With support that cuts across gender, regional and age lines, he has weathered a difficult summer.
Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who narrowly won reelection a year ago, is impressing Minnesotans as much as ever, recording his second-highest job approval in a new Star Tribune Minnesota Poll.
Fifty-nine percent of Minnesota adults approve of the job Pawlenty is doing as governor, his highest rating in the poll since February 2003, shortly after he took office.
The new poll, taken Sept. 18-23, shows that Pawlenty has weathered a deadly bridge collapse on his watch and questions about competence and openness in his health and transportation departments.
Minnesotans have given Pawlenty the benefit of the doubt, said Chris Gilbert, a political science professor at Gustavus Adolphus College, believing that he is working in the best interest of the state. "In today's political age, that is gold," Gilbert said.
After the bridge collapse, Gilbert said, "He came off as doing exactly what a governor should do, the intervention appeared quick, it appeared decisive and it appeared like something was being done," Gilbert said. "The overall impression outweighs any specific concerns that Democrats and others might want to toss out there."
Pawlenty's strong approval ratings cut across gender, regional and age lines. Men and women were about equal in approving of Pawlenty's performance. The highest approval level came from 18- to 39-year-olds, with more than six out of 10 approving. Among respondents older than 60, 53 percent approved.
Meanwhile, Minnesotans are almost evenly split on the job being done by the Legislature, with 43 percent approving and 39 percent disapproving.
The poll surveyed 802 Minnesotans and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4 percentage points. The error margin is larger for subgroups.
The poll was conducted after the Aug. 1 collapse of the Interstate 35W bridge and flooding that ravaged portions of southeastern Minnesota. It also was conducted after Pawlenty called a one-day special legislative session to deal with flood relief.
"We're pleased that Minnesotans approve of the job Governor Pawlenty's doing," said Pawlenty spokesman Brian McClung. "It shows that a strong majority back the governor's message of holding government accountable, setting priorities and living within our means. Polls go up and down -- we're always focused on doing what's right for Minnesota."
Distance from Bush
Pawlenty appears to have effectively distanced himself from President Bush. Among Democrats and those who described themselves as leaning Democratic, 41 percent approved of the job Pawlenty was doing, compared with only 7 percent who approved of Bush's job performance.
"The fact that his poll numbers are pretty steady would seem to suggest that Minnesotans aren't blaming him personally for Minnesota problems, particularly the Minnesota transportation system and the bridge collapse," said Joseph Peschek, a professor of political science at Hamline University.
"I'm a little bit surprised that he has not taken a hit," Peschek said.
Long-time Pawlenty ally Charlie Weaver, the governor's first chief of staff, said it may not matter whether people agree with Pawlenty on all issues, but that Minnesotans see him as sincere and empathetic.
"You can't fake the real part. You can't pretend to be authentic," said Weaver, now executive director of the Minnesota Business Partnership.
Poll respondent John Marden, 42, of Minneapolis, said he approves of Pawlenty because the governor did not support the idea of immediately increasing taxes in the aftermath of the bridge collapse. A libertarian, Marden said he doesn't believe Pawlenty is conservative enough in keeping the size of government down.
"I agree with his pledge to not increase taxes at the drop of a hat," Marden said. "He has shown leadership from the perspective of not just jumping on the raising-taxes-bandwagon, but is looking for the solution to the real problems."