An early snapshot of the presidential race in Minnesota shows Democrat Joe Biden with a slight edge over Republican Donald Trump, according to results of the survey commissioned by MPR News, the Star Tribune and KARE 11.
The Minnesota Poll found that the race is fairly tight despite more voters disapproving of President Trump’s job performance than applauding it.
The challenger Biden is at 49 percent, the incumbent Trump is at 44. The poll — by Mason Dixon Polling and Strategy of 800 registered voters — found that 7 percent are undecided. The survey was done May 18 through May 20. There’s a margin of sampling error of 3.5 percentage points.
The election is a solid five months away. Plenty can and will change. But there’s a strong sense that how Trump navigated the pandemic and the ensuing economic fallout will be a defining issue.
“It will be the critical issue of the fall campaign, and here’s why: Donald Trump will demand that this campaign be about him. That’s the nature of his personality. And the pandemic crisis will demand that attention is placed on the president,” said MPR News analyst Todd Rapp, a former DFL Party political director.
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Maureen Shaver, another MPR News analyst and an adviser to Republican candidates and officials, agreed.
“This campaign from the top down was always going to have been a referendum on President Trump. I don’t believe the pandemic has changed that,” Shaver said. “But it has complicated it.”
Trump’s standing in the head-to-head numbers are close to his approval rating, with 45 percent of respondents backing his job performance and 53 percent who don’t.
Trump won about 45 percent of the Minnesota vote in 2016, when Hillary Clinton eked out a win and extended the state’s unrivaled streak of backing Democratic nominees for president.
At this stage, both Biden and Trump have their respective party bases locked down — 95 percent for each.
Susan Pfeifer, a 76-year-old retiree from Park Rapids, is a Republican who hopes Trump gets four more years.
“To begin with he’s not a politician, he’s a businessman. And this country is a business,” Pfeifer said.” And I think he’s running it like a business, and that’s the way it should be run.”
Pfeifer likes Trump’s tough line toward China. She said his call to reopen the economy faster is the right move, calling coronavirus-related restrictions overblown.
Eileen Jansen, who lives in Spring Lake Park and works for a financial institution, intends to vote for Biden. Jansen, 60, leans left politically but was willing to give Trump a shot in the early going.
“I was hopeful it would work out OK,” Jansen said.
But she said the president has performed poorly in responding to the pandemic, hasn’t listened enough to health experts and has made questionable comments about untested remedies.
“I guess I would give him a D if I had to grade him from A to F,” she said.
Women decidedly favor Biden — there’s a 22 percentage point preference gap. But men are tilted in Trump’s direction, with a 19-percentage point spread.
They’re running about even among voters who describe themselves as political independents, but a decent share are still up for grabs.
Biden is running strongest in the counties covering the Twin Cities and nearby areas.
In Edina, technical programmer Daniel Lew, 34, said he’ll vote for Biden, whose views on issues more closely match his own. But he had more to say about why he doesn’t support Trump.
“He’s been pretty much just awful,” Lew said, criticizing Trump’s “slapdash” response to the coronavirus. “I’m just very unhappy in general.”
But Trump has a clear edge in greater Minnesota.
Mark Peterson, 54, owns a small auto-repair business in Owatonna. He’s weathered this economic downturn so far. And he said he has faith in Trump to steer the country back to financial health.
“The things he says and does makes sense. I think we’re giving too much money to people who shouldn’t be getting it or don’t deserve it. I think all of his border policies are right on spot,” Peterson said. “I agree with most everything he says.”
Shaver said Trump’s campaign can certainly afford to contest Minnesota. But how long it’s a true battleground is a real question.
“Minnesota will have an enormous turnout as we always do in a presidential year. So clearly there is an opportunity for the president,” Shaver said. “I think with the state of the economy, I think with where people turned even in the last election in 2018, he’s got some work to do.”
Trump’s campaign has made an earlier political investment here than any Republican in recent memory.
The Minnesota Poll found that two-thirds of Trump voters believe the state curbs have gone too far, while 81 percent of Biden’s backers say they were about right.
With Trump’s encouragement, his supporters are leading some of the protests to lift coronavirus restrictions.
Rapp said that’s no accident.
“That is the strategy here, make Democrats sound like they will go to extremes on an issue that really needs better balance,” he said.
The findings of this MPR News/Star Tribune/KARE 11 Minnesota Poll are based on live interviews conducted May 18 to May 20 with 800 Minnesota registered voters. The poll was conducted for the MPR News, Star Tribune and KARE 11 by Mason-Dixon Polling and Strategy Inc.
The sample for this survey was drawn from a Mason-Dixon database that includes approximately 2.2 million registered Minnesota voters who are matched with a telephone number — either a land line, a cellphone or both. A random sample of 100,000 voters from unique households with unique phones was drawn from this database for use in calling on this poll.
Those interviewed were randomly selected by computer from this phone-matched Minnesota voter registration file with quotas assigned to reflect the state’s voter registration distribution by county. For example, Hennepin County and Ramsey County combined account for 32 percent of the state’s registered voters, so 32 percent of the survey interviews were completed there. The interviews were conducted via land line (35 percent) and cellphone (65 percent).
The margin of sampling error for this sample of 800 registered voters, according to standards customarily used by statisticians, is no more than ± 3.5 percentage points. This means that there is a 95 percent probability that the "true" figure would fall within that range if all voters were surveyed. The margin of error is higher for any subgroup, such as a gender or age grouping.
The self-identified party affiliation of the respondents is 38 percent Democrats, 33 percent Republicans and 29 percent independents or other.
Sampling error does not take into account other sources of variation inherent in public opinion surveys, such as non-response, question wording or context effects. In addition, news events may have affected opinions during the period the poll was taken.
The demographic profile of this poll of registered voters is an accurate reflection of their respective voter populations. This determination is based on more than 100 statewide polls conducted by Mason-Dixon in Minnesota over the past 32 years — a period that spans eight presidential election cycles that began in 1988.