Poll: Trump trade policies divide Minnesota voters

Steel tariffs
President Trump speaks on July 26, 2018, at U.S. Steel's Granite City Works plant in Granite City, Ill. U.S. Steel credits Trump's plan to impose tariffs on imported steel with enabling them to start idled furnaces.
Whitney Curtis | Getty Images file

President Trump is counting on his tariff policy to force China and other trade partners to negotiate better agreements with the United States. Minnesotans, however, are far from sold on the president's tactics.

The MPR News/Star Tribune Minnesota Poll survey of 800 likely Minnesota voters last week found that 42 percent approved, in general, of the president's approach to trade, while 48 percent disapproved and 10 percent were not sure.

More disapprove of the handling of trade negotiations.
More Minnesotans disapprove rather than approve of the handling of trade negotiations by President Trump, according to the latest MPR News/Star Tribune Minnesota Poll.
William Lager | MPR News

There were stark geographic differences. Disapproval was highest in Hennepin and Ramsey counties at 68 percent. The highest approval rating was in northern Minnesota at 53 percent. Voters there have seen some benefit to the mining industry from earlier tariffs on imported steel.

Elsewhere, there are concerns about the impact of retaliatory tariffs on agriculture and manufacturing.

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Republicans overwhelmingly approve of his approach to trade, while Democrats overwhelmingly disapprove.

"It is sort of a referendum on Trump's trade and tariff policy. The results do break along party line like you'd expect," said Craig Helmstetter, managing partner of the APM Research Lab, a sister organization of MPR News that specializes in analysis of demographics and surveys.

On the economic impact of tariffs, 34 percent of poll respondents said the trade moves will protect American jobs, 46 percent said they will raise the cost of consumer goods and 12 percent said there won't be much of a difference.

More Minnesotans expect the tariffs to raise costs rather than help jobs
More Minnesotans responding to the latest MPR News/Star Tribune Minnesota Poll expect the tariffs to raise costs rather than protect jobs.
William Lager | MPR News

Statewide, 19 percent said the tariffs will leave them better off financially while 35 percent said they will be worse off; 40 percent said their finances will remain the same.

While Minnesotans' views on Trump's trade policies differed significantly by region, Helmstetter said there was little geographic difference when voters were asked if the policies were helping or hurting them personally.

"People are pretty much evenly divided on how those tariffs are impacting the broader economy or even impacting their personal finances," he said.

The survey of likely voters was conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy between Oct. 15 and Oct. 17. It has a sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points, meaning that there is a 95 percent probability that the "true" figure would fall within that range if all voters were surveyed.

Most expect no personal benefit from the tariffs
Fewer than 1 in 5 Minnesotans expect to be personally better off because of the Trump administration's tariffs, according to the latest MPR News/Star Tribune Minnesota Poll.
William Lager | MPR News

Trade is a campaign issue this year in the congressional contests in farm country, including the open 1st District seat in southern Minnesota.

During a recent MPR News debate, Republican candidate Jim Hagedorn said he supports the president's goal.

"He said China was cleaning our clock. China was manipulating our currency. They were stealing our intellectual property. They were doing all sorts of things, and he wanted to reset things with China, Mexico and Canada."

The latest round of Trump's tariffs affects $200 billion worth of imported goods from China.

The DFL candidate, Dan Feehan, slammed the trade policy and accused Hagedorn of wanting to be a rubber stamp for the president whose decisions were "executed without any role of Congress being a part of it, without any check and balance on how that would hurt and impact our economy."

Minnesota's two major party candidates for governor are also weighing in on tariffs.

During a KSTP-TV debate Sunday night, Republican candidate Jeff Johnson said trade is an issue where he disagrees with the president.

"I believe we should encourage trade as opposed to encouraging barriers," he said. "I know he's looking at the long game here and it seems to be working to a certain extent. But if this lasts much longer, we've got farmers who are just getting killed by this, and it's not the way to go."

DFL candidate Tim Walz, who has represented southern Minnesota in Congress for more than a decade, said the Trump trade policies are "horrific" and improvements are needed.

"Our producers are in dire straits because of this. We've worked really hard to open those markets. We've worked really hard to be smart about how we do that," he said. "As governor, I'll ensure that we make sure that those trade relations are kept up. That's by opening and having those office in Taiwan, in Australia, to make sure those things continue on."