leaves about three quarters of the population in the middle looking for information upon which to base their political and policy decisions.

The survey data also show that the divide between those with liberal and conservative leanings is growing. We at the Citizens Research Council of Michigan are struck by the growing trend of policy-making based on ideological faith rather than researched reason. Some vote on policy decisions with the faith that their political leanings will result in improvements, rather than digging into all of the information to make reasoned decisions.

For 100 years, the Citizens Research Council has striven to conduct fact-based analysis to educate policymakers and citizens in the formation of public policy.

Supporters of the organization over the past century understand the value of data-driven policy analysis in improving the governance and operations of government. They understand that improved operations and efficient service delivery reduce waste and allow taxes to be levied at minimal levels.

To be a source of analysis for those aiming to base policy decisions on data requires a level of trust. The Citizens Research Council has secured that trust by providing objective, nonpartisan analysis. When it was founded in 1916, many of the initial analyses focused on aspects of government we take for granted today: establishing government-wide budgets, consolidating purchasing from individual departments into a single entity, removing cronyism, and creating direct lines of accountability by our elected officials.

In the years since, our organization has helped state and local governments improve service delivery, studied different aspects of our tax system and helped to translate them to the people, and helped those inside and outside of government to understand the interaction between the various layers of government — state, counties, cities, villages, townships, and school districts.

Our analysis of state and local finances have helped state policymakers deal with the financial challenges created by economic downturns that hit our state harder than most others and helped local officials understand how state policy changes would affect their finances.

Our most significant work was related to understanding, creating, and improving the foundation documents upon which our governments are built: the state constitution and charters for our home rule cities and counties. The Citizens Research Council played significant roles in reshaping the state constitution in the 1960s, in bringing home rule to counties, and in the establishment and improvement of charters for cities throughout the state.

The growing divide in political ideology among Michigan’s electorate exemplifies, now more than ever, the importance of Citizens Research Council’s nonpartisan and objective analyses in equipping policymakers to better serve Michigan residents.

Eric Lupher is president of the Citizens Research Council of Michigan. A book about the history of the organization, “100 Years: Making Democracy Work,” is available.