Michigan Radio and Public Sector Consultants (PSC) presented voters with a diverse set of questions in its latest quarterly poll, with topics ranging from robot cars to carrying concealed weapons. The last in this year’s series, this poll is a collaborative effort between Michigan Radio and PSC to better understand Michiganders’ opinions on important policy issues. Out of the 600 voters polled, 450 were contacted by landline and 150 by cell phone, and the overall margin of error was +/- 4 percent. The survey was conducted by Denno Research.

“The topics covered in this poll are indicative of what we’re trying to accomplish with our relationship with Michigan Radio through the Michigan’s Pulse poll,” says PSC director of marketing and communications Selma Tucker. “Over the course of the year, we garner public input on a wide range of highly complex and evolving issues that affect people’s daily lives in order to better understand how the state might try to manage them.”

In addition to concealed weapons carry and self-driving vehicles, the poll asked respondents about other topics making Michigan headlines, including prison reform, water quality and legislative reform.

Below is a summary of the poll’s results.

Concealed carry

Anyone with a Facebook account knows that gun control is a very polarizing and partisan topic. It also can be confusing, as many related issues fall under the general “gun control” umbrella. For the poll, voters were asked specifically about Michigan’s current law, which bans people from carrying concealed weapons at schools, daycare centers, sports arenas/stadiums, bars, churches, hospitals, casinos, entertainment facilities that seat 2,500 people or more and dorms and classrooms at colleges and universities.

“This is a question where we walked a very fine line,” says PSC senior consultant Craig Wiles, who helped develop the survey and analyzed the results. “We were very careful about our questioning because concealed carry is a highly political issue. We started by explaining Michigan’s current concealed carry law so all respondents started with the same basic level of understanding, and then we asked their opinion on lifting the ban.”

As might be expected, the poll found that voters were split down the middle, with 46 percent wanting to lift the ban and 49 percent wanting to keep it. Five percent of respondents were either unsure, chose “other” or did not want to respond.

“The problem is that the law, the regulations and the bans are being discussed in an ever-changing political climate influenced by current events in America and abroad,” says Wiles. “When you introduce fear and raw emotion, people are going to get more entrenched, and they’re going stick closer to their ideological roots.”

Water quality

Flint’s water troubles have been a major concern for Michiganders, since the city’s water was switched from Detroit’s supply to the Flint River in 2014. After the change, a number of children were diagnosed with elevated lead levels, as was the drinking water found in many homes, schools and businesses.

Poll results indicate that the Flint water crisis struck a nerve with Michiganders, with a majority of respondents (71 percent) saying it is very important for the State of Michigan to examine the water systems in densely populated areas.

“I think the water crisis got the response it did because people are scared,” Wiles explains. “Our water systems are something we put trust in—we trust that we’re going to go to the faucet, turn it on and get safe, clean water.”

The poll also asked voters how often they thought water quality should be checked in Michigan’s public schools. More than half of respondents (55 percent) said once a year, 29 percent said more than once a year, 9 percent said once every couple of years, 3 percent said only when there is a complaint and 4 percent were unsure, chose “other” or did not want to respond.

Prison reform

The Michigan House of Representatives recently passed a bill allowing for presumptive parole in the state’s justice system, which gives well-behaving, nonviolent criminals parole after their minimum sentence is served. By offering inmates presumptive parole, Michigan will be able to significantly reduce prison costs.

The majority of respondents (53 percent) were either very or somewhat supportive of presumptive parole, while 38 percent were somewhat or very unsupportive. Approximately 9 percent were unsure, chose “other” or did not want to respond.

When the topic of offering parole to youth offenders convicted of a violent crime was raised, responses were split. In the United States, there are approximately 2,500 youth offenders serving life sentences. The poll found that 41 percent of respondents thought these offenders should be offered parole, 39 percent thought they should not be offered parole and 21 percent were unsure, chose “other” or did not want to respond.

“The split responses tell me that people are thinking about the issue, but they don’t quite understand it and, therefore, don’t want to weigh in just yet,” Wiles says. “When you get a quarter of respondents saying they don’t know, that’s a huge signal that people want and need more information to form an opinion.”

Legislative reform

PSC’s poll also asked two questions about legislative performance—one related to road funding and the other to reform measures that could improve the legislature’s effectiveness. With regard to the first question, voters had strong opinions about how the Michigan Legislature handled road funding in 2015. The vast majority of respondents thought the legislature did a terrible (58 percent) or bad (21 percent) job. Only 0.5 percent thought the legislature did a good job.

Despite having strong opinions about funding Michigan’s roads, voters were less sure about what reform measures might improve legislative effectiveness: 25 percent of respondents supported passing stricter campaign finance and/or ethics laws, 21 percent supported switching to a part-time legislature, 21 percent supported doing nothing and 18 percent supported revising term limits to allow members to serve up to 12 years in either chamber. The remaining 16 percent of respondents were either unsure, chose “other” or did not want to respond.

“It’s clear that voters are unhappy with how the legislature is performing, but they aren’t sure how to fix the problem,” Wiles says.

Autonomous vehicles (or robot cars)

On October 21, 2015, pop culture fans celebrated the day Marty McFly traveled to the year 2015 in the motion picture film Back to the Future Part II, so it was only appropriate to ask for Michiganders’ opinions about self-driving cars. As it turns out, people are not at all comfortable with robot vehicles, even though they know their use is inevitable.

“People seem hesitant about getting into cars where they feel like they have less control,” explains Wiles. “Plus, the reputational damage and mistrust caused by recalls and recent scandals is going to live on for a while. Manufacturers really need to think about educating the public on this new technology, and proving it’s safe, before it makes its way onto our roads.”

Of those polled, only 29 percent said they feel comfortable having driverless cars on Michigan’s roads, whereas 56 percent said they believe such cars will make driving more dangerous. Despite the aversion to driverless cars, more than half of respondents (58 percent) recognize that they will most likely be on our roads within five to 20 years.

“The future is here,” says Wiles. “Self-driving vehicles were featured prominently at the January 2016 auto show in Detroit, so Michigan voters appear to be tuned in. At the same time, manufacturers seem to understand people’s reluctance. Rather than continuing to focus on making impacts safer, they are now emphasizing technology that helps avoid collisions altogether. That’s a huge shift in messaging, and it could go a long way toward alleviating people’s fears.”