A majority of Minnesotans say Gov. Mark Dayton is doing a good job at the state's helm, according to a new Star Tribune Minnesota Poll.
A year after 43 percent of voters sent Dayton to the governor's office, 52 percent of Minnesotans now say they approve of the way he is handling the job. Another 31 percent disapprove, while 17 percent had no opinion or declined to answer the question.
Given his ongoing battles with a Republican-led House and Senate, the DFL governor pronounced himself pleased with the numbers.
"They're definitely better than I would have expected, given the controversies of the year, from the budget impasse and the shutdown," Dayton said. "And the stadium issue is certainly controversial. So I'm encouraged. It provides great motivation to work even harder."
The poll interviewed 807 Minnesota adults statewide Nov. 2-3 and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.
The numbers show only a slight dip in Dayton's approval rating since a May Minnesota Poll, before the early summer shutdown that shuttered government for almost three weeks. In that poll, 54 percent approved of the governor's work.
But a year on the job has left Dayton with some dings too. A disapproval rate that was 20 percent in May has risen to 31 percent, and the percentage with no opinion has shrunk from 26 percent to 17 percent.
"I'm not really happy with him. He doesn't seem to be helping much," said Angel Klippenes, 42, of Staples. Klippenes, who said she is an independent voter, added that she thinks Dayton is doing "not so bad [but] not so good."
The poll shows Dayton doing best among Democrats and older Minnesotans. Seventy-six percent of Democrats registered approval. Among Minnesotans 65 and older, 67 percent approve of the job he's doing -- his highest marks among any demographic group.
"I'm two months away from 65, so they are my peers," joked the governor, who was the oldest Minnesota governor to be elected.
More seriously, Dayton said, "I think the elderly have memories that go back further than young people." They have watched him for more than three decades, he said, and "understand my sincerity."
Norman Heitz, 75, of Minneapolis, said he believes Dayton "wants to get some real work done."
"I think he's really trying to do a lot of good, and he's being stepped on all over the place," said Heitz, a DFLer. "The Republicans don't want to do anything he wants to do."
Dave Walle, 62, of Rochester, agrees. "I think he has great challenges," said Walle, an independent. "It's not a perfect job, but I think he is responding to real life." Walle said he appreciates that Dayton has traveled the state to listen to Minnesotans.
The survey sample consisted of 24 percent self-identified Republicans, 34 percent Democrats and 33 percent independents, with the rest identifying with another party or no party. Typically, about a third of Minnesotans identify themselves with each political grouping but those figures change over time. Unlike some other states, Minnesota does not have voter registration by party.
Ken Martin, chair of the DFL Party, said it was not surprising that a third of Minnesotans identified themselves as Democrats.
"Democrats in this state still enjoy a lead over Republicans," Martin said.
Martin and Minnesota Republican Party chair Tony Sutton claimed that some of the independents probably tend to vote with their party.
"If your party split is true, a lot of independents have been voting for Republicans in recent elections," Sutton said. He said he believes the poll underrepresents both Democrats and Republican voters.
Rachel E. Stassen-Berger Twitter: @rachelsb