MPR-Humphrey Institute poll: Most Minnesotans distrust federal gov't

Tea party rally
Hundreds of people filled the mall in front of the Minnesota State Capitol on Thursday for a tea party rally on April 15, the deadline for filing federal income tax returns. While a majority of respondents said they distrust government, many fewer expressed support for the tea party movement.
MPR Photo/Jess Mador

A large majority of Minnesotans lack trust in the federal government and more than half would prefer a smaller government with fewer services, according to the latest Minnesota Public Radio News-Humphrey Institute poll.

But the responses sent a mixed message about how dissatisfied state residents are with the economy and government.

Pollsters interviewed 701 people May 13-16 to try to gauge how Minnesotans feel about government and the state of the economy and how that sentiment might play out in this fall's elections. The poll has a 5.8 percentage point margin of error.

University of Minnesota political science professor Larry Jacobs, who oversaw the poll, said it clearly identified a backlash against government.

"There is a political volcano that's gone off in Minnesota. We've got more than three-quarters who say that they never, or only some of the time, trust government," Jacobs said. "We've got 55 percent who say that the federal government's power is too much. We've got 61 percent who said they'd rather have smaller government with fewer services, and about half believe that President Barack Obama is moving the country towards socialism."

The poll shows more Minnesotans disapprove of the federal health care overhaul than approve of it, 48 percent to 37 percent.

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NOT MUCH SUPPORT FOR TEA PARTY

Much of the anger over government has been expressed at loud tea party protests around the country.

But the poll shows while tea partiers might be the most vocal, more Minnesotans oppose the tea party movement than support it.

While 20 percent said they support the tea party movement, 26 percent oppose it. Fifty percent said the tea party does not reflect the views of most Americans. The poll also shows that independent voters, who often decide elections, are less likely to cast ballots for tea party candidates.

SUPPORT FOR FEDERAL STIMULUS

While the poll shows Minnesotans are angry and distrustful of government it also found support for the economic stimulus plan. More Minnesotans said the federal government's attempt to stimulate the economy made it better than made it worse.

That could be important in the midterm elections, said Jacobs, director of the Humphrey Institute's Center for the Study of Politics and Governance.

"The Democrats could well be in a good position to take credit for the stimulus package which, up to this point has been hammered by Republicans and tea party supporters as a sell-out and as a waste of money," he said.

More than one-third of respondents, or 36 percent, believed the stimulus spending had no impact on the economy.

HALF SAY STATE, NATION 'ON WRONG TRACK'

The poll showed a striking contrast between how Minnesotans feel about their own economic situation versus the nation's. Fifty-five percent rated their circumstances only fair or poor. Eighty-nine percent rated the national economy that way.

More than 55 percent of the poll respondents said the state and nation are on the wrong track. Typically when that number is over 50, it's bad news for political incumbents.

However, as high as public dissatisfaction is, the wrong track number for the nation is much lower now than it was two years ago when 82 percent of MPR News-Humphrey Institute poll respondents said the country was on the wrong track.

The numbers paint an unclear picture of current public sentiment. While there's a big backlash against government, there's much more support for stimulus spending than opposition to it. Nearly half of respondents think President Obama is moving the country toward socialism, but more than half approve of Obama's performance.

Jacobs said conflicting sentiment may mean Democratic office holders will have to thread a needle on the campaign trial if they want to keep their jobs.

"Democrats have got to talk about specific, concrete programs and the specific concrete result of those programs," he said. "If they get engaged in a kind of philosophical discussion about the role of government, they're going to lose."

The poll also asked about immigration in the context of the new Arizona law requiring police to determine the immigration status of people they form a reasonable suspicion about. Nearly half of the Minnesota respondents, or 48 percent, said they favor the law.

Pollster.com, which aggregates poll results, says there haven't been enough national polls done yet on the Arizona law to give a good sense of where the country stands on the law.