Winning the Narrative on Safety, Accountability, and Justice in Michigan
Lessons and takeaways from polling, public opinion research and recent elections.
March 11, 2024

In October 2023, Vera Action commissioned the polling firm GQR to conduct a 20 minute survey with 800 registered Michigan voters to measure Michiganders’ opinions on issues of crime and public safety and identify effective ways to communicate on these issues.

Click here to read the full report from Vera Action and GQR.

The results suggest that candidates and elected officials in the state can get in front of the inevitable “soft-on-crime” attacks by proactively defining themselves as serious about safety and emphasizing three key aspects of safety that are important to all Michiganders: preventing crime, responding to crisis, and stopping violence. At the same time, Michiganders care deeply about accountability and justice, and are eager for their elected officials to lean into the policy solutions that help all Michigan communities thrive. Below are five key takeaways from the research: 

  1. Michiganders prefer a comprehensive approach to crime and safety over a narrow “tough-on-crime” one. This is especially true for the Michiganders who are most concerned about crime. When asked which came closer to their views on how crime and public safety should be handled, 57 percent of Michigan voters chose a “serious about safety” approach.
  2. When it comes to their preferred policy solutions for decreasing crime, a majority of Michigan voters believe that reform policies, including increasing access to drug prevention and treatment, are more effective than “tough on crime” measures. A majority of Michiganders understand that the policies that help all communities thrive also keep us safer. When asked what policies would help decrease crime “a lot” in the state, a majority of Michiganders said that “stopping the flow of drugs into the state” (54%) and “increasing funding for mental health and drug treatment” (52%) would be effective.
  3. The conventional wisdom that Democrats need to try and “out tough” their opposition when they are attacked on crime is wrong. Responding with a comprehensive message on crime and safety helps move critical voting blocs, including Independent, young, and even white male voters. Too often, when Democrats are put on the defense on crime, they attempt to “out tough” their opposition, doubling down on their support for law enforcement or other “tough on crime” measures. Vera Action tested whether this approach is more effective than a comprehensive message on safety when responding to a typical GOP attack. What we found is that overall, the “comprehensive” message performs better than the “tough” message when both were compared to a GOP attack line.
  4. On policing, a message of support and accountability outperforms one of more funding or putting more officers on the ground. Even on thorny topics like policing, the conventional wisdom that voters are looking for leaders to lean into “tough” rhetoric is wrong. 31 percent of Michiganders prefer an approach to policing that involves “supporting the police who put their lives on the line for us everyday and holding those who use excessive force or abuse their power accountable,” more than double the amount of voters who support “putting more police on the streets” (12%) or “more funding for police” (12%).
  5. Michiganders, and especially Black Michiganders, understand that accountability is about repair and changing behavior, not just more punishment. We know Michiganders care deeply about accountability, but too often we assume that this translates into more support for tougher penalties or stricter sentencing. When you give Michiganders a choice, however, 54 percent believe that accountability is about a person “seeing the harm they’ve done, accepting the consequences, and changing their behavior,” compared to a smaller 43 percent who believe “if you do the crime, you should do the time, and that means serving the full sentence.”