Minnesota voters overwhelmingly say that the country is heading in the wrong direction and only 21 percent feel the next four years will be better, according to a new Star Tribune Minnesota Poll.
Statewide, 65 percent of Minnesotans say the nation is off-track, with just 28 percent happy with the country’s direction. These gloomy feelings are shared across income levels and among old, young, urban and rural voters.
The unease is also looming large at a pivotal time in the presidential race.
The poll reveals significant doubts about the abilities and truthfulness of the two presidential front-runners, Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump.
More than half of Minnesotans say that jobs, terrorism and national security are their top concerns heading into the fall election.
Minnesota voters are only slightly more hopeful than the rest of the nation. In early April, a poll by Gallup found that 71 percent of respondents were dissatisfied with the way things are going in the country.
The Star Tribune poll found that Minnesotans who are the most disheartened live in outstate and suburban areas, where 69 percent of voters believe the nation is on the wrong track. Minnesotans earning less than $50,000 are the most pessimistic, with 75 percent downcast over the direction of the country.
The discouraged outlook comes as President Obama’s approval rating hovers around 50 percent nationally in recent surveys.
Jobs are a top concern
Dan Kortuem of Mankato is retired but says his two daughters — both of whom recently graduated from college — are having a harder time in life than he did when he was their age.
“Compared to what I had to do and compared to the way I got paid, they are getting screwed,” Kortuem said. “What’s important to me is the economy. I’m retired right now, I’m doing pretty good, my kids are not OK. I worry about the economy and the way things are going.”
The pervasive economic insecurity is a stark contrast to the relative prosperity in Minnesota, which has the fifth-lowest unemployment rate in the country and has scored at or near the top in recent economic confidence surveys.
University of Minnesota sociology professor Phyllis Moen attributes uncertainty in a good economy to the changing nature of work itself.
“Even those with good jobs, those with a good salary and benefits, are not sure they can keep it, due to downsizing, automation, offshoring,” she said.
Minnesota’s youngest voters were more upbeat than rural and older voters. Among those between 18 and 34 years old, 58 percent say the country is on the wrong track. But among those over 65, fully 70 percent are disheartened with the direction of the country.
Jobs are by far the top concern among voters in Hennepin and Ramsey counties, while outstate Minnesota voters are most worried about terrorism, government spending and the national debt.
Anxiety about the country’s problems comes as the two presidential front-runners are having trouble convincing Minnesota voters they are up to the rigors of the job.
Less than half of the 800 people polled feel confident about the integrity of Clinton and Trump.
Statewide, 37 percent of voters think Clinton is honest and only 34 percent say Trump is truthful. By contrast, voters are far more trusting of both the GOP and Democratic rivals, even as their campaigns fade further out of contention.
Among Minnesotans sampled last week, 76 percent believe Democratic Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is trustworthy, more than double the percentage of those who feel the same way about Clinton.
On the Republican side, 64 percent of Minnesotans find Ohio Gov. John Kasich to be honest. Trump’s closest rival in terms of pledged delegates, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, is believed truthful among 43 percent of Minnesota voters, nearly 10 percentage points higher than the New York billionaire.
When it comes to having the temperament and experience to be president, only 26 percent say Trump has the right skills. Fifty-two percent of Minnesota voters say Clinton has those attributes.
But here again, Minnesota voters said Sanders, Cruz and Kasich have better presidential skills and temperament than their party’s front-runner. Fifty-eight percent think Sanders has the right temperament, while 42 percent gave the nod to Cruz and 59 percent believe Kasich would be an effective president.
“I think you’re going to have a lot of voters vote for Hillary because they know what they’re going to get,” said Connie Anderson of Little Canada.
Anderson considers herself a Republican and likes a lot of Trump’s ideas, but is nervous about how he would handle foreign policy, so she says she is likely to support Clinton.
Nervous about the race
Hamline University professor Jenny Keil said the concerns about the economy could be a reflection of people nervous about the presidential race itself, particularly as both front-runners generate such strong negative feelings.
“People may be worried about the changes that may happen if the wrong candidate gets in office,” said Keil, chairwoman of Hamline’s economics department. “They think, ‘What if it’s worse for me?’ We’ve had eight years of the current president … but then they think, ‘What if I lose my job in six months and I wonder if something dramatic will change?’ ”
Minnesotans have a lot of uncertainty about the next four years, the poll found.
Across the state, 21 percent of those polled said they expect their lives to be better as the next president wraps up his or her first term, but 13 percent said they expect to be worse off. Another 30 percent said they were not sure about the future.
Income did not make a significant difference in the answers. Among those making less than $50,000 a year, 20 percent thought things would get better and among those making more than $50,000, 22 percent thought things would get better.
Democrats were more optimistic than Republicans, with 35 percent of those identifying as DFL saying they believed things would get better. Only 13 percent of those identifying as Republicans thought so. Among independents, only 12 percent believed things would get better in four years.
The poll of registered voters has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percent.