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GOP guv candidates are running on issues popular with Minnesota Republicans — but not so much with the rest of Minnesota voters

A MinnPost poll found a sharp divide between Republicans and most Minnesota voters on several issues.

Former Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka announcing his run for governor in the Capital Rotunda on Wednesday. Wife Maralee is at left.
Former Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka announcing his run for governor in the Capital Rotunda on Wednesday. Wife Maralee is at left.
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan

As presumptive Republican candidates for governor in 2022 begin to make their intentions known, some common issues have surfaced. Gov. Tim Walz, the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, public safety and election integrity — all are likely to populate the speeches and media messages of the GOP candidates.

State Sen. Michelle Benson
State Sen. Michelle Benson
“An extreme agenda is dividing us with radical, leftist policies that aren’t Minnesotan,” Sen. Michelle Benson said last week when announcing her candidacy. “Trying to defund the police while crime rates are skyrocketing. Shutting down schools, and crippling neighborhood businesses, when the science and common sense says it’s safe to keep them open. I’ve seen enough, and it’s time to get to work.”

Statements from other current candidates — Scott Jensen, Michael Marti, Michael Murphy and Neil Shah — have touched on the same themes, while the latest candidate to get in the race, former Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, voiced similar criticisms in his announcement speech Wednesday morning.

But with one significant exception, those core GOP primary issues play much better with Republicans than with the state as a whole. According to a recent MinnPost poll of 1,945 Minnesota voters conducted by Change Research, the issues that might help a candidate win the support of self-identified Republicans in 2022 — and even the party endorsement or the primary — might not help the party nominee broaden their appeal in a general election.

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Though the poll found that a majority of voters in Minnesota support requiring unvaccinated students to wear masks in schools and employers’ rights to mandate vaccines in the workplace, it also shows that the partisan differences around the issues are significant.

Take support for masking requirements: Overall, 54 percent of respondents support such a mandate and 44 percent do not. But among self-described Republicans — and those who say they lean Republican — support plummets to 10 percent, with 88 percent opposed. When just narrowed to just voters in the suburbs — where the largest cache of swing voters live — support for masks for unvaccinated students is at 57 percent.

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

The results were equally stark when it came to views about businesses mandating vaccines for employees who work together indoors. Of all voters, 39 percent said there should be no such mandates, while 35 percent said all businesses should have such a rule, and 23 percent said it should be a decision made by each business. That contrasts with self-identified Republican voters, 76 percent of whom said there should be no such mandates on workers, while just 4 percent said it should be a requirement and 16 percent said it should be left up to each business.

The 2020 election and the storming of the Capitol

Some of the GOP candidates are appealing to the belief among many Republicans that the 2020 election was affected by fraud. Much of it is fueled by allegations made by former President Donald Trump of stolen votes and padded totals — none of which have been proven and many of which have been disproven.

State Sen. Scott Jensen
Former State Sen. Scott Jensen
The poll asked just one question that attempted to measure the way these allegations have permeated the electorate: Who do you believe got more votes in the 2020 election?

Of all respondents, 57 percent said Joe Biden and 43 percent said Donald Trump. But among Republicans, only 12 percent said they believed Biden received more votes, with 88 percent saying Trump. Among people who said they voted for Trump, just 9 percent think he received fewer votes nationally. In the suburbs, 60 percent said Biden received more votes and 40 percent said Trump.

Q: Who do you believe got more votes nationwide in the 2020 election?

Respondents were also asked their views of rioters who invaded the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. Overall, 10 percent of voters approve of those actions while 88 percent disapprove. And while the actions are condemned by a large majority of GOP voters, 21 percent of Republican respondents said they approve of the incursion into the Capitol.

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The poll also found that Walz, who has yet to announce his intentions but is likely to seek a second term, has some vulnerabilities. Asked if Minnesota is moving in the right direction or the wrong direction, 60 percent of respondents said the state is moving in the wrong direction. That said, national poll results rarely show a majority of voters are optimistic, so 40 percent isn’t especially bad.

Gov. Tim Walz
REUTERS/Nick Pfosi
Gov. Tim Walz
“For the five elections when the ‘in’ party stayed in, the average ‘right direction’ was 42 percent, ‘wrong track’ 49 percent,” wrote the Cook Political Report last July. When voters were asked about the direction of the country as a whole, just 31 percent said it was going in the right direction.

Walz is slightly “underwater” when it comes to voters’ feelings about him, with 44 percent saying they viewed him favorably and 48 percent reporting they viewed him unfavorably. But when respondents were asked a similar question — whether they approve of the incumbent’s performance in office — the poll found that exactly 50 percent approve and 50 disapprove.

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

When asked who they would vote for if the 2022 election were held today, respondents gave Walz an advantage over “the Republican candidate” by a margin of 46 percent to 44 percent. Walz has a big advantage among urban voters (60 percent to 28 percent) and leads in the suburbs (47 percent to 42 percent), though he trails among rural voters (58 percent to 33 percent).

Crime and public safety

There is one issue where GOP candidates’ stances could serve a nominee well in the general election: crime and support for police. As in 2020, when Republican candidates and political committees hammered on charges that DFLers were in favor of defunding the police and supportive of rioters, those same claims are already showing up in the GOP campaign statements.

“As our cities burned, our brave and capable State’s National Guard soldiers were forced to sit on the sidelines by our governor,” claims Jensen.

Poll results suggest similar messages could be damaging to DFL candidates, regardless of their actual positions on public safety issues. Asked if they have favorable or unfavorable feelings about police officers, 43 percent of voters said they had very favorable feelings and 26 percent said somewhat favorable. Those saying their feelings were somewhat unfavorable or very unfavorable were 10 percent and 8 percent, respectively.

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Among GOP voters, the combined favorable/unfavorable spread was 94 to 1 percent. And among independent voters, the margin is 69 percent to 16. Even among self-identified DFLers — and those who said their politics lean toward the DFL — the combined favorable to unfavorable percentages were 45 percent to 34 percent, with 14 percent reporting “very unfavorable” feelings toward police officers.

Even among 408 respondents from Minneapolis — where voters will be asked this fall to weigh in a ballot measure replacing the Minneapolis Police Department with a Department of Public Safety — the police favorable ratio was 57 percent to 31 percent.

The poll also asked about perceptions of public safety. When respondents were asked if they think crime had worsened, gotten better; or stayed the same in their community over the previous two years, 49 percent said they thought that it had gotten much worse or a bit worse; just 3 percent said it had gotten much less or a bit less bad.

But when asked to assess crime trends in the Twin Cities, however, 87 percent said things had gotten much worse or a bit worse (68 percent and 19 percent) with just 1 percent saying less bad.

Over the past two years, do you think that crime in the following areas has gotten worse, gotten less bad, or stayed the same? - In the Twin Cities?

When urban voters — defined as those living in zip codes with 3,000 or more residents per square mile — were broken out, the numbers are strongly negative as well. When asked about trends in “your community,” 65 percent said much worse or a bit worse, with just two percent saying less bad. But when urban voters were asked specifically about trends in the Twin Cities, 83 percent said things had gotten worse.

Overall, 44 percent of respondents said crime had “stayed about the same” in their own communities, but only 9 percent gave that response when asked about the Twin Cities.

The poll also asked respondents statewide about the pending Minneapolis charter amendment on reorganizing public safety: 65 percent of rural voters, 57 percent of suburban voters and 50 percent of urban voters said they strongly opposed the measure or somewhat opposed it.

Of course, the only sample that matters for the question are voters who live within the city of Minneapolis. Of the 408 respondents, 19 percent said they strongly support the measure and 16 percent said they somewhat support it, while 45 percent said they strongly opposed the amendment and 8 percent said they somewhat opposed. Another 12 percent said they didn’t know about the issue. The margin of error for the sample size of those within the Minneapolis city limits is plus or minus 5.8 percent.

More results can be found here.

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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.

Rural/suburban/urban distinctions are based on GreatData classifications.

More information on the methodology can be found here.

Keep an eye on MinnPost in the coming days for more reporting on the poll.

Note: The margins of error in this story have been updated to use the modeled margin of error.