Michiganders have had much to say about the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission, especially as the newly organized commission concluded its work with final maps as 2021 ended.
In Fall 2021, the Institute for Public Policy and Social Research asked Michigan adults about the landmark redistricting effort ordered in a 2018 constitutional amendment. IPPSR’s Office for Survey Research (OSR) surveyed 1,000 Michigand adults in the State of the State Survey to gain greater understanding of statewide redistricting opinions.
As part of that survey, Michigan adults were asked a variety of questions about the economy, elected leaders, the effects of COVID-19 on their schools and families in addition to their knowledge and understanding of the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission’s (MICRC) work. In the State of the State Survey (SOSS), Michigan adults indicated that they were largely unfamiliar with the commission and the steps it followed to draw new Michigan House, Michigan Senate and U.S. House maps. Of those responding to the survey, 42.6% said they were completely or mostly unfamiliar with the commission and its work. However, 73.9% concluded that the MICRC’s work was important in the State of the State Survey.
See a comprehensive Office for Survey Research report, Assessing Our Schools, Government Leaders and Economy in the Time of COVID | IPPSR (msu.edu), on questions asked in the 82nd Round of IPPSR’s State of the State Survey and 10th Michigan Policy Insiders Panel.
People who responded to the survey thought that the MICRC was a better alternative compared to the state’s past redistricting process -- with 58.3% of people indicating that the MICRC was a better alternative than previous more legislative-dominated mapping. Only 23% believed the commission’s work was neither better nor worse than maps crafted by the Michigan Legislature, which has had virtually sole ownership over the redistricting process in years past. Only 18.7% of respondents thought the MICRC process was a worse alternative.
Survey respondents were also asked to answer an open-ended question about other information they had heard about the commission. Open-ended questions let respondents of the survey reply to the question: “what else have you heard about the MICRC?” These answers can give us a more in-depth, qualitative look into what Michiganders believe about the Commission. Utilizing a mixed methodology, I coded these answers into different categories in a spreadsheet in order to gauge how popular certain beliefs and sentiments were. Of the 1,000 total participants in the SOSS survey, 549 people chose to respond to the open-ended question. Of the open-ended question respondents, 253 replied that they had nothing to add in response to the question or were generally unaware of the Commission.
Within the other 296 responses, 105 of those answering the online poll said they are somewhat or wholly aware of the Commission’s current actions. They said that they knew the commission had completed maps required every 10 years by the U.S. Constitution. One respondent specified that the redistricting commission intended to remove congressional districts from the hands of politicians and “put it in the hands of the people with an eye toward reducing partisan politics and gerrymandering.”
Twenty-two of the replies praised the commission’s maps as being more representative of the communities they bisect and more representative of the state’s electorate. One respondent said in the SOSS survey that “it (the commission) seems as though it is impartial and fair. I think it will be a huge improvement over the legislative process.” Legislators, in Michigan’s past, have had primary responsibility for redistricting. Another survey respondent echoed this praise, stating “they are trying to work it out where it is right for all.” Others answering the survey concluded that the previous legislative process — largely influenced by the political party in power — was less fair than the new independent Commission’s process.
A significant portion of comments questioning the Commission’s work regarded the secretiveness of the group, with 39 respondents citing the single closed-door meeting the Committee conducted following a death threat. Respondents made the following comments in their survey answers: “THEY CANNOT BE TRUSTED,” “Not transparent. Some bickering. Still influenced by special interests” and “That they said they would be transparent and open meetings, but have had a closed session that they are not allowing the public to know what happened at it.”
Other misgivings that respondents expressed: the Commission acted politically, was ineffective, or drew maps that benefit either party. Regarding the Commission’s partisanship, one respondent wrote in a response “that there could be some political bias in these endeavors.” Another responded “supposedly it's made up of an even number of Republicans and Democrats. I don't really trust it to be honest, but don't know enough to say for sure.” Eleven respondents thought the Commission would benefit Republicans, whereas six said it would benefit Democrats, stating “it is gerrymandering to help Democrats win elections.”
Scholars, students, political scientists and close observers of our politics are already asking whether this process – independent citizens randomly selected from a pre-qualified pool of applicants and whose decisions are watched in person and online and television through an undeniable pandemic – will work in yet another 10 years. It is research like this that could help all of us answer that question.
Nick Pigeon is a Master of Public Policy candidate at Michigan State University and an IPPSR Public Policy Graduate Fellow. He is a campaign veteran who has helped elect candidates up and down the ballot at the local, state, and national level.