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Sam Hanson, the attorney representing Gov. Mark Dayton in the legislative funding dispute, delivers oral arguments Aug. 28 before the Minnesota Supreme Court at the Capitol in St. Paul. (AP photo: Star Tribune)

The public’s view of Dayton’s veto battle

For months the battle between Gov. Mark Dayton and the GOP-controlled Legislature has raged over his veto of legislative appropriations for the next fiscal year. Dayton has demanded a renegotiation of the tax bill he signed in return for his agreement to approve funding for the Legislature for 2018. Where does the public stand on this remarkable controversy?

A new SurveyUSA poll for KSTP television gives the first clues about public opinion concerning the legislative funding dispute. The poll does not have good news for either of Minnesota’s major political parties.

Republican and Democratic identification stands at only 22 and 26 percent respectively with a whopping 42 percent claiming independent status. Fourteen percent of independents lean toward the GOP and 11 percent lean DFL. Including “leaners” the two parties are at almost perfect parity in the poll — 46 percent GOP and 47 percent DFL.

Dayton’s job approval stands at 47 percent, down from previous SurveyUSA readings in the low 50s. Dayton also has not succeeded in convincing survey respondents to back his veto of legislative funding. Only 33 percent support Dayton while 31 percent disapprove, a virtual dead heat on the controversy. A considerable 37 percent are “not sure” of their opinion, indicating that the issue has not captured widespread public attention.

A similar distribution of opinion is evident in a related question that asked “Should Republicans who control the Minnesota Legislature agree to make the changes to the tax bill that Gov. Dayton wants in exchange for restoring their funding?” Thirty-five percent agreed, 30 percent disagreed and 35 percent were “not sure.”

Independents are a key swing group in the Minnesota electorate. Dayton’s job approval among them registers an unimpressive 41 percent. As a group, they oppose Dayton’s veto 36 to 28 percent and by 33 to 30 percent do not support the Legislature acceding to Dayton’s tax demands. Regarding both of the poll’s veto questions, GOP-leaning Independents (by margins over 15 percent) and pure Independents (by margins around 10 percent) oppose Dayton’s positions while DFL-leaning Independents back Dayton’s positions (by 20 points or more).

Who sides with Dayton in the controversy? Only two groups in the survey support his positions at or near the 50 percent mark. They include urban voters (50 percent back the veto, 47 percent want the Legislature to back Dayton) and strong Democrats (53 percent and 48 percent respectively). Opposition to Dayton’s positions is particularly strong among Republicans, rural Minnesotans and those aged 50-64.

The survey of 550 Minnesota adults during October 6 and 7 has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.3 percent. That means that 95 percent of surveys of that size will produce results within plus or minus 4.3 percent of the population from which the sample was drawn. Sixty percent of respondents hail from the Twin Cities and 40 percent from greater Minnesota.

Tough time for elected officials

Dayton has much work to do with the Minnesota public to mobilize popular support for his positions in the veto controversy. Though the Legislature as an institution remains unpopular — 27 percent approve of the job it’s doing while 34 percent disapprove and 39 percent are “not sure” — that has not produced massive support in the poll for the governor’s positions.

Dayton’s declining popularity and low popular support in the veto battle may also reflect a public disaffection with caustic and fighting politicians. President Donald Trump received only 37 percent job approval in the poll. The contours of Trump support and opposition are the mirror image of those for Dayton. Trump does best among rural, older (65+), non-college-educated and Republican respondents. Dayton’s base includes respondents 18-34, the college-educated, urban residents and Democrats.

The Legislature, governor and president all register less than 50 percent job approval in the survey. It’s a tough time for elected politicians in Minnesota. Given that, it’s no surprise that Dayton’s audacious position in the veto controversy has thus far not come close to majority support.

Steven Schier is Congdon Professor of Political Science at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota. This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Minnesota Lawyer.

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