Red States Singing the Blues Over Under-the-Radar GOP Revolution?

Dec 2, 2019

IPPSR Director’s Newest Book Reviewed on the State of the State Podcast.

While the nation has gained more than a million jobs this year, job growth in the U.S. heartland is stagnant to slowing, a Michigan State University economist said during November’s State of the State Podcast.

The monthly podcast features IPPSR Director Matt Grossmann, MSU Economics Professor Charles Ballard and IPPSR Associate Director Arnold Weinfeld, with special guests, swapping views on politics, the economy and the state of the state and the world.


Michigan’s job growth has been flat since January. Ohio and Indiana have lost jobs during the same period, Ballard said during the broadcast.

Ballard is director of IPPSR’s State of the State Survey, one of the state’s only regular public opinion surveys tapping Michigan citizen attitudes.

November’s State of the State Podcast features hosts Ballard and Grossmann talking economics, politics and leadership.

Nationally, job growth is pegged at 1.2 million this year. “None of that has been happening in this part of the country” where manufacturing accounts for so large a segment of economic activity, he said.

Michigan’s gross domestic product – a broad measure of goods and services over time – actually declined in the fourth quarter of last year, he added.

It has grown some since then, but slowly, he said. “That doesn’t mean we’re necessarily in a recession, but it does mean that we’re on the edge of a recession in Michigan.”

Historically, the nation’s economy also colors the public’s view of politics with implications for the 2020 presidential election, Grossmann observed.

The week before President Donald Trump was elected, Democrats viewed the economy positively, he said. Two weeks later, with no new policies enacted, “suddenly the economy had gone south according to the Democrats,” Grossmann said.

With a strong national economy, it remains to be seen whether Trump is held responsible for Michigan’s flat standing, Grossmann added.

Michigan’s toughest-in-the-nation term limits are also under new review, Ballard said. In State of the State Survey results over past years, Michigan citizens are in favor of restricted terms served in the state Senate and House of Representatives.

However, the same surveys show that Michigan citizens lean toward loosening some restrictions. “There’s majority support for chiseling away at it,” Ballard said.

There’s little public outcry for less restrictive term limits, Grossmann said, even when experienced legislators are viewed as more effective. While power may have shifted to lobbyists or administrators, few new effects on policies are seen under tight term limits, he said.

“I don’t know that it’s going to change much on the public side,” he said. “Even on the Democratic side, you still have the appeal of this anti-politician messaging.”

A new proposal combining relaxed term limits with restrictions on politician-to-lobbyist career moves might be more appealing, Grossmann said. “Then maybe you could sell it as an empowering initiative for the Legislature against outside interests.”

During the podcast, Ballard and Grossmann also discuss Grossmann’s new book Red State Blues. Republicans have overtaken Democratic control of state legislatures across the country, but strict conservative policies haven’t found complete favor with the public, Grossmann asserts in the book.

Republicans have been able to slow the growth of government, but not bring it to a complete halt, said Grossmann.

The book is subtitled How the Conservative Revolution Stalled in the States.

Grossmann’s latest book, his fourth, was published by Cambridge University Press. He’s co-author of Asymmetric Politics: Ideological Republicans and Group Interest Democrats, winner of the Leon Epstein Outstanding Book Award from the American Political Science Association.

Grossmann’s latest work traces Republican control in three states in 1992 to a takeover of 26 states by 2017. Recent Democratic gains have only brought the party back to 2014 status.

Republican control, however, has had limited effects. “The story is not as successful as it’s sometimes told. It’s very hard to do anything about reversing the growth and the size and scope of state government,” Grossmann said.

The public reacted quickly with increased spending or higher taxes where conservative cost-cutting closed schools, Grossmann noted.

“People like the idea in general of lower taxes and less government spending. They really don’t like closed schools,” he said. “Even Republican legislators often reverse themselves when that news comes to voters.”

While hard-fought election campaigns may pledge bold change, full single-party control moves public policy about one percent in that party’s direction, Grossmann said. “You see real effects, but they’re not overwhelming.”

Strict conservative legislation governing state-level immigration, gun control legislation, abortion and criminal justice measures have largely been limited or reversed, Grossmann found.

Smaller states saw relatively less change, while larger states could see greater effects. Wisconsin, among large states nationally and measured as the fifth most liberal state by economic policy, saw some of the greatest changes.

Wisconsin’s citizens were of more moderate opinions than enacted policies, Grossmann said. “They (Republicans) were able to move it more there than elsewhere.”

Early childhood education, seen as a traditional expansion of government responsibility, was another winner despite conservative resistance, Grossmann said. Almost every governor elected last year promised to increase spending for the youngest learners and almost all kept the promise, he added.

MSU Today airs Sunday mornings at 9:00 on 105.1 FM and AM 870.