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When it comes to politics, Minnesota’s urban-rural divide is alive and well

A new MinnPost poll found that rural and urban voters in Minnesota are split sharply on everything from the performance of Gov. Tim Walz to the results of the 2020 election.

Gov. Tim Walz
REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
The poll found 59 percent of Greater Minnesota residents who responded to the poll had an unfavorable view of Walz. It was nearly the opposite in Minneapolis-St. Paul, where 55 percent of voters polled had a positive view of the DFL governor.
The Trump era saw Republicans tighten their grip on voters in Greater Minnesota while DFLers made huge gains in the Twin Cities and metro area suburbs.

Now, eight months into Joe Biden’s presidency, Minnesota’s geographic divide remains stark.

An Aug. 28-31 MinnPost poll of 1,945 Minnesota voters found that rural and urban voters in Minnesota split sharply on everything from their views of Gov. Tim Walz and the state’s response to COVID-19 to the results of the 2020 election. Suburban voters, who are typically key to elections in Minnesota, often fell somewhere in the middle of the two voting blocs.

And while there are at least a few issues where Greater Minnesota and the Twin Cities are more closely aligned, the state’s polarization now extends even to views on people with a history of bridging some political divides.

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“You see a lot of the same things carrying forward that you saw in the 2020 election, and the 2018 election and the 2016 election,” said Cynthia Rugeley, a professor and head of the political science department at the University of Minnesota Duluth. “You do have this partisan divide between the urban areas and the non-urban areas in the city.”

Polarized views on politicians

The poll, conducted by Change Research, found 59 percent of Greater Minnesota residents who responded to the poll had an unfavorable view of Walz. It was nearly the opposite in Minneapolis-St. Paul, where 55 percent of voters polled had a positive view of the DFL governor. Suburban residents of the seven-county metro area, meanwhile, were split exactly evenly on Walz.

Overall, 44 percent of all people who responded had a favorable view of the governor, compared to 48 percent who had an unfavorable view.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar
MinnPost photo by Craig Lassig
Sen. Amy Klobuchar
In 2018, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar garnered 60.3 percent of the vote statewide, winning more than 40 Greater Minnesota Counties. Yet only 33 percent of poll respondents in Greater Minnesota had a favorable view of Klobuchar, who has performed better outside of the metro area than other Democrats throughout her career. The poll found 52 percent of voters in Minneapolis and St. Paul had a favorable view of Klobuchar, who unsuccessfully ran for president in 2020. About 43 percent of metro-area suburban voters had a favorable view of Klobuchar, while 42 percent had an unfavorable view of her.

Klobuchar did worse in Greater Minnesota in the 2018 race compared to her 2012 victory — when she won 85 of the state’s 87 counties — and Rugeley said it’s not unexpected that Klobuchar could slip in rural areas amid growing political polarization. “There is less support for her and other Democrats in the more Republican areas,” Rugeley said.

Q: How favorable are your feelings about each of the following public officials and organizations? - Amy Klobuchar

But Rugeley cautioned against reading into the results of a single poll, saying more evidence is needed to determine if Klobuchar’s popularity is really down in Minnesota.

President Joe Biden
REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
President Joe Biden
The divide seen over Klobuchar was similar for President Joe Biden. About 52 percent of Twin Cities voters who responded to the poll said they had a favorable view of the Democrat, while 39 percent had an unfavorable view. Just 32 percent of Greater Minnesota voters had a favorable view of the president, while 62 percent had an unfavorable view of Biden. Meanwhile, in the metro suburbs, 44 percent of voters had a favorable view of Biden while 48 percent of voters had an unfavorable view of him.

Rugeley said “you sense some frustration with the fact that COVID hasn’t gone away” in the strong opposition among Greater Minnesota voters to Democratic politicians and more modest support in the Twin Cities and surrounding suburbs.

Some DFL voters are perhaps even lashing out over issues like the Line 3 pipeline, Rugeley said, even though a majority of people agree with Walz and other Democrats on key pandemic and environmental issues. And while she said generally she wants to see more data before the 2022 election, Walz isn’t likely to do as well in Greater Minnesota as he did when he first won office in 2018 as a rural Democrat who had served southern Minnesota in Congress.

“The midterm election is often a referendum on the party of the incumbent president,” said Patrick Donnay, a political science professor at Bemidji State University. “These poll results show that trend is likely to play itself out again – higher motivation and disapproval of Democrat policies from Republicans.”

Donnay said, however, the poll was taken during “an especially bad week for the Biden Presidency” as Taliban fighters captured Kabul during a chaotic U.S. withdrawal from the war in  Afghanistan. The topic, Donnay said, “likely will not loom so large a year from now.”

“This may have tamped down Democrat support and amped up disapproval,” Donnay said.

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Lawmakers are also still working to draw new legislative and congressional districts based on the results of the 2020 census. Donnay said population shifts could reduce the number of rural legislative districts and increase the number of suburban and urban ones. “So how rural dissatisfaction translates to legislative seats is probably not as important as suburban,” Donnay said.

In 2016, there were almost as many votes in the Twin Cities suburbs as in all 80 counties outside the metro area. And there were nearly four times as many votes for president in the suburbs as in Minneapolis and St. Paul. In the metro area counties, excluding Minneapolis-St. Paul, 50 percent of respondents said they would vote for Walz over a generic Republican candidate, while 39 percent said they would pick the GOP and 10 percent said they weren’t sure. Overall, Walz held a 46-44 advantage in the question, with 10 percent not sure.

Rugeley said the state leans towards Democrats, especially with the political shift in the suburbs. Despite backlash against DFLers, “when it comes down to ‘who are you going to vote for,’ they go back home” and often choose Democrats.

Q: How favorable are your feelings about each of the following public officials and organizations? - Donald Trump

Former president Donald Trump was generally well liked in Greater Minnesota, where 53 percent of respondents had favorable views of the Republican. But he was also the most unpopular politician among respondents of the poll. In the metro suburbs, 36 percent said they had favorable views of Trump; and just 28 percent in the Twin Cities had favorable views toward the former president. Overall, across the state, 41 percent said they had a favorable view of Trump while 53 percent had an unfavorable view of the twice-impeached Republican.

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Greater Minnesota, Twin Cities split on COVID, election results

The poll also found Minnesota voters to be divided by geography over COVID-19 issues. It found that 56 percent of Greater Minnesota respondents strongly opposed — or somewhat opposed — mask mandates for unvaccinated students in K-12 schools, while 67 percent of those who responded in Minneapolis-St. Paul supported such mask requirements. In the metro-area suburbs, 58 percent of voters in the poll said they support mask mandates for unvaccinated students.

Q: Do you support or oppose requiring unvaccinated students to wear masks in K-12 schools?

While 51 percent of those polled in Greater Minnesota said businesses should not be able to require employees to be vaccinated, 69 percent in the Twin Cities said businesses should require workers to be vaccinated or at least be allowed to require employees to be vaccinated.

A syringe filled with a dose of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine
REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
A syringe filled with a dose of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine.
The poll also found 55 percent of respondents in Greater Minnesota said Trump got more votes in the 2020 election, while 70 percent of voters in the Twin Cities said Biden did. (Biden won the electoral college and received roughly seven million more votes than Trump across the country.) In total, 57 percent of respondents across the state said Biden got more 2020 votes. For comparison, Biden won more than 52 percent of the vote in Minnesota.

Not total disagreement

There are issues, however, with more agreement across geographic lines even if there is still a gap in views. The poll found 76 percent of voters in Greater Minnesota either strongly disapproved or somewhat disapproved of people who stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. In the Twin Cities, 88 percent said they disapproved of the riot.

Roughly 75 percent of Minneapolis-St. Paul voters in the poll said they strongly or somewhat support Minnesota accepting several dozen Afghan refugees who have been granted special visas for directly helping the U.S. Military. In Greater Minnesota, 60 percent supported taking those refugees.

Afghan refugees boarding a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III transport plane during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Afghanistan.
U.S. Marine Corps/Sgt. Samuel Ruiz/Handout via REUTERS
Afghan refugees boarding a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III transport plane during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Afghanistan.
About 64 percent of Greater Minnesota voters in the poll said they strongly or somewhat opposed a Minneapolis ballot measure that would create a Department of Public Safety in place of a police department and eliminate a requirement for the number of officers the city employs. In Minneapolis-St. Paul, 52 percent said they opposed the measure, and in the metro suburbs, 55 percent said they opposed or somewhat opposed the measure.

The poll also found 77 percent of respondents in Greater Minnesota have a favorable view of police officers, compared to 68 percent in the metro suburbs and 58 percent in Minneapolis-St. Paul.

Q: How favorable are your feelings about each of the following public officials and organizations? - Police officers

Respondents were somewhat aligned on one economic question: the cost of living. About 66 percent of Greater Minnesota voters polled said their income was falling behind the cost of living while 26 percent said it was “staying about even” with the cost of living. Only 3 percent said their income was going up faster than the cost of living. Roughly 64 percent of metro suburban voters said their income was falling behind the cost of living, while 28 percent said it was staying even.

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In the Twin Cities, 55 percent of respondents said their income was falling behind the cost of living, while 35 percent said income was steady but not rising faster than the cost of living.

Q: Would you say your income is:

Methodology

The poll was conducted from August 28 to 31 and respondents included 1,945 registered voters. Change Research’s online polling methodology uses targeted social media ads and text messages to recruit respondents. The organization has a B- pollster rating from FiveThirtyEight.

The company uses a “modeled” margin of error, which it says accounts for the effects of weighting the poll (or making adjustments to better reflect the state’s demographics). The results were weighted on age, gender, race/ethnicity, 2020 vote, education, and region. The modeled margin of error for the statewide sample was +/- 2.5 percentage points. The margin of error for women is +/- 3.3 percentage points. For men it is +/- 3.7 percentage points. The margin of error for Democrats and leaners is +/- 3.7 percentage points. For Republicans and leaners it is +/- 3.7 percentage points. The margin of error for geographies are rural: +/- 3.8 percentage points, suburban: +/- 4.2 percentage points; urban: +/- 5 percentage points. The margin of error for regions are Twin Cities: +/- 4.5 percent points; metro area: +/- 5.7 percentage points; Greater Minnesota: +/- 3.3 percentage points.

Rural/suburban/urban distinctions are based on GreatData classifications, however Greater Minnesota, metro area and Twin Cities distinctions are based on those geographic regions.

More information on the methodology can be found here.