MPR poll: Pawlenty approval strong; doubts about Molnau

MnDOT's Carol Molnau
A new MPR News/Humphrey Institute poll suggests Lt. Gov. Carol Molnau doesn't share the confidence voters have in Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
MPR Photo/Tom Weber

The poll of 763 likely Minnesota voters found 55 percent approved of Gov. Pawlenty's job performance, while 39 percent disapproved.

The approval was predictably strong among Republicans at 87 percent. But 59 percent of independents, and even 30 percent of Democrats said they think the second-term governor is doing a good job.

Larry Jacobs, director of the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance at the Humphrey Institute, said Pawlenty enjoys broad popularity at a time when other Republicans don't.

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"Tim Pawlenty is like a skipper of a ship that's in rocky seas," he said. "Things have gone kind of haywire in the water, but somehow he's able to keep a pretty steady level of support among Minnesotans during a period when there are some real challenges, and a period in which the campaigns are clearly starting to pick up speed and become a little rougher."

Pawlenty is not up for re-election this year, but he's frequently mentioned as a potential running mate for Republican presidential hopeful John McCain.

If Pawlenty would become vice president, Lt. Gov. Carol Molnau would fill out the remainder of his term as governor. The DFL-controlled Senate ousted Molnau earlier this year from her other job as state transportation commissioner.

The poll found 37 percent of voters are not very confident in the job Molnau would do as governor. Jacobs says even one in four Republicans had doubts.

"What we're seeing is that Carol Molnau would have her hands full in building and enjoying the confidence of Minnesotans, and of obviously the Legislature," he said. "It appears that she would come in as a fairly weak governor, and one who will face some real challenges. She is not Tim Pawlenty."

The governor's office offered mixed reviews of the poll numbers. Pawlenty's spokesman Brian McClung said his boss is grateful for the strong approval rating.

"[Molnau] would come in as a fairly weak governor, and one who will face some real challenges. She is not Tim Pawlenty."

But McClung isn't concerned about the less favorable attitudes toward Molnau, who he said isn't as well known as the governor.

"It's a different position," he said. "It's a position that's a little more behind the scenes. So, the people of Minnesota, and I think the poll, reflects that there's still a pretty large percentage of Minnesotans that don't really have an opinion or don't feel they know her well enough to state."

Whichever Republican is sitting in the governor's office next year, they might be dealing with a Minnesota House with an even stronger DFL majority. Poll respondents favored Democratic legislative candidates over Republicans 49 percent to 39 percent.

DFL House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher of Minneapolis said the poll numbers show voters are enthusiastic about her party's candidates.

"They are also, I think, reacting to the fact that we've had two very productive legislative sessions where we've focused on issues like energy independence, the economy, jobs, education and health care," she said. "And it's pretty clear from the poll that Minnesotans trust Democrats to deal with these issues."

The Republican minority leader in the Minnesota House, Marty Seifert of Marshall, questions the poll sample, which he said had too many Democrats and too few independents.

Larry Jacobs from the Humphrey Institute said the poll is an accurate snapshot of voter opinion and party leanings between Aug. 7 and 17.

Seifert said a better poll would look at all 134 House districts.

"If you took the top 25 to 30 races in the state I think you'd see we're doing very well," Seifert said. "Our polling data shows we are doing well in the races that are competitive." Another matter voters will decide this fall is whether to amend the state Constitution to dedicate funding for water quality, wildlife habitat, trails and cultural programs. The proposed funding would come from an increase in the state sales tax of 3/8 of 1 percent.

The poll found 72 percent of voters oppose the ballot question, while 22 percent support the measure.

The poll's margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3.6 percentage points.

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