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Ground Level: Minnesotans deeply skeptical of state government

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The Minnesota State Capitol
The Minnesota Capitol remained lit at 1 a.m. Monday, May 22, 2017, as lawmakers pressed toward the mandatory end of the 2017 session. An incomplete budget stood between them and the finish line.
Brian Bakst | MPR News File

Minnesotans elect their leaders, but that doesn't mean they trust them.

The recent Ground Level survey by MPR News and its sister organization, the APM Research Lab, found only a minority of Minnesotans trust their state government to usually do the right thing. Far more say they trust the government only sometimes — or never.

The survey, conducted in August and September, sampled 1,654 Minnesota adults from across the state.

A minority of Minnesotans trust their state government.
How much of the time do Minnesotans trust state government to do the right thing?
David H. Montgomery | MPR News

Most people have mixed feelings on the matter. Only 5 percent say they always or almost always trust state government to do what's right, while 8 percent say they never trust it. The vast majority say they're in the middle, but more of them lean toward skepticism.

That mixed trust in Minnesota's government looks a lot better when compared to Washington, D.C. While 40 percent of Minnesotans say they trust their government all or most of the time, an average of 18 percent of Americans say the same about the federal government in surveys tracked by the Pew Research Center.

Public trust in government near historic lows
Public trust in government near historic lows
Courtesy of Pew Research Center

Divisions by party, region

Republicans are much less likely to trust Minnesota state government than are Democrats. Only 25 percent of Republicans say they mostly or always trust the state government to do what's right, while 72 percent say they only trust the state sometimes or never.

Democrats are more likely to trust state government, but even they are divided — 41 percent of Democrats say they trust state government never or only sometimes.

Gov. Mark Dayton is a Democrat, while both chambers of the state Legislature have Republican majorities.

Democrats are more likely to trust in state government.
Democrats are more likely to trust in state government.
David H. Montgomery | MPR News

This trust in government is actually relatively even in most parts of the state. Between 40 and 45 percent of adult Minnesotans living in Minneapolis and St. Paul, the metro suburbs, and much of the rest of the state say they usually trust the government in St. Paul.

There's one big exception, though. Central Minnesota — including both the St. Cloud area and rural communities — has significantly lower trust that state government will do the right thing than the rest of the state. 

Central Minnesota has significantly lower trust in state government.
Central Minnesota has significantly lower trust in state government.
David H. Montgomery | MPR News

Only 29 percent of Minnesotans in that region say they usually trust the state government.

Low-trust Minnesotans more skeptical of state's progress

Most Minnesotans, even those who don't trust state government, told the Ground Level survey that they're more hopeful than fearful about the state's future. But they're more pessimistic about the state's progress on a host of issues than are Minnesotans who usually trust state government.

The less trust, the less Minnesotans think we are on the right track.
The less trust Minnesotans have in state government, the less they think we are on the right track.
David H. Montgomery | MPR News

On every single issue the Ground Level survey asked about, Minnesotans with lower trust in state government were less likely to say Minnesota is on the right track.

The data doesn't say anything about what causes what in this relationship, or if there's even a causal relationship at all. 

It could be that some people don't trust Minnesota's government to do what's right because they don't believe it's making progress on key issues, or that their distrust of government causes them to cased a more jaded eye on those issues. It could also be a complete coincidence.

Trust and taxes

The same survey where MPR News and the APM Research Lab asked about trust in state government also asked whether respondents feel they get good value from state government in return for the taxes they pay. Overall nearly 60 percent said yes.

Unsurprisingly, Minnesotans who trust the state government are also more likely to say the state government gives good value on its taxes, and vice versa. 

Among Minnesotans who mostly or always trust state government to do what's right, 79 percent feel they get good value for their taxes. Only 43 percent of Minnesotans who sometimes or never trust state government feel the same way.

The higher their trust, the more they feel they get a good value for taxes
The higher their trust in state government, the more Minnesotans feel they get a good value for taxes.
David H. Montgomery | MPR News

Republicans are more likely to say they don't trust state government and more likely to say they don't get good value for their taxes. But this split isn't just partisanship showing up in both places. Both political parties are divided on this question.

Among the minority of Republicans who say they trust state government, 65 percent say they get good value for their taxes. Only 32 percent of Republicans who don't often trust state government feel the same way.

Similarly, 86 percent of Minnesota Democrats who usually trust state government say they get good value for their taxes. Just 60 percent of Democrats who don't trust state government agree.

Learn more

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

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