Motivation, Meaning, and Deception in Local Municipal Politics: Muskegon County, Michigan, USA


When people run for an elected position they have certain motivations for doing so. They have expectations about what they can achieve and what they will experience. I believe that people run for office because they see a possibility for achieving something meaningful. Once in office, however, the experience can be different than expected, especially in their encounter with deception. This changes their motivation and meaning. Understanding these experiences is important for the phenomenological impact on the individuals who pursue and attain elected office, as well as those considering doing so, and such research could have a noticeable impact in understanding changes in policy agendas of politicians, as well as reasons behind their self-selection bias in pursuit and maintenance of their roles.

General and Specific Research Questions

The general question to answer is, "What changes are there in the factors of motivation, the feeling of meaning, and the perception of deception in elected officials since taking office?" To answer this the survey will need to separate out questions that will give the answer. In motivation this will involve valence, expectancy, instrumentality, time delay, and effort. In meaning this will involve creative, experiential, and attitudinal values. In deception this will involve expectations of lying. A key interest will be the potential correlations between these areas for cross-referencing. Also of interest are the nature and quality of the relationships and interactions once in office, and the accumulated experience's impact on future outlook.

Review of the Literature

Motivation, meaning, and deception are all large subject areas. The framework in this study draws heavily from the work of Victor Vroom's expectancy theory for motivational aspects (Vroom, 1964). The proposition being that motivational force is equal to expectancy, instrumentality, and valence. Expectancy being whether the effort will lead to performance, factoring in self-efficacy, goal difficulty, and perceived control. Instrumentality being whether performance will lead to the outcome. Valence being the value of the outcome. There are certain aspects of this that have received a large amount of attention in research because of their importance, notably self-efficacy (Bandura, 1997). In addition to the factors that add to motivation, there are those that take away, notably an increase in time delay and increased effort. Time discounting has been explicitly recognized as a powerful motivational force for centuries (Turgot, 1770). Expectancy theory continues to generate innovative work across the world building from Vroom's original propositions (Chiang and Jang, 2008). The connection between expectancy and values in motivation has been important in academic research for decades (Eccles, 1983).

For meaning the foundational works are from Viktor Frankl. One of his primary propositions is that meaning is inherent and discoverable in that the person can find meaning by creating something, by experiencing something, or by taking an attitudinal stance in an unchangeable situation (Frankl, 1988). Assessing meaning in life has been conducted through questionnaires for quite some time (Crumbaugh, 1968), and has seen evolutions in design (Steger et al, 2006).

Deception and associated guilt is associated with a match of expectation between the involved parties and a violation of those expectations (Millar and Tesser, 1988). The importance of expectancy violation in human relationships is supported by a range of other work (Burgoon, 1988).

It has been noted in academic as well as popular attention that in social interactions benefits and harms may be arrayed in a distribution matrix (Cipolla, 2019). Also, systems can display behaviors that over time come to reverse their own initially stated aims (Gall, 1977). My personal experience leads me to believe that both of these things are unique in the political field.

It is possible for each of these areas to be expanded if so requested by academic supervision.

Procedures and Methods

This study aims at a qualitative and quantitative analysis of patterns in motivation, meaning, and deception of elected officials. To this end we must discern the general reasoning behind pursuing office and whether it's viewed as a personal mission or a professional career, if the importance or possibility of achievement has changed since being in the role, what type of meaning is expected, changes in their expectations about lying, the quality of their interactions in the role, and how it has effected their outlook on the local and grand scale. To this end I have created these 28 questions. These questions will not be open-ended, they will be multiple choice. This allows for a more clearcut analysis of the data as well as contributing to a greater response rate. The set answers will also allow for quantitative data analysis, and potential patterns therein. This is the set of questions to be distributed to the elected officials.

What is your position?
How long have you been an elected official?
Did you run with a mission in mind, or for a career?
Is your primary goal in holding office personal or professional?
Are you more or less confident in achieving your goal since taking office?
Do you think your goal is more or less important than when you ran for office?
Do you think your goal is more or less possible than when you ran for office?
Do you think your goal will take more or less time than you expected when you were running for office?
Do you think your goal will take more or less effort than you expected when you were running for office?
When you were running for office, was your goal about creating something, experiencing something, or changing your own attitude?
Now, are you more focused on creating something, experiencing something, or changing your own attitude?
Do people lie to you more or less since taking office?
Do people lie about you more or less since taking office?
Do people expect you to lie to them more or less since taking office?
Do people expect you to lie about them more or less since taking office?
Do you consider your role more or less important since taking office?
Do you consider it more or less important that you specifically hold this position since taking office?
Have your goals changed since being in office?
Approximately what percentage of your interactions are of mutual benefit since taking office?
Approximately what percentage of your interactions are of mutual harm since taking office?
Approximately what percentage of your interactions cause self-harm and other-benefit since taking office?
Approximately what percentage of your interactions cause self-benefit and other-harm since taking office?
Do those that you notice lying seem to have guilt?
Has taking the position been worth the effort and hassle?
Are you more or less worried about local politics since taking office?
Are you more or less worried about state politics since taking office?
Are you more or less worried about national politics since taking office?
Are you more or less worried about humanity since taking office?

It may be desirable to do pilot testing with these questions for at least two reasons. One, to see if the questions are understood upon reading. Two, to see if the elected officials are open to answering these questions honestly. Elected positions come under a lot of public scrutiny, and also have frequent plots planned against them. This could potentially lead to a resistance to participation, and this must be overcome. Pilot testing would however add time before the test distribution could commence.

Data Analysis

There are a large number of potential patterns that may emerge from the research data. Quantitatively the numbers will be simple to calculate, e.g. "What percentage of people are more confident in achieving their goals since taking office?" There will also be questions about quantitative relationships between responses, e.g. "Is the importance and possibility of goals since taking office proportional, inversely related, or with no connection?" Qualitative insights, which may spur further research, will be of the most interest. For instance: "Do the factors of motivation (valence, expectancy, instrumentality, time delay, effort) have a correlation with the experience of deception?", "If there's an increase of the expected time delay and effort in the achievement of goals, does this correlate with a change in the types of meaning (creative, experiential, attitudinal) experienced in the role?", "Is self-importance in the position correlated with changes in worry that are consistent or inconsistent at different governmental levels?" These response relationships will allow for the extraction of qualitative insights from the quantitative data that will reveal emergent themes for analysis, and point the way toward both larger quantitative data sets by replication in other municipal governments, as well as deeper qualitative data sets by helping the development of questions for interviewing with greater knowledge about potential connections between factors of motivation, types of meaning, and aspects of deception for the people in political positions.

Timescale, Resources, and Budget

The Muskegon County Board of Commissioners currently has 9 elected members. With the 2022 redistricting this is reduced to 7. In addition, the county has an elected: prosecuting attorney, sheriff, county clerk, county treasurer, register of deeds, drain commissioner, and county surveyor. There are 16 townships in Muskegon County: Blue Lake, Casnovia, Cedar Creek, Dalton, Egelston, Fruitland, Fruitport, Holton, Laketon, Montague, Moorland, Muskegon, Ravenna, Sullivan, White River, and Whitehall. There are 7 cities: Montague, Muskegon Heights, Muskegon, North Muskegon, Norton Shores, Roosevelt Park, and Whitehall. There are 4 villages: Casnovia, Fruitport, Lakewood Club, and Ravenna. Each of these municipal governments has an elected board consisting of 5 to 7 members, totaling approximately 180 elected officials. To distribute a questionnaire of these questions through mail, email, and in-person delivery over this geographical area I will allow for 4 weeks. A budget of 20 dollars for envelopes, 50 dollars for printing, 100 dollars for mailing, and 30 dollars of incidental expenses brings the total budget to 200 dollars for collecting the data. Including return envelopes could increase this to 320 dollars. Being the elected Supervisor in Dalton Township may help with obtaining a higher response rate. Even with a response rate of slightly above 50 percent it's possible to have 100 questionnaires to analyze. With a distribution time of 1 month and a response time of 2 months, this allows for an analysis and writing time of 4 months if the dissertation is to be completed in a 7 month time frame.

Findings and Dissemination

This is a worthy research project for completing a dissertation to fulfill the requirements for a Master's of Science degree in public policy. The findings of this research will be useful in an academic setting for further policy research in universities, as well as applicable for professional think tank organizations that take practical actions in the field of politics. In a wider scope, the research will also be of interest to the general public that can be referenced for dissemination in newspaper articles, radio interviews, and the like. This is especially true in the case of individuals deciding if they are interested in running for office, and thus could have effects on political participation and self-selection bias in elected positions.

Expected Impact and/or Policy Implications

Elected officials as well as researchers, media, and the general public having a greater understanding of what motivates people to run for office and how those motivations change once obtaining office, the meaning that is sought in such an action, and the impacts of deception in political roles can lead to more realistic expectations and a greater mutual understanding for all of the stakeholders involved. It can be hoped that a rational discussion around these topics can lead to positive and achievable motivations, greater meaning, and a lower expectation of deception in the realm of political action.


Using a questionnaire it is possible to obtain data that will allow for qualitative and quantitative data which will lead to insights about the motivation, meaning, and deception in politics from the perspective of local elected officials. These insights can help inform the discussion about why these positions are pursued, why they should be pursued, how expectations change once office is gained, the feedback loops in such positions, the power of self-selection bias, attitudinal change, and more. It is through greater understanding and insight, by pursuing truth and facing the challenge of reality with unflinching resolve and determination, that meaning can be discovered and achieved in all fields of endeavor, including politics.


Bandura, Albert (1997). Self-Efficacy: The Exercise of Control. W H Freeman/Times Books/Henry Holt & Co.

Burgoon, J.K.; Hale, J.L. (1988). "Nonverbal Expectancy Violations: Model Elaboration and Application to Immediacy Behaviors". Communication Monographs. 55: 58–79. doi:10.1080/03637758809376158

Chiang, Chun-Fang; Jang, SooCheong (Shawn) (2008). "An expectancy theory model for hotel employee motivation". Journal of Hospitality Management. 27 (2): 313–322. doi:10.1016/j.ijhm.2007.07.017

Cipolla, Carlo M. (2019) The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity. Doubleday, New York.

Crumbaugh, J. C. (1968). Cross-validation of purpose-in-life-test based on Frankl’s concepts. Journal of Individual Psychology, 24, 74–81.

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Frankl, Viktor (1988). The Will to Meaning: Foundations and Applications of Logotherapy. New American Library, New York.

Gall, John (1977) Systemantics: How Systems Work and Especially How They Fail. Quadrangle, The New York Times Book Company, Inc., New York.

Millar, Karen; Tesser, Abraham (1988). Deceptive Behavior in Social Relationships: A Consequence of Violated Expectations, The Journal of Psychology, 122:3, 263-273, DOI: 10.1080/00223980.1988.9915514

Millar, M. G.; Millar, K. U. (1990). Attitude change as a function of attitude type and argument type. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 59(2), 217–228.

Millar, M., Millar, K. (1995). Detection of deception in familiar and unfamiliar persons: The effects of information restriction. J Nonverbal Behav 19, 69–84.

Millar, Murray; Millar, Karen (1996). The Effects of Direct and Indirect Experience on Affective and Cognitive Responses and the Attitude–Behavior Relation, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, Volume 32, Issue 6, Pages 561-579.

Steger, M. F.; Frazier, P.; Oishi, S.; & Kaler, M. (2006). The Meaning in Life Questionnaire: Assessing the presence of and search for meaning in life. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 53, 80-93.

Turgot, Anne Robert Jacques (1770). Paper on Lending at Interest. As quoted in Turgot Collection Pocket Edition (2011) edited by David Gordon. Ludwig von Mises Institute, Auburn, Alabama.

Vroom, Victor H. (1964). Work and Motivation. Wiley, New York.



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