Over the last year, Enbridge Energy’s Line 3 crude oil pipeline and Gov. Tim Walz’s tougher new auto emissions standards have been two of the most fiercely debated environmental issues in Minnesota.
Many supporters of Line 3 and the “Clean Cars” rule are also on opposing ends of the political spectrum. Republican politicians favor Line 3 in greater numbers while DFLers more often support Clean Cars.
As it turns out, however, public views on the issues may not be as sharply divided as some might expect. A recent MinnPost poll of 1,945 Minnesota voters surveyed by Change Research found 56 percent supported Line 3 and 34 percent opposed the pipeline. Those voters also favored Clean Cars by a 48-44 margin.
Line 3 more popular in Greater Minnesota
Line 3 starts in Edmonton, Alberta, and is expected to stretch 337 miles across northern Minnesota to a terminal in Superior, Wisc., once construction is complete.
Enbridge bills the project as a replacement for an existing 34-inch diameter pipeline built in the 1960s that is corroding, operating at half capacity and considered a spill risk. The two pipelines are similar but not identical. The new 36-inch diameter Line 3 is larger and can carry up to 760,000 barrels of oil a day. They also travel different routes across parts of the state.
Supporters of the project broadly argue the new Line 3 will be less likely to spill, and would be safer than shippers potentially moving oil via train or other means. The $2.6 billion cost also brings economic benefits.
Opponents argue building new pipelines during a climate crisis is irresponsible and will lock in fossil fuel emissions from the oil. Some tribes in northern Minnesota also assert Line 3 puts natural resources at risk in lands they have treaty rights to hunt, fish and gather wild rice on.
Juli Kellner, a spokeswoman for Enbridge, said Line 3 is “nearly done in Minnesota” and expected to be in service in the fall or winter of 2021.
MinnPost/Change Research asked poll respondents: “As you may know, the Line 3 pipeline, which will transport oil across Minnesota to Lake Superior, is scheduled to come online in the coming weeks, replacing an old pipeline. Do you support or oppose this project?”
A 56-34 percent majority supported Line 3, the poll found. About 42 percent of people said they strongly supported the pipeline and another 14 percent said they somewhat supported the project. The poll found 12 percent somewhat opposed Line 3 while 22 percent strongly opposed it. Another 11 percent were unsure.
The project diverged along party lines, though Democrats were somewhat split.
DFLers and people who lean towards the party mostly opposed the project. About 64 percent said they somewhat or strongly opposed Line 3 while 21 percent said they strongly or somewhat supported the pipeline.
Republicans, meanwhile, were more united in favor of Line 3 than DFLers were in opposition to it. About 92 percent favored the project, 80 percent of which strongly supported Line 3. Only 3 percent somewhat or strongly opposed the pipeline. Among independents, the poll found 63 percent of respondents favored Line 3.
Line 3 was also more popular in Greater Minnesota than in the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul.
The poll found 66 percent of people outside the seven-county metro area supported the pipeline. In the suburbs of the seven-county metro, not including the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, 51 percent were in favor of the pipeline and 38 percent were opposed. About 45 percent of voters who responded to the poll living in Minneapolis and St. Paul favored the project and 44 percent opposed it.
Narrow majority backs Clean Cars
The MinnPost/Change Research poll also asked voters about Walz’s Clean Cars rule.
In July, Walz’s administration adopted, without approval from the Legislature, new regulations that would set tougher new emissions standards for vehicles and require auto manufacturers to provide more electric vehicles for sale in Minnesota. The regulations mirror ones set by California because states can either follow those rules or federal standards.
Walz said the regulations would boost electric car sales in the state and help Minnesota curb transportation emissions — the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the state. Republicans at the Legislature opposed it, however, saying in part that it could lead to increased up-front costs for car buyers and auto dealers. (EVs are more expensive initially, though have fewer maintenance and fuel costs over time.) Laura Bishop resigned in July as commissioner of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency when Minnesota Senate Republicans threatened to remove her from the post in part because she advanced Clean Cars.
The poll asked respondents: “Minnesota’s new Clean Cars rule requires that more zero-emission vehicles are made available to buyers in Minnesota, and sets strict emissions standards in the state. Supporters say the rule will give consumers more choice and will help combat climate change, while opponents say it could hurt auto dealers or lead to higher prices. Do you support or oppose this rule?”
Overall, a slim 48-44 plurality supported Clean Cars. Strong views on the issue were less common than on Line 3. The poll found 28 percent strongly supported the regulations, 20 percent somewhat favored them, 10 percent somewhat opposed Clean Cars and 34 percent strongly opposed the rules. Another 8 percent were not sure of their stance.
The issue also diverged along party lines more than Line 3 did. The poll found 86 percent of Democrats and those who lean DFL supported Clean Cars, while 85 percent of Republicans and people who lean to the GOP opposed the regulations. Among independents, 39 percent supported Clean Cars while 47 percent opposed the rules.
In Greater Minnesota, 37 percent either strongly or somewhat supported the Clean Cars rule, while 55 percent opposed it. Voters in the poll from the metro-area suburbs supported Clean Cars by a 52-40 margin, while Minneapolis-St. Paul voters favored it by a 58-34 margin.
Explaining the results
Tim Lindberg, a political science professor at the University of Minnesota Morris, said Minnesotans who are in favor of actions to reduce climate change may embrace a crude oil pipeline because the alternatives are unclear, or because they don’t like potential alternatives — such as leaving the aging pipeline in the ground or shipping oil by other means. There are also economic benefits to the project that may draw in voters, he said.
Similar to Democrats who responded to the poll, DFL politicians are split on Line 3. Gov. Tim Walz, a Democrat, has said Line 3 should be built since it was approved by state and federal regulators. Meanwhile, Walz’s Lieutenant Governor, Peggy Flanagan, has opposed Line 3 in part because some tribes like the Red Lake Band of Chippewa and the White Earth Band of Ojibwe have opposed Line 3 as conflicting with treaty rights. (Flanagan is a member of the White Earth band.)
Lindberg said public perception, in part due to media portrayal of Line 3 and in part due to protests, is that the issue is “very divisive.”
“It’s clearly not that way and it probably never was,” Lindberg said, citing majority support for the pipeline in the poll.
Lindberg said one reason for the lower Clean Cars approval is that it could inflict a more obvious negative impact to Minnesotans in the form of higher up-front car prices and yield less obvious or immediate positive impacts — such as reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and cuts to other harmful air pollution from gas-powered vehicles. EVs will also still be available, even if in potentially smaller numbers, without the Clean Cars rules, Lindberg said.
Those tradeoffs are also more apparent in the specific poll question for Clean Cars, whereas the poll question for Line 3 is broader and doesn’t delve into pros and cons, Lindberg said. Adding the pros and cons can invite a more partisan response, he said, and not listing them for Line 3 may explain the higher number of people who said they were unsure of their position on the pipeline despite its higher profile in the news.
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 Democrats and leaners is +/- 3.7 percentage points. For Republicans and leaners it is +/- 3.7 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.
More information on the methodology can be found here.