Even if Minnesota had Ranked Choice Voting, Mark Dayton appears to be ahead in the race for governor, a new poll suggests.
One version of the conventional wisdom is that a significant chunk of voters are drawn to Independence Party candidate Tom Horner, but unwilling to vote for him because they don’t believe he can win.
If that’s true, and if respondents understood Ranked Choice Voting when it was explained to them, a poll question allowing voters to rank their choices should have freed up those wasted-vote worriers to express their preference for Horner. But it didn’t happen.
The poll, taken by St. Cloud State University (SCSU) and partially sponsored by MinnPost, suggests that if the election was conducted (as it will be) by the traditional plurality-vote-wins system, Dayton leads among likely voters as follows:
Dayton: 40 percent
Emmer: 30 percent
Horner: 19 percent
Other, don’t know, refused: 11 percent
Race for governor
Note: The poll results above of likely voters are based on live telephone interviews — including cell phone users — with 628 Minnesotans, of whom 462 were rated as likely voters. The interviews were conducted Oct. 10-21. The range of sampling error is +/- 5 percentage points. Numbers are rounded, so some do not add to 100 percent.
That is consistent with several recent polls that have shown Dayton with a commanding lead, although there have been others that show Dayton with a lead of five percentage points or fewer. There has never been a poll in which Horner ranked higher than third or broke through the 20 percent barrier.
The results are broadly similar, but certainly not identical, to the other most recent public poll on the race published in the Sunday Star Tribune. The Strib had Dayton seven percentage points (41-34) and has Horner down to 13.
In this SCSU poll, Dayton led Emmer among every major age group, region or demographic category, even the wealthiest Minnesotans, whose taxes Dayton wants to raise, gave him a plurality. Dayton’s lead of 52-29 over Emmer among women (with Horner at 19) was a key to his commanding position.
But this poll also included an explanation of Ranked Choice Voting, then asked respondents to say who their first and second choices would be if Minnesota had that system. The first choices broke down (these numbers are rounded, so they don’t add to 100 percent):
Other, don’t know, refused: 13
Another co-sponsor of the poll was FairVote Minnesota, the group that has been pushing for an expansion of Ranked Choice Voting (RVC). Under RCV (also known as Instant Runoff Voting) voters are allowed to indicate their first, second, third preference on the ballot. If no candidate is ranked as the first choice on a majority of ballots, the lower-finishing candidates votes are assigned to the voter’s second (and, if necessary, third, fourth, etc.) choice until someone amasses a majority.
The surprise here, at least to me, is that Horner gets no bump when voters are offered the ranked choice option.
Under RCV, If Dayton and Emmer were the top two candidates, those who gave first preference to Horner or someone else would be assigned to their second choice. This poll corroborates what some other polls have shown, that based on second preferences, Horner appears to be taking more votes from Emmer than from Dayton. But not by a huge margin.
If we reassign the votes to the second choice of those whose first choice was Horner or other, and throw out the votes of those who didn’t give a second choice (which is what would happen under RCV), the horserace looks like this:
(If you must know, the missing percentage represents voters in the Don’t Know camp, or those who expressed two preferences other than Dayton or Emmer. Under RCV, they would also be allowed to express a third choice. But the poll couldn’t pick up who that choice would be and we have excluded them from the percentages just above.)
This poll also asked everyone who expressed a first preference for Dayton, Emmer or Horner whether they had made a definite decision or were just leaning. The finding on this one is especially interesting to those who wonder about the impact of strategic voting considerations in a three-way race.
While 60 percent of Dayton supporters and 59 percent of Emmer supporters said they definitely planned to vote that way, just 28 percent of Horner voters said so, while 72 percent said they only leaned toward him.
My best guess is that this is where the strategic voters are located. These may be voters who won’t finally decide to vote for Horner until they see some evidence, presumably in a poll other than this one, that Horner has a reasonable chance to win. If they never see that evidence, some of them will bail on Horner and choose whichever of the top two candidates they consider to be the lesser evil.
There are, of course, fresh bombs being thrown into the race almost every day in an effort to shake things up. But the polling since June (!) suggests a fairly stable race with Dayton ahead in about a dozen polls taken by five different polling organizations. (This is the first of the season for SCSU, which is known for its annual fall survey.)
We should take each poll with appropriate dashes of salt, including this one. But the breakdown here does suggest that Emmer’s shrinking hopes depend on not only gaining a supermajority of the remaining undecideds, but also on Horner fading in the stretch and Emmer picking up most of the late defectors.
I did ask the St. Cloud pollsters to take a special look at the Horner leaners (assuming that they are the next best thing that Emmerites can find to an additional cache of undecideds). It’s just 12 percent of the total sample, far too small a subgroup to be statistically significant. But, judging by whom that group listed as their second choice, they are almost equally divided between Dayton second choicers and Emmer second choicers.
Pawlenty vs. Obama
The poll asked for approval ratings for both President Obama and Gov. Tim Pawlenty. It’s been a rough year for most incumbents and this was no exception. Pawlenty’s approval rating was 41 percent, down from about 50 percent a year ago when SCSU asked the same question. Obama got an excellent or good rating 38 percent of Minnesotans, also down from about half a year ago.
For the second year in a row, the St. Cloud poll also asked whom Minnesotans would support for president if it was a choice between Obama and Pawlenty in 2012. Last year, Obama won 49-40. This year, Obama still wins, but now only by 45-40.
The SCSU poll is also known for its thermometer question, in which they ask for a temperature reading of the respondents feelings toward various figures, with 50 being neutral, zero terrible and 100 very warm.
These are some of this year’s average temperature readings:
Horner: 50 (but almost a quarter of respondents didnt know the name or had no opinion of him)
Obama: 49 (down from 58 a year ago).
Pawlenty: 46 (down from 53).
Sarah Palin: 38 (but same as last year).
Back to Ranked Choice
A 60 percent majority of respondents said they had never heard of Ranked Choice Voting before the poll. When they were asked (after the system had been explained to them) whether they would like to use the system, the result was:
Don’t Know: 17.5
The poll was based on live telephone interviews — including cell phone users — with 628 Minnesotans, of whom 462 were rated as likely voters. The interviews were conducted Oct. 10-21. The range of sampling error is +/- 5 percentage points.