Detroit, Polls — May 15, 2014 at 2:40 pm

Poll of “Michigan voters” leaves out Detroit. On purpose.


Because how could Detroit voters’ views be relevant to what happens to their city?

detroit12The Detroit Journalism Cooperative published a poll this week investigating views of the proposed “grand bargain” to pull Detroit out of bankruptcy. The good news is that the study finds strong support for the state pitching in with funding to help preserve workers’ pensions and the DIA. As Kevyn Orr tries to persuade Lansing Republicans to sign off on the deal, it’s good to know that he has voters behind him.

But here’s the thing: the poll only sampled voters who live outside the city of Detroit. 600 interviews, none of them within the city. This was intentional, not an oversight. MLive offers the rationale that:

Because the poll is intended to measure Michigan voters’ attitudes toward Detroit, the survey does not include interviews with Detroit voters.

There are two problems here.

First, voters living in Detroit are clearly more affected than the rest of us by the bankruptcy and the potential deal – their views on this topic are important and worth measuring.

And beyond that, if you do conduct a poll only of non-Detroiters, the reporting should make clear throughout that this is the case, rather than suggesting that the data represents the views of all Michigan voters. The disclaimer above and the reporting in MLive, Freep, and elsewhere refer to the data as representing the views of “Michigan voters” as though “Michigan voters” does not include anyone living within the disenfranchisement zone of the city of Detroit. (However, to give credit where it is due, Michigan Radio leads off its report with “Michigan voters outside Detroit…”)

Yes, it’s true that the views of people who live outside the city are likely to be central to the outcome in Lansing, given the balance of power in our state legislature. And the study reveals some interesting nuggets about the complex relationship those of us who don’t live in Detroit have to the city. For example, views of the city are downbeat, with 58% having a negative impression of the city – but nonetheless, 79% see the “economic and financial health of the State of Michigan as a whole” as linked to Detroit’s success. This is interesting and worth knowing about non-Detroit Michiganders, as is the fact that, as Chris points out, even the more Republican part of the state doesn’t think very highly of Governor Snyder.

detroit16But designing and reporting the poll as though Detroit is not part of Michigan erases the views of the 700,000 people who live in the city. This communicates that what Detroiters think about their own future doesn’t matter. And reporting the data as though it represents the views of all voters in Michigan doubles down on the erasure. It’s hard to ignore here, as well, that by excluding Detroiters’ views, the study ignores a large portion of our state’s African-American population.

The organizations that make up the Detroit Journalism Cooperative include The Center for Michigan’s Bridge Magazine, Detroit Public Television (DPTV), Michigan Radio, WDET and New Michigan Media, a partnership of ethnic and minority newspapers. Tweet this article to them, and tell them — as well as MLive and the Free Press — we believe Detroit is part of Michigan, and that the views of people who live there should matter to the city’s, and our state’s, future.