Optimism Prevails in Opinions on the Future of Detroit


Optimism Prevails in Opinions on the Future of Detroit

by Bill Dutton and Bibi Reisdorf, Quello Center, MSU

Conversations about the prospects for Detroit’s future often expose a divide between those who see the city recovering from a decline in population and financial vitality and those who have given up on the city’s recovery. As part of a research project on the role of the Internet and new media in the development of Detroit, the Quello Center surveyed a random sample of Michigan residents about their perspectives on the future of Detroit. Conducted as part of MSU’s State of the State Survey (SOSS), the sample included nearly 1,000 respondents. Each respondent was interviewed over the phone through random sampling of mobile and fixed-line phones in Michigan.

The results show a divided public, but one in which positive views on the prospects for Detroit far outweigh more pessimistic viewpoints. We asked respondents: “Do you believe that the City of Detroit will decline or improve over the coming years?” More than 7 of every 10 respondents expected the city to improve in the coming years (Figure 1). Just under a quarter of respondents (24.8%) said that they expected the city to decline. Only a small proportion (4.7%) thought the city would stay about the same as today.

Moreover, Michigan residents are more positive about the future of Detroit in 2016 than in 2008, five years before the city of Detroit became the largest municipality in the United States to file for bankruptcy on July 18, 2013. In 2008, there was a more equal split among Michiganders, with 27.7% expecting the city to decline, and a slightly larger proportion (32.3%) expecting it to improve. Fully forty percent (40.1%) expected the city to stay in the same situation in 2008, compared to less than 5 percent in 2016. The drop in those expecting things to change might have declined due to a change in response categories, but opinion has clearly shifted to a more positive outlook for Detroit in the post-bankruptcy environment.

Figure 1. Michiganders Optimistic About the City of Detroit’s Future

Figure 1

Figure 1

2008: N=990
2016: N=995.

However, not all Michganders are alike in their views. Those who are more positive are more likely to be African-American, female, have incomes above $30,000 per year, and live inside the city of Detroit. Detroit residents were more positive in both 2008 and 2016, but race and gender differences were particularly marked and changed overtime.

Figure 2 shows that in 2008, African American respondents were far more optimistic about the future of Detroit than were white respondents. For example, in 2008, 52% of African American respondents thought the city would improve, compared to only 28.7% of white respondents (Figure 2). From 2008 to 2016, there has been a dramatic increase in the proportion of more optimistic African American (52.6-75.4%) respondents, as well as white respondents (28.7-69.8%), leaving racial divides in attitudes about the city’s future less pronounced in 2016 than in 2008.

Figure 2. Narrowing Racial Divides in Beliefs About Detroit’s Prospects

Figure 2

Figure 2

African American 2008: N=137
African American 2016: N=118
White 2008: N=835
White 2016: N=772

With respect to gender, Figure 3 shows that more women were pessimistic than men (29.6% of women thought things would improve, compared to 35.2% of men), and proportionately more women were likely to believe things would stay the same (44.2% of women, compared to 35.6% of men). However, by 2016, this had reversed, with 74.1 percent of women believing things would improve for Detroit, as compared with 66.9 percent of men. More men and women were optimistic in 2016, but the gain among women surpassed that among men (Figure 3).

Figure 3. Women Become More Optimistic Than Men About Detroit’s Future

Figure 3

Figure 3

Men 2008: N=477
Men 2016: N=477
Women 2008: N=514
Women 2016: N=479

It is difficult to anticipate the consequences of this shift in opinion. It is possible that a more positive outlook within the population—especially within Detroit itself—will contribute to supporting a growing number of initiatives underway in the central city and neighborhoods of Detroit, ranging from tech startups and urban farming to programs for vulnerable residents in distressed areas of the city.

The Quello Center will continue to follow shifting opinion as it studies the role of the Internet in networking collaborative efforts and opening access to information to its residents in order to support urban development and citizen engagement.


Dr Bibi Reisdorf or Professor Bill Dutton at the Quello Center at Quello@msu.edu


The State of the State Survey (SOSS) is organized and directed by the Institute for Public Policy and Social Research (IPPSR) at Michigan State University. See: http://ippsr.msu.edu/survey-research/state-state-survey-soss

Information about the ICT4Detroit Project of the Quello Center is available at: http://quello.msu.edu/research/ict4detroit-the-role-of-ict-in-collaboration-for-detroits-revitalization/

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Alexander Heffner on ‘Millennials, Public Media and The Future of Civil Discourse’


Alexander Heffner delivered an engaging Quello Center Lecture on the engagement of ‘millennials’ in public media, issues and discourse. You are welcome to view the lecture, delivered on 18 March 2015, by going to the video below.

Quello Lecture and Panel on ‘Millennials, Public Media and The Future of Civil Discourse’ by Alexander Heffner (NEW) from Quello Center on Vimeo.

Alexander is seeking, through his work on ‘Open Minds’, a way to foster a more ‘civic-minded journalism culture, non-adversarial broadcasting in the public interest, and critical exploration of prosocial ideas.’ His talk can be viewed here, along with responses from two colleagues at MSU follow his talk, Eric Freedman, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist at MSU, and Gary Reid, the Director of WKAR in East Lansing, Michigan. The responses and discussion challenge the concept of ‘millennials’, what is ‘newsworthy’ v ‘viral’ and what the key issues are in the future of public discourse – changing audiences, business models, the role of the journalist, and the quality of discourse. Optimists and pessimists about the future of public discourse can be found in the discussion.

Alexander is a graduate of Andover and Harvard, is host of The Open Mind on PBS Channel THIRTEEN/WNET and CUNY TV. Eric Freedman is the Knight Chair in environmental journalism and director of Capital News Service at MSU’s School of Journalism. Before joining the faculty full-time in 1996, Freedman was a reporter. Gary Reid is the Director of Broadcasting and General Manager of WDBM-FM, WKAR-AM/FM/TV. He is a University Distinguished Senior Specialist in the Department of Media and Information at MSU and an Associate Director of the Quello Center.

Alexander’s lecture is about 25 minutes, including my introduction, with two short responses, and discussion. We’d welcome any comments or feedback on this talk here on the Quello Center blog.

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