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New political poll reveals an unhappy Minnesota

Steven Schier//November 30, 2017//

New political poll reveals an unhappy Minnesota

Steven Schier//November 30, 2017//

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A new SurveyUSA poll from KSTP television reveals widespread public dissatisfaction with Sen. Al Franken, President Donald Trump, Gov. Mark Dayton, the state Legislature and the GOP tax plan that recently passed the U.S. House.  Minnesotans seem to be saying “a pox on all of your houses.”

The survey was taken on Nov. 20 and 21 and includes 600 adults of whom 518 are registered voters.  Survey USA employs a variety of contact techniques in its surveys: phone landlines, mobile phones and the internet. The survey yielded a sample that seems representative of the Minnesota adult population by age (56 percent under 50), gender (51 percent female) and party affiliation (23 percent GOP, 44 percent Independent and 25 percent Democrat). The survey’s margin of error was 4.1 percentage points for questions asked of all adult respondents and 4.4 percentage points for questions answered only by registered voters.

The poll occurred when two initial sexual harassment accusations against Franken had just surfaced, and its headline results involve three questions about him.  One asked all adult respondents if Franken should stay in office, resign or wait for a Senate Ethics Committee investigation.  Only 22 percent wanted Franken to stay in office, 33 percent preferred his resignation and 36 percent wished to wait for the investigation.  Hardly a ringing endorsement of the senator.

A second question asked adults whether Franken would be effective in the Senate if he remained in office.  Only 32 percent of adults thought he would remain effective, 37 percent said ineffective and 32 percent were not sure.

A final Franken question asked about his job approval among registered voters in the sample.  It stood at a lowly 36 percent, a drop of 17 percent from the previous SurveyUSA poll taken earlier in the autumn.  Franken’s job approval stood a full 20 percentage points below that of fellow DFL Sen. Amy Klobuchar who enjoyed 56 percent job approval in the survey.  She is the sole public officeholder receiving majority approval in the poll.

In no demographic group — sorted by age, gender, region, ideology, income or party identification — did Franken register majority support to stay in office.  Across these three questions, Franken support stood highest among liberals and Democrats.  Those were the only two demographic groups to register majority approval for Franken’s job and for his continued effectiveness if he stays in office.

The mirror image of Franken support were the groups most strongly opposing the senator — Republicans and conservatives.  Majorities of both groups want Franken to resign, believe he will be ineffective and disapprove of his job performance.

Politically vital for Franken are the “swing voters” in state politics, moderates and independents.  Only about one-third of these two groups approve of his job performance, believe he will be effective in the future and give the senator job approval.  Franken must win them back to rebound fully from the current scandal.

Trump also registers high unpopularity among the survey’s registered voters.  His 31 percent job approval is below even that of Franken.  The president gets majority approval only among conservatives (56 percent) and Republicans (73 percent) and approval of him lags badly with moderates (28 percent) and independents (23 percent).

Minnesotans are not big fans of the tax cut bill recently passed by the GOP-controlled U.S. House.  Overall support for the plan, described in the survey as one that would “reduce corporate taxes and some people’s income taxes but increase the budget deficit” stands at an anemic 24 percent among adult respondents.  Majority support exists only among Republicans.

Comparably weak support (28 percent) exists for elimination of the state and local tax deduction, important in our high-tax state.  Limiting “deductions for some home mortgage interest” in the bill is also backed by only 28 percent of adults.  These two specific provisions of the House bill fail to achieve majority support among any demographic group of adults.

Dayton also does not fare well in the survey.  His job approval at 42 percent among registered voters is five points lower than that in the autumn SurveyUSA poll.  Like Franken, the only groups showing majority job approval for the governor are liberals (66 percent) and Democrats (79 percent).  Job approval among the swing groups of moderates and independent is much lower at 43 percent and 36 percent respectively.

Dayton’s veto of the state Legislature funding remains low at 31 percent among adults, about the same level registered in the early autumn survey.  Yet 37 percent were “not sure” about this matter, indicating it remains of low salience to the public.  A similar configuration of opinion appeared regarding support for the Supreme Court decision allowing his veto to stand.  In this battle, many in the public are paying little attention.  The governor and court get majority support only from Democrats and liberals.

The state Legislature as an institution also doesn’t fare well in the survey, registering only 24 percent job approval among registered voters.  No demographic group among the 518 registered voters gives the institution majority job approval, though support is strongest among conservatives and Republicans.

It’s clear that the Minnesota public wants strong enforcement procedures to combat sexual harassment.  Thirty-two percent of adult respondents and a striking 48 percent of women indicate they have been victims of sexual harassment.  Large adult majorities want policies that make harassment reporting easier (86 percent) and want state legislators to resign if harassment charges against them are verified (75 percent).

The survey results should concern all incumbent officeholders (except perhaps Amy Klobuchar) because they reveal a disgruntled public upset with sexual harassment by public officials, the House GOP tax plan and the job performance of Franken, the Legislature, Trump and Dayton.  The key swing groups — independents and moderates — are dissatisfied and up for grabs.  Restlessness of this magnitude portends great political volatility between now and Election Day 2018.  Fasten your seat belts for a bumpy ride.


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Steven Schier is Congdon Professor of Political Science at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota.


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