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Poll reveals stark divisions between Twin Cities and Greater Minnesota voters on critical issues

“Place is becoming a political identity now, ” says the University of Minnesota Duluth’s Cynthia Rugeley.

The poll found 54 percent of likely voters outside of the seven-county Twin Cities metro have a very or somewhat favorable view of Trump while only 36 percent of voters held a favorable view of Biden.
The poll found 54 percent of likely voters outside of the seven-county Twin Cities metro have a very or somewhat favorable view of Donald Trump while only 36 percent of voters held a favorable view of Joe Biden.
REUTERS/Jim Young

Voters in the Twin Cities metro area and voters in Greater Minnesota are sharply divided on most pressing issues facing the state, including the presidential contest and views on Gov. Tim Walz’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a MinnPost poll conducted by Change Research.

While former Vice President Joe Biden leads President Donald Trump by a 49 to 44 margin in the online poll of 1,021 likely voters conducted from Oct. 12 to Oct. 15, voters outside the seven-county Twin Cities metro favor the president by a 54 to 40 margin.

The poll found 85 percent of likely voters in Minneapolis and St. Paul prefer Biden to Trump, but the race is closer in the metro area suburbs — the seven-county metro excluding Minneapolis and St. Paul. There, 48 percent of likely voters favor Biden while 45 percent prefer Trump. The margin of error for statewide results is 3.1 percentage points but is larger when results are broken into smaller categories such as results by region. Crosstabs can be found here.

Trump’s standing in Greater Minnesota

Overall, Trump’s standing appears strong in Greater Minnesota. The poll found 54 percent of likely voters outside of the seven-county Twin Cities metro have a very or somewhat favorable view of Trump while only 36 percent held a favorable view of Biden.

Poll: Presidential preference by Minnesota region
In this chart, Minneapolis and St. Paul refers to the areas within city limits, Twin Cities suburbs refers to the seven-county metro (Anoka, Carver, Dakota, Hennepin, Ramsey, Scott and Washington) outside of Minneapolis and St. Paul and Greater Minnesota refers to the 80 counties outside the metro. Margins of error are shown on chart.
Source: MinnPost/Change Research

The poll found 57 percent of likely voters in Greater Minnesota believe Trump would do a better job on trade policy and 60 percent of likely voters outside the metro believe the president has done a good or excellent job supporting farmers in the state. The poll also found 59 percent of likely voters in Greater Minnesota believe Trump has done a good or excellent job handling mining issues in Minnesota.

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Likely voters in Greater Minnesota and the Twin Cities suburbs picked the economy and jobs, as well as crime and public safety, as the top two issues factoring into their votes, though health care and drug costs rated a close third.

What’s striking about the results is how tightly people’s views match their partisan identity, said Tim Lindberg, assistant professor of political science at the University of Minnesota Morris: Republicans and Republican-heavy areas think Trump is doing a good job and agree with him on policy. Democrats and Democrat-heavy areas think Trump is doing a bad job and agree with Biden on policy.

For example, the poll found people in Greater Minnesota think crime and public safety is a bigger issue than people in the metro area, where the summer was marked by protests in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd.

“It’s not surprising that we see that but I think it’s a really clear reflection of how important partisanship has become,” Lindberg said.

Cynthia Rugeley, who leads the political science department at the University of Minnesota Duluth, said many polls this year show a clear difference in how people in Greater Minnesota and people in suburbs and cities view the two candidates. The continued political split between more rural and more urban areas, Rugeley said, speaks to how “place is becoming a political identity now.”

Cities ‘astonishingly lopsided’ in favor of Biden

Trump has tried to juice his numbers in Greater Minnesota during the campaign, making recent stops in Duluth, Bemidji and Mankato and sending surrogates across the state. But he has also run a campaign touting his support for “law and order” targeted at winning over suburban voters.

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Even so, the poll found just 36 percent of likely voters in the suburbs have a very favorable view of Trump while 7 percent have a somewhat favorable view. Meanwhile, 52 percent of likely voters in the suburbs have a very unfavorable view of the president. In the Twin Cities, 84 percent of likely voters have a very unfavorable view of Trump.

Fred Slocum, director of the political science program at Minnesota State University, Mankato, said there is support for Trump and some of his policies in Greater Minnesota, but also said support is “not terribly lopsided” there in favor of the president. That’s especially when compared to the president’s marks in the Twin Cities, which Slocum called “astonishingly lopsided” in favor of Biden.

“I think it goes to underline the degree to which Trump has probably built his support among rural whites, because the rural population of Minnesota is very heavily white, but lost ground among suburban residents and especially suburban women and voters with college degrees,” Slocum said.

Biden fared better, but only marginally better, in the suburbs than Trump. The poll found 32 percent of likely voters in the metro area suburbs have a very favorable view of Biden while 15 percent have a somewhat favorable view. The poll found 45 percent of likely voters in those suburbs have a very unfavorable view of Biden.

Trump also appears to be doing slightly worse in the southern half of Minnesota than the northern half of the state, which was also the case in the 2016 election.

Former Vice President Joe Biden
REUTERS/Alan Freed
The poll found 32 percent of likely voters in the metro area suburbs have a very favorable view of Joe Biden while 15 percent have a somewhat favorable view.
Likely voters in southern Minnesota favor Trump by a 51 to 42 percent margin, compared to the 55 percent of likely voters in the northern part of the state. The poll found 53 percent of likely voters in southern Minnesota believe Trump will do a better job on trade policy, while 39 percent said Biden would do better. On that question, 59 percent of likely voters in northern Minnesota favored Trump, compared to 33 percent for Biden.

Rugeley said she would not be surprised if Trump fares better in the northern half of the state, where his tariff policies aimed at boosting the iron ore industry have been broadly popular. She said Trump has been making direct appeals to the region — the president, for instance, has trumpeted support of proposed copper-nickel mining projects and the Line 3 oil pipeline — and the demographics of the area are favorable to the president.

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Generally, Trump has done well among white voters, particularly those without college degrees, which Rugeley said is a large demographic in northeast Minnesota. The area was also trending Republican before Trump arrived, while Democrats stayed competitive primarily because of a long history of labor unions in industries like mining, Rugeley said.

Lindberg also said demographics may explain the different partisan dynamics in northern and southern Minnesota. Apart from the Moorhead area, population growth in northern Minnesota is pretty stagnant. Not so with Southern Minnesota, where Rochester and Mankato in particular are growing. And with those newcomers have come more votes for Democrats.

Views on Walz also split

Likely voters are similarly split over Walz, who is two years into his term and not on the ballot in 2020.

The poll found 75 percent of likely voters in Minneapolis and St. Paul have a very favorable or somewhat favorable view of the governor, while only 47 percent of likely voters in the Twin Cities suburbs, and 37 percent of voters in Greater Minnesota have a favorable view of Walz. In Greater Minnesota, 53 percent of likely voters said they hold a very unfavorable view of the governor, while another four percent said they had a somewhat unfavorable view of Walz.

People also split by geography on Walz’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. Across the state, 53 percent of likely voters said Walz has done an excellent or good job of responding to the disease.

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But the poll found 45 percent of likely voters in Greater Minnesota say Walz has done a poor job of responding to the disease, while another 12 percent of those outside of the metro say his response has been “not so good.” Meanwhile, the poll found 86 percent in Minneapolis and St. Paul rated Walz’s response as excellent or good.

Gov. Tim Walz
REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
The poll found 75 percent of likely voters in Minneapolis and St. Paul have a very favorable or somewhat favorable view of Gov. Tim Walz.
One area where Walz received poor overall marks was the governor’s handling of unrest in the Twin Cities in the wake of police killing George Floyd. Just 36 percent of likely voters in Minnesota said the governor did an excellent or good job, while 64 percent said his performance was not so good or poor.

While a majority of Minneapolis-St. Paul residents said Walz did well responding to the unrest, 62 percent of likely voters in the metro suburbs disliked Walz’s performance and an overwhelming 72 percent of voters in Greater Minnesota said Walz’s response was poor or not so good.

MinnPost staff writer Greta Kaul contributed to this report.