DFL Gov. Mark Dayton, who won his election with just 9,000 votes to spare, now has support from a majority of Minnesotans, according to a new Star Tribune Minnesota Poll.

Almost five months into his tenure, 54 percent of Minnesotans approve of how Dayton is handling his job while 20 percent disapprove. The remaining 26 percent didn't know or refused to answer.

Dayton found his strongest support among Democrats, with 79 percent approval ratings, but he also got high marks from 49 percent of independents and 32 percent of Republicans. Thirty-eight percent of Republicans said they disapprove of the job he's done, along with 8 percent of Democrats and 19 percent of independents.

"It's a great poll for me, and I feel very appreciative for that kind of support," Dayton said. "It says I've got the support of the people of Minnesota. We'll see about the Legislature."

Dayton took office with just 43 percent of the popular vote. Tom Emmer, his GOP opponent, also had 43 percent, touching off a recount that ended only when Emmer conceded in December.

Dayton has slightly higher marks than former Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty did at this point in his first term. In late April 2003, 50 percent of Minnesotans approved of the job Pawlenty had done, with 31 percent disapproving and 19 percent unsure.

Since taking office, Dayton has given his protesters a chance to speak, warmed up the business community that opposed his election and signed two Republican signature bills into law. He is now negotiating a tough two-year budget to close a $5 billion projected deficit.

His stances have won him a fan in Cheryl Karlgaard, a DFL-leaning independent voter in East Gull Lake.

"He's doing a good job. He's straightforward, and he is trying to do what's best," the 60-year-old said. "I like [that] he's trying to even out the tax burden on everyone, where it is not so much on the middle class."

Amanda Bruins, a 32-year-old nursing assistant and student, sees it differently.

"I think we all work really hard for our money," said Bruins, of St. Francis. Raising income taxes on wealthier Minnesotans, as Dayton has proposed, "isn't fair either because most of them worked their hind ends off for it," Bruins said.

Lee Ulferts, 64, a Brooklyn Park veterans club manager, said he's impressed with the men and women Dayton has chosen for his Cabinet.

"He seems to be more apolitical than I would have ever expected," said Ulferts, a Republican turned independent.

The survey sample consisted of 23 percent self-identified Republicans, 33 percent Democrats and 37 percent independents, with the rest offering no party identification.

Typically, about a third of Minnesotans identify themselves with each political grouping but those figures fluctuate over time.

DFL Party Chair Ken Martin said the low number of GOP respondents shows a political loss for the party and "mirrors what I'm seeing in other polling."

Republican Party Chairman Tony Sutton said the 23 percent identified as Republicans seems "artificially low."

The poll, he said, may be "oversampling independents at the expense of Republicans."

The poll, conducted last week among 806 Minnesotans, had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4.7 percentage points.

Rachel E. Stassen-Berger • Twitter: @rachelsb