Minnesota DFL Gov. Tim Walz was slightly ahead of Republican challenger Scott Jensen in a new survey by Change Research commissioned by MinnPost, suggesting a close election this fall.
The poll found that 42 percent of 1,551 likely general election voters would pick Walz, while 40 percent of those voters would favor Jensen — a result that is within a margin of error of 2.6 percent.
Many voters surveyed, however, are unfamiliar with Jensen. Only 23 percent had a favorable view of the former one-term state senator and 19 percent had an unfavorable view of Jensen. The poll found a plurality, 44 percent, had never heard of him at all.
The poll, conducted June 3 to 8, suggests voters are evenly split over Walz as governor, narrowly approving of his record on jobs but disapproving of his handling of crime in the state. Most surveyed believe Minnesota is on the wrong track, not headed in the right direction.
The survey also suggests deep unhappiness with President Joe Biden’s record on inflation — which was a top issue among voters in the poll — and an even more sour view of the direction of the nation.
“Minnesota is a ‘blue’ state, it’s maybe a light ‘blue’ state” said Christopher Chapp, a political science professor at St. Olaf College in Northfield. “But in an electoral environment that most analysts do not see as very favorable to Democrats, Minnesota is going to be competitive for all statewide offices.”
Voters evenly split on Walz’s job performance
Jensen, a family physician from Chaska, recently cleared the GOP primary field of significant opposition by winning the Republican endorsement at a statewide convention in May. He’s likely to face Walz in the November general election.
Jensen rose to greater prominence, especially among the Republican base, in part by questioning COVID-19 regulations imposed by Walz and pandemic science such as the safety of vaccines. At times he has spread false theories.
So far, the poll suggests the governor’s race will be competitive.
Walz’s two-point lead is also the same as in an August 2021 survey, when voters were asked to rank the governor against a generic unnamed Republican.
The recent MinnPost/Change Research poll also found 7 percent of voters surveyed support a marijuana legalization party while 3 percent support Hugh McTavish, a candidate for the Independence-Alliance Party.
Another 7 percent were unsure of who they would vote for, suggesting many voters are up for grabs.
Those who responded to the poll were evenly split on Walz’s job performance; 50 percent either strongly or somewhat approved of the job Walz is doing, while 50 percent either strongly or somewhat disapproved of the governor. These results matched the August survey. A small majority of voters approve of Walz’s record on jobs, while just a small majority disapprove of the governor’s record on COVID-19.
And voters in the electorally crucial Twin Cities suburbs, outside the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, still favored Walz by a 39-38 margin.
Still, 64 percent of voters surveyed either strongly disapproved or somewhat disapproved of Walz’s handling of crime. And a majority of voters had either an unfavorable or neutral view of the governor.
One result potentially in Jensen’s favor is that 59 percent of those who responded said they believe Minnesota is on the wrong track, rather than going in the right direction. That’s largely unchanged from an August poll and a friendlier picture than voter view of the country as a whole.
Chapp said voters increasingly use national conditions to evaluate races up and down the ballot. But he said it would “buck that trend” if there’s “a little bit of a de-tethering” between Walz and Biden’s approval numbers and views on whether the state and country are headed in the right direction.
Jensen, and Republicans generally, have criticized the governor’s response to crime and Jensen outlined a plan Thursday to address crime in Minnesota. He has also proposed a state gas tax holiday, an idea that Walz has also supported.
Walz and legislative leaders couldn’t reach agreements on public safety spending this year. The governor had initially proposed $300 million for local governments to use on public safety, including for hiring more cops. DFL leaders also wanted some money for community nonprofits that do violence intervention work.
Minnesotans unhappy with inflation, Biden
Walz’s standing in June may be similar to last fall. But the poll suggests Minnesota voters are increasingly unhappy with the direction of the country under Biden, who won the state in 2020 by a comfortable 7-point margin over Trump.
Of the likely voters surveyed, 79 percent said the country is on the wrong track. Only 21 percent said the U.S. is headed in the right direction. The August survey had found 69 percent of respondents viewed the country as on the wrong track.
In the June poll, only 36 percent said they had a somewhat favorable or very favorable view of Biden, compared to 55 percent who had a somewhat unfavorable or very unfavorable view of the president.
And 59 percent of people in the poll somewhat or strongly disapproved of Biden’s performance. The likely voters surveyed had a more favorable view of Biden’s record on the pandemic: 48 percent approved. But on inflation, a whopping 70 percent disapproved of Biden’s performance.
The poll found 46 percent approved of the president’s handling of jobs and a similar share of people viewed Biden’s record on Ukraine favorably.
MinnPost asked the likely voters in the poll an open-ended question about what their top issues are statewide and locally. In the August survey, inflation was mentioned only 22 times. In June, it was the most common answer, coming up 252 times. Guns and abortion also came up more often than in the poll last fall.
The poll found higher gas prices have been difficult for 59 percent of respondents, while another 35 percent said fuel costs are an inconvenience. The survey says grocery costs have been difficult for 51 percent of people.
People tend to “vote with their pocketbooks,” Chapp said. “Right now inflation, the cost of goods, is the main thing that’s on voters’ minds, I think particularly gas prices.”
Still, likely voters in the poll didn’t have a rosy assessment of Trump either. Fifty-six percent of respondents said they had an unfavorable view of the former president, a hair more than 55 percent who had an unfavorable view of Biden.
Of those who responded to the poll, 49 percent said they voted for Biden in 2020 and 42 percent said they voted for Trump. About 60 percent said Biden got more votes nationwide for president — which he did — and 40 percent said they believe Trump had more votes.
Tight race for attorney general
The race for Minnesota attorney general is also extremely close, according to the poll.
One-term incumbent Keith Ellison is narrowly trailing GOP-endorsed candidate Jim Schultz among poll respondents by one point, which is also within the margin of error and a statistical tie.
Ellison fared only slightly better in the poll against Republican Doug Wardlow, who is challenging Schultz in a primary election despite opposition from much of the GOP establishment. Ellison was tied against Wardlow 44-44, with 9 percent of voters saying they were unsure. Ellison beat Wardlow in the 2018 election by fewer than 4 points.
About 7 to 8 percent of those who plan to support Walz are undecided in the attorney general’s race, according to Change Research, giving Ellison a potential path to 50 percent.
Republican voters in the poll were largely undecided between Schultz and Wardlow. The survey says 55 percent were not sure of how they’d vote in a GOP primary, while 20 percent picked Schultz and 19 favored Wardlow.
Yet few people in the survey were familiar with either. Nearly 70 percent of likely voters in the poll said they had never heard of Schultz, and 63 percent said they hadn’t heard of Wardlow. Only 13 percent of likely voters in the poll had not heard of Ellison.
The poll was conducted from June 3 to 8 and respondents included 1,551 likely general election 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, and region. The modeled margin of error for the statewide sample was +/- 2.6 percentage points. The modeled margin of error for regions are Minneapolis-St. Paul +/- 4.6 percent; Metro area +/- 5.4 percent; Greater Minnesota +/- 3.5 percent.
Greta Kaul contributed to this report.