Gov. Tim Walz's approval rating has fallen to 57%, dipping eight percentage points during a summer of urban unrest and a continuing COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new Star Tribune/MPR News/KARE 11 Minnesota Poll.
The survey of likely Minnesota voters also showed that as the coronavirus case count has climbed, so have concerns about the virus.
With 97,638 cases and 2,015 deaths recorded in Minnesota, more people said they know family members, friends or acquaintances who have tested positive. And the percentage of people worried about getting seriously ill has ticked up since a poll in May. However, the latest results show many are hesitant about quickly using a vaccine if one becomes available.
If a COVID-19 vaccine became available with government approval and scientists' support, 48% said they would immediately get vaccinated while 43% said they would not. Nine percent were unsure.
Democrats were more likely to say they would seek a vaccine, with 54% saying they would immediately get inoculated, compared to 42% of Republicans. The political divide was even more pronounced on concerns about becoming seriously ill from the coronavirus.
Among Republicans, 30% said they were either very or somewhat worried about getting sick, compared to 71% of Democrats. Younger people between 18 and 34 were more likely to be concerned about serious illness than people in older age groups.
Overall, 51% said they were worried about becoming seriously ill from the coronavirus, up seven percentage points from a May Minnesota Poll. The heightened concern comes as two-thirds of Minnesotans polled said they know someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, compared with slightly more than a third in May.
Dave Kranz, a retiree from Waconia, knows four people who tested positive, including a man who died from the virus. His children work in health care, and he is very concerned about them — but he said so far neither has gotten it.
However, if a vaccine were available he would not rush to get it.
"I'm not an anti-vaccine person by any means," Kranz said. But he added that he is wary of President Donald Trump's administration rushing a vaccine and said he would wait to hear first from leading infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci and other medical professionals.
"I just do not trust this administration," said Kranz, who supports Joe Biden for president. "I and a lot of people would be real leery."
Concerns about a vaccine vary and can be deeply personal. For Burnsville resident Kelly Geiger — who described her political leanings as "middle-right" — the decision is not about politics. She is immunocompromised, and said she would like to see how other people with similar health concerns fare.
"I'll jump in when I know it's safe and after I've consulted with all my doctors," said Geiger, a stay-at-home mom who does freelance work building websites. "I definitely need to go about it with a level head and be my own advocate."
Geiger said COVID-19 has become overly politicized and there is blame to share among both Republicans and Democrats. She said both Trump and Walz seem to be doing the best they can given the situation, though she wishes national and state leaders reacted faster in the early days of the virus.
Walz's approval rating spiked this spring, when a Minnesota Poll from mid-May showed 65% of likely voters had a positive opinion of the governor's work. Before that, 56% had supported the job he was doing — similar to the latest numbers.
The new poll results come from 800 interviews with likely Minnesota voters, which were conducted from Sept. 21 to Sept. 23. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
The results come as the first-term DFL governor has continued to use emergency powers to address the spread of the coronavirus and turned to the National Guard to contain the civil unrest following the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd. The poll from mid-May was taken before Floyd's death on May 25, which sparked widespread protests, some of them devolving into looting and arson.
That changed things for Lee Schultz, a quality manager from Howard Lake. In the early months of COVID-19, he said he was telling people he wished Walz was running for president. But the state's handling of the unrest, as well as some of the continued and additional coronavirus regulations, changed his mind.
"I think he should have stepped in way sooner than he did, and brought the National Guard in and state police in sooner, and then after that I think it kind of went downhill," Schultz said.
He still believes Walz is doing an "OK job" on COVID-19, but questions the state's method for deciding which workers were essential and permitted to go to their workplace. The Walz administration has said much of that decisionmaking was based on federal guidance. Minnesota, like much of the nation, has suffered massive unemployment and economic slowdowns during the pandemic.
Closures of small businesses but not big-box stores irked Schultz, and he said while he understands the mask mandate, it feels "a little over the top." He would like things to return to normal as soon as possible, and said if an approved vaccine came out he would get it right away.
So would Todd Toner, of Edina, who noted that at age 56 he is at a slightly higher risk and wants to be safe.
He would like more widespread rapid testing and hopes the state can find ways to help prevent businesses in the food and entertainment industries from closing. But he said he generally supports Walz's pandemic response, adding that the governor comes across as a "sane, sharp individual."
Toner has a friend who tested positive, as did his parents' neighbors. And he said a close friend of a friend died of COVID-19.
"It seems to be getting closer to home, so to speak," he said.