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Ground Level: Minnesotans upbeat even as problems, politics swirl

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Izzy Goldfarb of Golden Valley stands in a mister.
Some things many Minnesotans have in common: optimism, and a passion for the State Fair, pictured. But some issues sharply divide us, a new MPR News project finds.
Courtney Perry for MPR News file

Politics, geography, race and education sharply divide Minnesotans on many issues. Yet, they feel overwhelmingly hopeful about the state's future.

That's a key finding in a new survey by MPR News and its sister organization APM Research Lab. The lab surveyed 1,654 Minnesota residents in late August and early September and found Minnesotans of all stripes feel Minnesota's on the right track.

There's still plenty of division, of course: immigration, taxes and Donald Trump are among many issues tugging on Minnesota's overall optimism. Some of this reflects politics, as Democrats increasingly cluster in the metro and Republicans in rural and exurban areas. 

But other parts of the divide reflect different ways of seeing the world.

"The Twin Cities vs. rural Minnesota is getting to be a big divide in style of living," an Itasca County woman wrote. When the survey asked what one thing she'd change about Minnesota, she replied, "Urban and cities have little understanding of rural."

MPR News will be exploring what the survey says about the things that unite and divide Minnesotans all week, and continuing through the coming months.

Here are some of the survey's key takeaways.

Across-the-board hope

Hope for Minnesota's future
Hope for Minnesota's future
David Montgomery for MPR News

Regardless of where they live or what they believe, most Minnesotans are optimistic about their state's future. More than 80 percent say they're more hopeful than fearful about what lies ahead for Minnesota. 

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High percentages of Minnesotans of all races, income levels and parts of the state share this view.

Is Minnesota on the right track?
Is Minnesota on the right track?
David Montgomery for MPR News

That's not to say every group is equally hopeful. A bigger majority of Democrats (90 percent) say they're hopeful than Republicans (75 percent).

A majority of Minnesotans also say Minnesota's on the right track to addressing all nine issues the survey asked about.

Immigration and refugees are divisive

Politics and geography shape Minnesotans' opinions of how the state is handling immigrants and refugees. In every part of the state, Republicans are more likely than Democrats to say Minnesota's on the wrong track when it comes to welcoming immigrants and refugees. 

Views on immigration and refugees
Views on immigration and refugees
David Montgomery for MPR News

Residents of the St. Cloud area and rural Minnesota are much more likely to say this than residents of the Twin Cities metro, Duluth or Rochester — regardless of party affiliation.

St. Cloud is home to a growing Somali American population, due to both refugee resettlement and secondary migration as people move to the community for jobs or to reunite with families.

In recent years these changing demographics have provoked some tension, such as a St. Cloud City Council member's recent proposal for a temporary ban on refugee resettlement.

Some who say Minnesota's on the wrong track for welcoming immigrants and refugees believe the state is allowing too many immigrants to settle here. Others say Minnesota's on the wrong track because it's not welcoming enough to the immigrants already here.

Trust in institutions
Trust in institutions
David Montgomery for MPR News

High trust in Minnesota's health care system

Despite all the controversy about health care in America, Minnesotans of all stripes tend to agree that the state's health care system is on the right track.

Trust in medical system
Trust in medical system
David Montgomery for MPR News

Trust in law enforcement is higher than trust in health care, although this hides deeper disagreements. 

The health care system is more broadly supported. It's trusted by majorities of Democrats and Republicans in every region of the state.

Minnesotans with college degrees and those with better personal finances are more likely to trust the health care system than those without.

Asked how Minnesota's health care system was doing at providing good health care, 67 percent said it was on the right track and 26 percent said it was on the wrong track.

The survey asked respondents to share in their own words why they thought health care in Minnesota was on the right or wrong track. 

Below are the most common words used by supporters and critics of Minnesota's medical system. 

Respondents who say Minnesota is on the right track with health care.
Use of words by survey respondents who say Minnesota is on the right track with health care.
David Montgomery for MPR News

The word cloud looks at individual words, not phrases, so a mention of "insurance" could be part of a critique of how expensive it is, or part of praise for its widespread availability.

Respondents who say Minnesota is on the wrong track with health care.
Use of words by survey respondents who say Minnesota is on the wrong track with health care.
David Montgomery for MPR News

Health system supporters were likely to focus on the state's network of well-regarded hospitals and other health facilities:

Meanwhile, the minority of Minnesotans who think the medical system here is on the wrong track focused heavily on the cost of care, with frequent use of words such as "premiums", "expensive" and "afford":

No shortage of opinions on President Trump

Overall, around 36 percent of Minnesotans approved of Donald Trump when this survey was taken in late August and early September. At that time, Trump's national job approval rating was between 38 and 40 percent in the poll average calculated by RealClearPolitics, a political news and polling data website.

Trump approval
Trump approval
David Montgomery for MPR News

The Trump numbers in Minnesota break along predictable lines: 71 percent of Republicans and just 7 percent of Democrats approve of the president. 

But even the Republican party is divided over the 45th president, particularly along education lines. 

Trump is broadly popular among Republicans without a four-year college degree, with 77 percent approving. That approval rate falls to 60 percent for Republicans with a degree.

The survey gave respondents the opportunity to describe why they approved or disapproved of Trump in their own words, and almost all of them took it.

Below are the most common words used to describe Trump by Minnesotans who approved and disapproved of the president. 

As with the word clouds above, these show individual words, not phrases, so while 21 Trump supporters used the word "politician" in their answers, it was usually part of a phrase such as "not a politician."

Trump's supporters liked his business background and his promises to change how government worked.

But above all, they talked about how they felt he was "trying" to do the right things, even if he hasn't accomplished some of them yet.

Words Minnesota Trump supporters use to describe the president.
Words Minnesota Trump supporters use to describe the president.
David Montgomery for MPR News

Here's a look at some of the words Minnesotans use to describe the president:

Words Minnesota Trump opponents use to describe the president.
Words Minnesota Trump opponents use to describe the president.
David Montgomery for MPR News

Supporters

Critics

Race colors Minnesota views on law enforcement

Law enforcement is the most trusted institution in Minnesota, with 76 percent of Minnesotans saying they usually or always trust police to do the right thing. 

But this trust isn't universally shared.

Trust in law enforcement
Trust in law enforcement
David Montgomery for MPR News

Minnesotans of color in particular are less trusting in law enforcement, amid ongoing controversy about police shootings of Minnesotans of color. While 79 percent of whites say they usually or always trust law enforcement, only 63 percent of Minnesotans of color do.

This isn't explained by politics, either, although Democrats are less trusting of police regardless of race and most Minnesotans of color are Democrats. 

White Democrats are significantly more trusting in police than are Democrats of color, while Republicans regardless of race trust law enforcement significantly more than white Democrats.

Trust in law enforcement
Trust in law enforcement
David Montgomery for MPR News

Still, a majority of Minnesotans of color still say they always or mostly trust law enforcement to do what's right, even if fewer of them do so than white Minnesotans.

As a result of these differences, Minnesota has a stark geographic divide when it comes to trusting police.

Craig Helmstetter, Andi Egbert and Kassira  Absar of the APM Research Lab and MPR News reporter Kirsti Marohn contributed to this report.

Coming Tuesday:

 The Ground Level project digs into Minnesotans' trust of two key institutions: the media and law enforcement.

Learn more

Read the full survey and detailed analysis by the APM Research Lab.

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