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Walz strong in recent polls, which also show GOP opportunities

The governor has a healthy 60 percent job approval among suburban registered voters. That level of support from them on Election Day 2022 virtually ensures his second term.

Gov. Tim Walz
Gov. Tim Walz
REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

One recent survey of Minnesotans reveals Gov. Tim Walz in decent shape for re-election but another poll identifies some issue opportunities for Republicans in their campaign against him.

The good news for Walz is evident in findings from a SurveyUSA poll conducted from Dec. 2-6 for KSTP-TV. The poll’s credibility level of responses for its 675 adults is plus or minus 2.9 percent, for its 591 registered voters plus or minus 4.7 percent and for its 506 likely voters plus or minus 5.1 percent. SurveyUSA’s methods receive an “A” grade from Nate Silver’s 538 analysis site. 538 has found no detectable bias toward Democrats and Republicans in the pollster’s surveys.

Among the 591 registered voters in the poll, Walz has a healthy 55 percent job approval. That is impressive given the recent years of tumult in the state due to the pandemic, an uncertain economy and the death of George Floyd.

A closer look at Walz’s job approval uncovers several pillars of strength in his public backing. First, the midterm elections of 2022 will feature a smaller and older electorate than emerges in presidential years. Among registered voters over age 50, Walz’s job approval is a lofty 58 percent. This is a key Walz strength among an important group of likely voters.

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Second, the many voters in Twin Cities suburbs often guide the direction of state politics. These voters are as a group not consistently Democratic or Republican in their voting and how they trend usually dictates a statewide electoral result. Walz has a healthy 60 percent job approval among suburban registered voters. That level of support from them on Election Day 2022 virtually ensures his second term in the governor’s mansion.

A third source of strength for Walz is his support in southern Minnesota, location of his former 1st Congressional District seat. Among registered voters in that region, his job approval is a whopping 68 percent, even higher than his 56 percent approval in the Twin Cities. This result may be exaggerated due to polling error — there are only 106 respondents from southern Minnesota in this sample of registered voters — but it does suggest outstate support for Walz that will be a problem for his 2022 GOP rival.

Fourth, the governor’s handling of the coronavirus has earned public backing. Among registered voters, 55 percent approve of his handling of this issue. Further, the survey shows that most Minnesotans are firmly in support of vaccination. Of the 675 adults in the survey, 76 percent claim to be vaccinated. Further, 54 percent of adults in the poll support President Biden’s mandatory vaccination or testing policy for all employees in firms hiring at least one hundred workers.

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Steven Schier
State Republicans have sharply criticized the governor’s vaccination policy and a substantial group of GOP activists oppose vaccination. Two GOP candidates for governor — former state Sen. Scott Jensen, a physician,  and Lexington Mayor Mike Murphy — have not been vaccinated. The survey results suggest that opposition to vaccination and to the governor’s vaccination policy is an electoral loser at present.

One can find a bit of good news for Republicans in this and another recent survey. SurveyUSA found that among likely voters, Walz receives less percentage support — 47 or 48 percent — in match races with current GOP gubernatorial candidates than was evident in his 55 percent job approval among the broader group of registered voters.

A recent survey from the conservative Center of the American Experiment also uncovered an issue opportunity for the GOP. Meeting Street Insights, a firm rating “B/C” from 538 and showing a slight +.07 percent Democratic bias in its surveys, conducted this survey of 500 Minnesotans from Nov. 30 to Dec. 2, yielding a credibility level of plus or minus 4.38 percent.

When told “the state will likely have the largest budget surplus in state history” respondents were then asked, “How should the 2022 state Legislature use the state surplus?”  Sixty seven percent opted for more fiscally conservative options — 24 percent for personal tax cuts, 21 percent for paying off state debt, 12 percent for one-time tax rebates and 10 percent for paying cash rather than borrowing for state projects. Only 28 percent favored “greater investment in government programs such as education and welfare.”

Republicans thus may make progress against the governor with fiscally conservative arguments. But they have a big task before them. SurveyUSA has revealed that a majority of the state’s registered voters approve of Walz’s job performance. He at present is faring well for reelection despite difficult and uncertain times.

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