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Dayton leads Johnson head-to-head in SUSA/KSTP poll

The first round of statewide polls taken since the primary election puts Gov. Mark Dayton ahead of his Republican challenger Jeff Johnson. Though that finding might give Dayton some confidence heading into their November clash, Johnson’s campaign is taking the numbers as a good sign.

A Survey USA/KSTP poll conducted last week gives Dayton a 49 percent to 40 percent advantage over Johnson, a Hennepin County commissioner and former legislator. Independence Party candidate Hannah Nicollet had the support of about 3 percent of Minnesotans, and the remaining 8 percent of respondents opted for “Other” or stated no preference.

The same poll, which targeted likely Minnesota voters, put Dayton’s overall job approval rating at 51 percent, while 37 percent disapproved of his performance in office. The job approval rating marks a slight uptick from the 49 percent score SurveyUSA/KSTP found for Dayton during the spring.

Dayton’s edge comes partly due to his strength among women, who favor the incumbent 53 percent to Johnson’s 44 percent; Johnson has a 44 percent to 36 percent advantage with men.

The results essentially mirror findings earlier this month from Rasmussen Reports, which gave Dayton a 49 percent to 40 percent lead over the Republican nominee. Johnson greeted news of the latest poll with a triumphant press release, saying his trailing the incumbent by single digits is a sign that Dayton “is in trouble” with just over two months before Election Day.

“I am more confident than ever that we are going to win this race and take the governor’s office back for the people of Minnesota,” Johnson said. “These polls will energize my campaign even more and build on the momentum we’re gaining every day.”

Dayton’s head-to-head figures against Johnson have shifted slightly over recent months. In March, as Republican candidates sought to increase name recognition leading up to the party convention, Dayton led Johnson 52 percent to 34 percent, with 14 percent of respondents undecided. Another Survey USA/KSTP poll in June, following on the heels of Johnson’s endorsement by the GOP, found the Democrat’s lead had shrunk to 46 percent to 40 percent.

Both polls used to examine the governor’s race this month have produced similar results in the U.S. Senate contest. DFL U.S. Sen. Al Franken has a 51 percent to 42 percent advantage over challenger Mike McFadden, according to Survey USA/KSTP, which also saw similar figures in its March and  June polls on that race. Rasmussen, meanwhile, put the Franken-McFadden contest at 50 percent for the DFLer and 42 percent for McFadden, a political newcomer who left a career in finance to mount his bid for the Senate seat.

Independence Party candidate Steve Carlson polled at just 2 percent in the latest KSTP review. Carlson upset endorsed IP candidate Kevin Terrell in the primary, in a a result that left the party reeling, with leaders saying Carlson’s controversial statements about women and race are not reflective of the IP platform. Either Carlson or Nicollet, the IP’s gubernatorial entrant, would need to hit the 5 percent threshold in November for the party to maintain major party status.

Franken’s job performance rating was at least found to be higher than his DFL ballot mate’s. Despite a lack of notable achievements by the perpetually gridlocked Congress, some 56 percent of respondents approved of Franken’s work, and 35 percent disapproved. Both local Democrats were viewed far more kindly than President Barack Obama, whose approval in Minnesota now stands at 38 percent. As is often the case, DFL U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar is easily the most popular political figure in the state, with 59 percent approval and just 27 percent disapproval.

Despite his paltry showing, even Obama scores better than MNsure, the state health insurance exchange, which has faced near-constant criticism from the state’s Republicans since its official launch in fall 2013. Only 27 percent of those surveyed “approve” of MNsure’s performance to this point, while another 48 percent disapprove. As of mid-August, more than 300,000 residents had enrolled in insurance through the exchange. Of that total, the overwhelming majority have received state-subsidized coverage through either Medical Assistance, the state’s Medicaid program, or MinnesotaCare; about 54,000 have purchased private insurance MNsure.

The Survey USA/KSTP questionnaire used answers from 600 likely voters. Of that pool, 37 percent identified as Democrats, 30 percent as Republicans and 25 percent were unaffiliated.  Both of the recent statewide polls have a margin of error of about 4 percent.

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