More than half of Minnesotans have a positive view of Gov. Mark Dayton’s two terms as governor as his time in office nears its end, according to a new Star Tribune/MPR News Minnesota Poll.
Fifty-seven percent of those surveyed approve of the DFL governor’s job performance over two terms, while 41 percent disapprove. That’s down from Dayton’s highest-ever approval rating of 62 percent in May 2017, but consistent with polling results from the past several years.
The governor wraps up his final term after two years of contentious battles — including one that went to the Minnesota Supreme Court — with leaders of the Republican-majority Legislature. Divided government slowed Dayton’s momentum on some of his key initiatives, including expanding early education programs. But the governor is poised to leave office having followed through on his pledge to keep the state on solid financial footing; officials have predicted that next month’s financial forecast could show a surplus of more than $1 billion.
That impressed some Minnesotans who participated in the poll, including retired community newspaper owner Stan Roeser, 89, of Litchfield, who said Dayton was “one of the best we’ve had” as governor.
“He’s a guy who’s not afraid to face the facts that to have an effective government in this era, we have to have a relatively high tax base, and he’s always been willing to support that,” Roeser said.
But Dayton’s willingness to increase funding for state agencies and programs left others frustrated.
Construction company owner Jon Layman, 52, of Willmar, said he disapproves of most of the governor’s political decisions. Layman said he believes Dayton has focused on programs that don’t necessarily benefit middle-class Minnesotans or small business owners.
“As soon as he got in there, he was doing stuff I don’t think is benefiting me as a person,” Layman said. “He’s looking out for the lower-income class people and I don’t think that’s what makes the state click.”
In the Minnesota Poll, which surveyed 800 likely voters in telephone interviews Oct. 15-17, the largest share of participants — 30 percent — said they “strongly” approve of Dayton’s performance. Another 27 percent said they “somewhat” approve, while 26 percent “strongly” disapprove and 15 percent “somewhat” disapprove.
In a separate question, 39 percent of participants said they recognized Dayton’s name and had a favorable opinion of him, while 31 percent had an unfavorable opinion and 28 percent said they were neutral.
The governor’s highest levels of support come from poll participants in Hennepin and Ramsey counties, where he has a 70 percent approval rating. He is least popular in northern Minnesota, where 48 percent strongly or somewhat approve of his performance, but 33 percent strongly disapprove.
Dayton’s approval ratings are highest among women, young adults between the ages of 18 and 34, and poll participants who said they make less than $50,000 a year.
Among DFLers, he has near-universal support: 92 percent said they strongly or somewhat approve of his performance. Meanwhile, just 20 percent of Republicans think Dayton has done a good job. More than half of the independent voters polled — 53 percent — said they approve of the governor.
Glory Kibbel, 70, an education consultant from Coon Rapids who once worked at the state Department of Education, was among the few DFLers who said she isn’t pleased with the governor’s work.
She said Dayton didn’t do enough to provide schools with the money they need to serve their students, and was upset that he agreed to use millions of dollars in public money to pay for U.S. Bank Stadium.
“I think when he put all the effort into building the Vikings stadium, that’s when I started thinking about what else we needed in Minnesota and the fact that he was putting so much time and energy into that,” she said.
Minneapolis attorney Jason Rudie, 52, sees Dayton’s time in office differently. He says the governor has done well in avoiding controversy and financial crisis, in contrast with his predecessor, Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
“Pawlenty had so many things I found objectionable: he was in the press and running for president,” Rudie said. “And here you’ve got Dayton, who kind of kept things moving and was quiet, almost Arne Carlson-like in a way.” (Carlson, a moderate Republican, was Minnesota’s governor from 1991 to 1999.)
The Minnesota Poll has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points, and of those surveyed, 38 percent identified as Democrats, 33 percent as Republicans and 29 percent as independents.
Dayton, who is 71, will leave office in early January and has made it clear that he’s done running for office. An heir to the family whose department store chain birthed the Target Corporation, he spent a long career in Minnesota politics, including one term in the U.S. Senate from Minnesota.
In a statement, the governor responded to the poll results by thanking the state’s residents.
“I am grateful to Minnesotans for their support,” Dayton said. “It has been my great honor to serve as governor. We have worked hard to build a better Minnesota.”