Minnesota Poll: Obama support warms in state

  • Article by: KEVIN DIAZ , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 26, 2010 - 8:14 AM

The last time he got more than 50 percent approval was in September 2009.

President Barack Obama

Photo: Olivier Douliery, Mct - Mct

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President Obama appears to have shored up his support in the state, a new Star Tribune Minnesota Poll has found.

Obama's statewide job approval rating climbed to 51 percent in the mid-October poll. That's slightly better than he has done in recent national polls, and a 7-point jump from the 44 percent who approved of his job performance in a July Minnesota Poll. But it's still down from his peak of popularity three months after his inauguration in April 2009, when 62 percent of Minnesotans approved of his performance.

As Obama campaigns for Democrats across the nation who are facing stiff challenges in next week's midterm elections, his job approval nationwide has declined to 48 percent.

"I don't see it being like it was two years ago in the crazed fervor of the Obama campaign," said poll respondent Steve Marchese, a 43-year-old St. Paul lawyer who still counts himself as a strong Obama supporter. "But I don't hear anybody saying we're going to sit this election out."

The poll was conducted between Oct. 18 and 21 among 1,206 Minnesota adults on both land lines and cell phones. It has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.6 percentage points. Calls were made before the president's visit to Minnesota over the weekend, during a week of mixed economic news, with the stock markets climbing but the national jobless rate stuck at 9.6 percent.

The last time more than half of Minnesota Poll respondents expressed support for Obama was in September 2009, when 51 percent said they approved of the job he was doing.

But if Obama partisans in the state sense a slight rebound in his political fortunes, it hasn't reached political independents such as Tony Beneke, a 35-year-old beer distributor from Hamburg.

"If there's a 50-50, I'm on the side of disapprove," said Beneke, a poll respondent who said he had no strong preference in the 2008 election, though he eventually sided with GOP candidate John McCain. "The change that we have had so far hasn't been good for me or the people I deal with," said Beneke, who is married with three children. "People are working hard for a living every day, and they're going home with less and less. There's something wrong."

For Beneke, as for many other respondents interviewed about the poll, the flagging economy most affected their view of the Obama presidency. "All right, let's go," Beneke said. The inauguration is over, he added, "do something."

Obama defenders blame the Republicans.

"Obama can't do everything," said Kathleen Johnson, 64, a Democrat and retired bus driver from Grasston. "The Republicans fight him on everything. ... He's trying, but they won't let him do it."

Only 25 percent said they believe Obama's $787 billion stimulus package was money "well spent." A clear majority - 57 percent - said it was "mostly wasted."

"He never should have put out all that money," said Phyllis Weltzin, a retired homemaker from Rochester. "He's just giving it away. He's giving everything away. I'm old, and I'm just concerned that our kids are going to have it tough."

'I don't understand'

The poll still found Minnesotans favoring Obama's side on which party they trust most to handle the economy, with 41 percent favoring Democrats and 36 percent favoring Republicans.

Democrats have a significant edge on "helping the middle class," by a margin of 48 percent to 30 percent. They also are more trusted to handle health care policy -- 44 percent, compared to 32 percent for Republicans.

Minnesotans are more evenly split on the president's landmark health care overhaul, with 43 percent saying the state should participate in the reforms passed by Congress earlier this year, while 39 percent say the state should opt out.

Significantly, 19 percent said they don't know or declined to answer. That suggests a large degree of uncertainty about the complicated, multifaceted legislation that sparked uniform GOP opposition and vehement Tea Party protests.

"I guess I don't understand that totally," said Peggy Schroeder, a 58-year-old casino manager in Willmar. "If people don't have health care, are they going to just give it to them? Where's the cutoff line? What are the guidelines?"

Schroeder, who generally supports Obama, said the president lost some luster on the bank bailouts he inherited from President George W. Bush. "I can't think of anything the banks did for me out of all the money they got," she said.

On each major issue like the economy, health care, and the war in Afghanistan, at least a fifth of poll respondents either expressed dissatisfaction with both parties, or said they didn't know which one to trust more.

Among political independents, Obama's job approval rating was slightly lower at 48 percent, with 39 percent expressing disapproval.

"They talk a lot of bipartisanship, but I don't see it," said 46-year-old Carl Arndt, a teacher in Rosemount who describes himself as an independent. "I think it goes back and forth between both parties. Whoever is in charge seems to think all of a sudden, 'We can do what we want to do.'"

No tax-cut extensions for rich

On tax cuts, one of the showdown issues facing Obama in the coming months, the poll found a plurality of Minnesota's supporting one of two Democratic positions in the debate. Thirty-one percent say they would continue the Bush tax cuts only for families that make less than $250,000, as proposed by the White House. Another 30 percent favor allowing the tax cuts to expire for everyone, a position favored by some liberals in Congress.

Only 26 percent support the GOP position of continuing the tax cuts for everyone, regardless of income.

Despite ongoing support for many of Obama's policy positions, the poll suggests that after two years in office, the shine is off the apple. For ardent supporters like Marchese, it's a sign of a curious void that seems to have been filled by Obama's conservative critics.

"For somebody who was incredibly masterful during the election at being such an effective communicator, he has been remarkably unable to do that same kind of job as president," Marchese said. "I don't know why."

Staff writer Jeremy Herb contributed to this report. Kevin Diaz is a correspondent in the Star Tribune Washington Bureau.

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