Minnesota Poll: Concern for nation vs. state opens wide a political divide

  • Article by: PATRICIA LOPEZ , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 4, 2007 - 9:44 PM

Minnesotans are pessimistic for the nation and optimistic for the state. In between is evidence of a more polarized body politic.

A deepening gloom has seized Minnesotans about the fate of their nation, even though they remain relatively upbeat about their own state, a Star Tribune Minnesota Poll has found.

Across the line, whether male or female, middle-aged or senior citizen, college educated or high school dropout, the malaise is evident, with 65 percent of Minnesota adults overall saying the United States is headed in the wrong direction, up from 22 percent at the beginning of the decade.

By contrast, despite an apocalyptic summer of drought, floods and catastrophe, fully half are optimistic about the state.

Much of the funk may be tied to displeasure with President Bush, whose job approval rating has sunk to 30 percent among Minnesotans -- the lowest level yet recorded by the poll.

But those overall numbers don't give the full picture.

Underneath is evidence of a profound partisan divide roiling the state, driven largely by political ideology and sentiments on the Iraq war.

For instance, 94 percent of DFLers now give a thumbs-down to the president's performance, along with 70 percent of independents. But 70 percent of Republicans approve of the job Bush is doing.

"This shows a hyperpolarization we haven't seen in this state before," said Larry Jacobs, director of the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance at the University of Minnesota's Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs. "You didn't see this kind of gap between the parties even going back to the Vietnam War. This level of polarization is just historically extraordinary."

Rather than the purple amalgam of those who find themselves in the middle on most issues, Jacobs said, Minnesota may be evolving into more of a true red-blue state. On a map, he said, "it would look more like polka dots of hard-core Democrats and Republicans, living in parallel universes."

For Lee Becicka, the state of the nation begins and ends with its leader.

"We're definitely on the wrong track -- look at the president we've got," said Becicka, 63, a retired factory worker from Zimmerman. "He set this war up for something that wasn't true."

Sharon Van Gieson, 69, of Bloomington, believes just as firmly that the United States is forging ahead, both here and abroad. "Nobody would have chosen this," she said, referring to the Iraq war. "We're on the track we need to be. We have to fight this whether we want to or not and the president is doing as well as he can."

But those who share Van Gieson's opinion are at their smallest number in years. Only one in four says the nation is going in the right direction.

More bullish on Minnesota

Minnesotans are considerably more enthusiastic about their state, with satisfaction highest among college graduates and the under-40 crowd.

Democrats are evenly split, with 42 percent optimistic about the state's direction while another 42 percent were more downbeat.

"Things are not too bad," said John Marum, 80, a retired aviation worker who lives on his family farm outside Eyota. "The state's not too bad."

The disparity between how Minnesotans see their state vs. their country has seldom been more apparent.

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