Michigan Attempts to Assess Public Opinion on Local Tobacco Control

From 1993 to 1997, the Michigan Public Health Institute, Detroit, produced, for the state and for each of Michigan's 83 counties, a profile of public opinion on tobacco control policies.

While most citizens support tobacco control policies, their local politicians frequently do not. One explanation for politicians' lack of support was thought to be their tendency to dismiss as irrelevant national data reflecting public dislike of tobacco, saying it does not reflect the opinions of their local constituency.

The project was part of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's (RWJF) national program Tobacco Policy Research and Evaluation Program.

Key Results

  • An average of 33 policymakers (primarily elected officials such as mayors, council members, and boards of education; also local health officers and boards of health) in each of Michigan's 83 counties was surveyed to establish a baseline Tobacco Control Policy score for each county.

    Counties were randomly assigned to either an experimental or a control group for the receipt of public opinion data.
  • A statewide telephone survey of approximately 4,600 people was conducted to measure public opinion on a variety of tobacco control policies. Using these data, a statewide public opinion profile was developed, as were local profiles for each county in the experimental group (and the City of Detroit).
  • The policymakers in the experimental group of counties received local profiles and the statewide profile; the control group of counties received only the statewide profile.
  • The project planned to determine whether policymakers in the experimental group responded more to local public opinion to enact different regulations and laws concerning tobacco sales than did those in the control group.

    Unexpected legislative developments, especially a preemption clause that severely constrained local tobacco control initiatives, interfered with this research design because it tied the hands of local policymakers. However, the researchers are continuing to track social decision-making against local public opinion.