Gov. Mark Dayton has come out of the state government shutdown with Minnesotans evenly split on his job performance.
Forty percent approve of his work, 40 percent disapprove and 20 percent have no opinion, according to a poll done for MinnPost.com by Daves & Associates Research.
Depending on how you look at things, the results are a little surprising — or in keeping with Dayton’s political career.
What may seem surprising about Dayton’s so-so approval ratings is that those same 598 respondents blame Republican legislators, not Dayton, for the shutdown by a 2-to-1 margin. Another 22 percent, though, blame both the governor and the Legislature.
Beyond that, two of three respondents favor Dayton’s desire to balance the budget with a combination of cuts in spending and increases in taxes. Twenty-three percent approve of the Republicans’ cuts-only approach to balancing the budget. Five percent say that only tax increases should be used to balance the budget.
Majority back his positions but not him
But that support for his stated political positions doesn’t carry over to his personal approval ratings according to the poll, which was conducted July 24-26, less than a week after the shutdown ended.
Dayton says he is not particularly surprised by the results of the poll.
“I would have expected a drop in approval,” says Dayton, “and I certainly care about the public opinion. It affects your ability to lead.”
Dayton says the shutdown clearly led to a fall in his approval ratings. In May, he notes, a Star Tribune Minnesota poll showed that he had a 54 percent approval rating.
“That’s a significant drop,” he says. “But I expected that. I still believe that those services we saved [with the budget resolution] are vital.”
The poll’s overall sample consisted of 28 percent self-identified Democrats, 21 percent Republicans, with by far the largest portion (a combined 51 percent) calling themselves independents, identifying with a smaller party, or expressing no description of their partisan orientation.
The MinnPost poll shows that even DFLers have mixed feelings about the governor.
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The poll shows that 64 percent of DFLers surveyed approve of the governor’s leadership while 18 percent of those who describe themselves as DFLers disapprove.
That Dayton has less than universal support among members of his own party is no surprise to him. The governor notes that some of his strongest supporters were the most upset by his decision to drop his demands for a fourth income-tax tier for Minnesota’s wealthiest people.
Among Republicans, 78 percent express disapproval with Dayton’s performance while 6 percent approve.
Overall among those polled, more strongly disapprove of his leadership (21 percent) than strongly approve (14 percent).
Independents more favorable toward Dayton
Dayton is encouraged by the relatively strong support he receives from those who identify themselves as political independents. Among independents, 45 percent approve of Dayton’s leadership, 36 percent disapprove and 18 percent have no opinion.
The governor says he has no guess as to why his leadership got higher approval numbers in the seven-county metro area (44 percent approval, 39 per cent disapproval) than in areas outside the metro (35 per cent approval vs. 42 percent). This pattern, however, generally aligns with traditional voting patterns showing stronger DFL support in the metro area.
There is a strong correlation between those who blame Dayton for the shutdown and his low approval ratings. Nearly 9 in 10 (88 percent) who fault Dayton for the shutdown disapprove of his leadership. But recall, just 21 percent of the sample blame the governor for the shutdown, 42 percent blame the GOP-controlled Legislature, 22 percent blame both, and 15 percent had no opinion.
As much as he’s concerned by the drop in his approval ratings from the mid-May poll, Dayton says he’s comfortable with his decision to end the shutdown by backing off from a higher tax on the wealthiest and accepting the GOP-advanced plan of using a K-12 education funding shift and the sale of tobacco bonds to create additional revenue.
“This is a very difficult and controversial time,” Dayton says. “I knew it would be damaging to everyone but it was essential to provide those essential services.”
What probably shouldn’t be surprising is Dayton’s 40-40 approval split because close calls have become a way of life for the governor.
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Recall, in the DFL primary last August, he defeated Margaret Anderson Kelliher by 1 percentage point. In November, he defeated GOP gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer by about a half-point.
His U.S. Senate career — he won election in 2000, defeating Rod Grams by 49-43 margin — was marked by large approval swings. According to Survey USA polling, Dayton swung from a high of 58 percent approval in early January of 2004 to a low of 39 percent in polls conducted in his last year in the Senate.
What does this 40-40 split mean for Dayton?
There is the obvious, according to Larry Jacobs, political scientist at the Humphrey Institute.
“The governor has been knocked around,” Jacobs said.
But, he says:
“It seems the Republicans are the ones who have walked away with a black eye. Dayton is taking a beating in his approval rating for being seen as abdicating, but he may have engaged in a kind of hidden-hand politics that could actually turn out to be politically brillant. He risked looking weak to some, especially to some DFLers who wish he had fought longer.
“But by abdicating and emphasizing that he was accepting the Republican plan, he also shifted blame to the Republicans for the final budget solution, and the rest of the poll shows the solution is unpopular. Dayton may have defined the Republicans more clearly than they will be able to define themselves.”
Eric Black contributed to this story.
Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.
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