MPR News/Humphrey Institute poll: Voters disapprove of Pawlenty's political travels

Tim Pawlenty
Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty speaks at the Republican Statesman's Dinner on Friday, June 25, 2010 in Nashville, Tenn. The latest MPR News/Humphrey Institute poll shows many Minnesota voters disapprove of Pawlenty's frequent travels out of the state.
AP Photo/Mark Humphrey

Most likely Minnesota voters disapprove of Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty's out-of-state campaigning, the latest Minnesota Public Radio News/Humphrey Institute poll shows.

Pawlenty is widely believed to be laying the foundation of a campaign for president in 2012. The poll also shows that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a strong contender for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination, receives higher marks than Pawlenty for president.

According to the new poll, 54 percent of likely Minnesota voters disapprove of Pawlenty's numerous campaign swings outside of Minnesota.

And when it comes to whether Minnesotans would vote for Pawlenty for president, a majority, or 53 percent, consider that unlikely. Even nearly one in four Republicans, or 23 percent, say they've be unlikely to vote for him.

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Poll Results

See more details of the MPR News/Humphrey Institute poll.

University of Minnesota political science professor Larry Jacobs said the poll's results that Minnesota voters -- and particularly Republicans -- have turned on the governor is a black eye for his campaign.

Jacobs, who oversaw the poll, said it calls into question Pawlenty's oft-repeated rhetoric about being a successful governor in a Democratic-leaning state.

"He's made a lot of hay around the country talking about winning elections and holding support in a Democratic or purple state and these results suggest that he's going to have to do more explaining and that's not as simple," Jacobs said. "Even [those in] the loyal base in his party have real doubts about the job the governor's doing and whether they're going to support him."

Possibly even more stinging for the governor is a question about who would make a better president among potential Republican competitors. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney outpolls Pawlenty on that question, 45 percent to 32 percent. But Pawlenty easily beats former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, 59 to 24 percent.

Pawlenty has said that he will decide whether to run for president early next year and that his numerous trips to places like Iowa and New Hampshire are about helping Republicans in this fall's midterm elections, not about a presidential campaign.

At the Minnesota State Fair, well-wishers greeted the governor.

Pawlenty said he understood how Minnesotans might not like his campaigning outside of the state but he insisted the trips have never interfered with his job. He also said to have nearly half of the state approving of his performance isn't bad at all relative to other governors.

As for trailing Romney, Pawlenty said that shouldn't be a big surprise.

"Regardless of whether I run or don't run you know Mitt will be the front-runner or one of the front-runners," Pawlenty said. "He had run before, he's got name ID and an organization. But you know these things change over time and there are several years to go before the election."

Fairgoers said they were well aware of Pawlenty's possible run for the White House. Stan Hill, who described himself as "pretty much of a Democrat," said he thinks Pawlenty should stay home.

"I think he could be doing a better job for Minnesota," said Hill, of Blaine. "That's why he is governor. But yeah, if he's on his own agenda, I think it's time for him to fade away."

Others were more understanding of Pawlenty's ambitious itinerary.

"I think a governor should spent more time in his own region than traveling all over," said Jim Ramacier, of Hugo. "But if he's got an agenda where he wants to be a candidate for president he really doesn't have much choice. He's got to start traveling."

According to the poll Pawlenty's approval rating among likely Minnesota voters stands at 46 percent. That's low, but not as low as President Obama's 42 percent approval rating. Although Pawlenty is struggling with support in his home state, a plurality of respondents, or 37 percent, said they think Republicans are better able to handle the state budget than Democrats.

The poll also found Minnesotans give low marks to the DFL-controlled Legislature. Only one in four approved lawmakers' performance, and 57 percent disapproved.

Jacobs, the University of Minnesota professor, said Democrats have also lost a significant edge they had on Republicans on the question of which party's candidate voters would likely select for the Legislature, a Democratic or a Republican. It's now a toss-up between the two parties.

"There seems to be a real backlash against the DFL-controlled Legislature," Jacobs said. "There's not a whole lot of good feeling for the job they're done. There's a sense that Republicans have done better in terms of handling the budget and now we see a split in terms of which of party's candidates for Legislature are going to be supported, which is a reversal from what we've seen in the last few years."

In general the poll identifies voter backlash against incumbents that could foreshadow big changes in November's election, Jacobs said.