From politics to health care to the economy, even on political giving and race relations, Minnesota men and women hold vastly different opinions, according to a new Star Tribune Minnesota Poll.
Although political party affiliation is the single most determinative factor in how Minnesotans answered pollsters’ questions, gender is a very close second.
“The magnitude of the differences are pretty stark and certainly has both political and policy implications,” said Kathryn Pearson, associate professor of political science at the University of Minnesota.
The gender chasm is most immediately evident in candidate choices. Nearly 60 percent of likely women voters prefer Democratic U.S. Sen. Al Franken, while only 28 percent would choose Republican challenger Mike McFadden. For men, 45 percent want McFadden, compared with 37 percent who support Franken. Similarly, DFL Gov. Mark Dayton has opened up a nearly 30 percentage-point gap among women over Republican challenger Jeff Johnson. Men prefer Johnson to Dayton by 43 to 34 percent, but his advantage with men is a fraction of Dayton’s lead among women.
The Minnesota Poll, conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling and Research Inc., interviewed 800 likely voters from Sept. 8-10 by land-line phones and cellphones. It had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. It included 52 percent women and 48 percent men.
Nearly two-thirds of Minnesota men say they disapprove of the job the Democratic president has done. Women are more mixed on the president’s job performance — 48 percent approve of Obama and 42 percent disapprove.
Similarly, 59 percent of women said they would oppose rolling back the tax increases Dayton and DFLers ushered in last year, while 47 percent of men said they would support a rollback.
Paul Fritze, a 75-year-old retired schoolteacher from New Ulm, is one of those men backing McFadden.
“I’m hoping that he won’t sit there and follow Obama all the time like Al Franken does,” he said.
Fritze is like most Minnesota men in his unhappiness with President Obama. Both parties have worked to close the political gender gap.
“I think Republicans have recognized, of late, the need to focus on constituencies or communities of people that we haven’t done a good job with in the past,” said Keith Downey, chairman of the Republican Party of Minnesota.
Ken Martin, head of the state DFL, acknowledged that his party has to improve its standing with men.
“The reality is, it is an issue for Democratic candidates appealing to men — especially older white men, and we have to find a way to communicate better with them regarding issues that are important to them,” Martin said.
Women’s historical preference for Democratic candidates is in part “driven by women’s greater preferences for the government’s role in providing a social safety net,” said Pearson.
Barbara Souther, 65, of Edina, said she appreciated Dayton’s investments in infrastructure and education: “I commend him for getting a lot of things back on track.”
The poll found that women are more likely to make a political contribution than men and think race relations are better in the United States than do men.
But the differences run deeper than political preference. A gender split was also clear on the federal Affordable Care Act, which in Minnesota provides insurance through the MNsure exchange.
Republicans this year have pressed hard on MNsure and the ACA as examples of Democratic failure.
That message has hit home with male voters. The poll found that 57 percent of men in Minnesota say the massive health care program is a failure. Only 31 percent of women felt the same, while 43 percent said they consider the program a success.
Overall, the poll found that 44 percent of respondents consider it a failure, driven in large part by negative ratings from men and Republicans. Among Democrats, 64 percent said the program was a success.
“These findings are not surprising, given MNsure’s rocky rollout and the nature of the national discourse about the Affordable Care Act. Overall, the ACA has had a profoundly positive impact in Minnesota,” said Scott Leitz, MNsure CEO.
That rockiness was exacerbated earlier this week, when insurer PreferredOne announced it was pulling out of the exchange because it could not sustain the low rates it had initially offered.
A divide on economy
Men and women also were diametrically opposed on whom they trust with the economy. Nearly half of women said they trust Democrats, while the same number of men said they trust Republicans. About 30 percent of men said they trust Democrats and an equal percentage of women said they trust Republicans.
Women also were more positive about the economy overall. Nearly 60 percent of them say the Minnesota economy is better than it was four years ago, compared with 49 percent for men.
Men’s and women’s economic differences may provide a reason. Women are less likely to be in the workforce and more likely to work minimum-wage jobs. Democrats in Minnesota raised the minimum wage this year and Democrats in Washington have been pushing for a wage hike.
Women are also less likely to be unemployed. Their jobs did not disappear as quickly as men’s did during the recession and are recovering more quickly.
“I’m in a better place than a lot of people. I have no debt and I own a home,” said Souther, a sales associate at Macy’s.
Larry Ness, a self-identified independent who plans to vote for both Dayton and Franken, said that he and his wife are struggling and it is only getting worse. He delivered bread for a bakery for 40 years before getting injured.
“When I first started, my Social Security could pay all our bills,” said Ness, 77, of Albert Lea. “Now, some months we don’t have enough.”
Staff writers Abby Simons and Corey Mitchell contributed to this report.