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The known and unknown in today’s Minnesota and national politics

The late Donald Rumsfeld classified possibilities as “known knowns,” “known unknowns” and “unknown unknowns.” Employing these categories helps to define Minnesota’s present political situation.

It has been a tumultuous 12 months+ in Minnesota and national politics – George Floyd’s death and subsequent unrest, turbulent elections, COVID, an economic downturn and recovery, and lengthy, conflictual budget processes. Right now, we are beset by uncertainties. Let’s sort through them.

The late Donald Rumsfeld’s signal literary achievement was his classification of possibilities. He classified them as “known knowns,” “known unknowns” and “unknown unknowns.” Employing these categories helps to define Minnesota’s present political situation.

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‘Known knowns’

First, there are the “known knowns.” A list of several important ones:

Derek Chauvin was convicted on the murder of George Floyd and his fellow former officers face court proceedings soon.

Violent crime has increased notably in the Twin Cities metro as parts of the cities try to rebuild from 2021’s riots.

Several police reform provisions have become law, but many pressed by activists did not.

The Nov. 2 Minneapolis city elections will shape future city and state politics and public policy.

The state is awash in cash due to tax collections and federal aid, resulting in a $52 billion state budget with $1 billion in tax cuts and considerable increases in spending for education, health care and transportation.

The COVID epidemic winds down in the state as Minnesota reaches a 70 percent level of one-shot vaccinations, meeting the Biden’s administration’s target.

Legislative district reapportionment remains uncertain, with state legislative action unlikely and court mandate district drawing likely.

In addition to these “known knowns” we have some limited evidence about public opinion in the state. The only recent public poll was released by the conservative Center of the American Experiment. It surveyed 500 registered voters June 2-6 on issues of public safety. Majorities said they visit Minneapolis less frequently, are personally concerned about crime and have a negative view of Gov. Tim Walz’s response to the riots.

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From this list, we can already see how uncertain the state’s future looks.

‘Known unknowns’

Then there are the “known unknowns.” They are now unanswerable questions that put a dense fog around forecasting the 2022 elections in the state.

Will the Twin Cities’ crime increase continue through Election Day 2022?

Will police misconduct persist as a major problem and issue through Election Day 2022?

What will be the boundaries of state legislative and congressional districts?

Will the state economy continue a boom through 2022’s Election Day?

Who will be the major candidates for state and federal office in 2022?

Will the state government continue to be awash in funds through Election Day 2022?

What will be the scale and contents of the likely 2022 state bonding bill?

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How popular will the Biden administration and Democratic Congress be in 2022 and how will that affect state election results?

‘Unknown unknowns’

Then there are “unknown unknowns” bedeviling prognostications as well. What might suddenly appear on the horizon? A list of state, national and international possibilities:

Events sparking another round of major unrest in the Twin Cities.

The emergence of new candidates and movements on the state’s left and right.

New environmental battles in Minnesota prompted by the threat of climate change.

A reduction in the quality and effectiveness of metro law enforcement.

Arrival of persistent high inflation.

A health reversal for President Joe Biden.

A heating up of the “cold war” with the People’s Republic of China.

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International problems and crises instigated by Russia, North Korea or Islamists.

A collapse of the pro-western Afghan government.

New violence between Israel and Hamas.

photo of article author
Steven E. Schier
Each major party can envision a state and national scenario that boosts their electoral prospects given all these knowns and unknowns.

For Democrats – crime recedes, metropolitan governance and policing improves, the state and national economy boom, international conditions remain stable and relatively peaceful. Democrats as the “in” party triumph in 2022.

For Republicans – crime remains a serious state and national problem and issue, inflation soars, the state and national economy stagnate, China and rogue regimes roil international affairs. Republicans as the “out” party triumph in 2022.

Which scenario reveals our state and national future? Flip a coin.

Steven E. Schier is Congdon Professor of Political Science Emeritus at Carleton College in Northfield.


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