Gov. Mark Dayton maintains a lead over Republican Jeff Johnson in a new Star Tribune Minnesota Poll, but Johnson gained some ground while Dayton’s support stayed flat.
The poll taken Oct. 20-22 shows Dayton leading Johnson, 45 percent to 38 percent, with Independence Party candidate Hannah Nicollet at 5 percent. In September, the poll showed Dayton at 45, Johnson at 33 and Nicollet at 1 percent. With Election Day just over a week away, the DFL governor has shown a consistent polling advantage.
More Minnesotans also now say they have made up their minds about the race, with 10 percent still undecided, compared to 20 percent five weeks ago. They would have to break in large numbers for Johnson if he is to overcome Dayton’s lead.
Johnson boosted his name recognition, which has been one of his principal challenges. But the poll shows the Hennepin County commissioner and former state legislator is still struggling to make a strong impression — good or bad. His favorability rating is just 27 percent overall and 11 percent of those polled still don’t recognize his name. Another 20 percent view him unfavorably, while 42 percent had no opinion of him.
Dayton’s challenge is different: He has 100 percent name recognition, but his approval rating remains stuck below 50 percent. His current 49 percent approval rating is up slightly from 46 percent in September, but still down significantly from a 58 percent approval rating in a February Minnesota Poll. Dayton also registers a low approval rating with voters who call themselves independents.
The new poll, conducted by the independent polling firm Mason-Dixon for the Star Tribune, interviewed 800 likely Minnesota voters. It has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
“Our own polling has consistently shown us with a significantly larger lead,” said Katharine Tinucci, Dayton’s campaign manager. Dayton’s campaign has stressed his experience and accomplishments of his first term.
Johnson’s campaign has leveled charges of incompetence against Dayton, and spokesman Jeff Bakken said the Star Tribune poll shows Johnson has room to catch up and pass Dayton amid a national political climate that Republicans see as favorable.
“All the momentum in this race is on Jeff’s side, and the result is going to come down to turnout,” Bakken said. “And in the midterm election in this political environment, we like Jeff’s odds.”
Dayton’s support is strongest in Hennepin and Ramsey counties; among women, who support him 51 to 32 percent over Johnson; among voters between 18 and 34, and over 50; and with people who earn less than $50,000 a year. Johnson has a 45-38 percent lead among men; he’s also ahead in Twin Cities suburban counties outside of Hennepin and Ramsey, among voters age 35 to 49; and among voters who consider themselves independent.
Those independent voters appear to be a trouble spot for Dayton. The poll found he has a 29 percent approval rating among independents, while 55 percent disapprove. The poll also appears to show Johnson holding an edge among currently undecided voters. When poll respondents were asked if they had to decide today, Dayton’s support jumps just 2 percent to 47 percent, while Johnson gains 5 percentage points for 42 percent.
Outside the Twin Cities, Dayton and Johnson are close to tied in southern Minnesota, but Dayton holds an 8-point lead in northern Minnesota. Dayton also leads Johnson on a series of issue questions, with voters preferring Dayton’s leadership on public education, the economy, health care, transportation and transit, and by a very narrow margin, taxes.
“I support Dayton — for now,” said Pauline Carlson, a 63-year-old retired retail worker in Albert Lea, who participated in the poll. Generally a DFL voter, Carlson said Dayton has mostly satisfied her, with a few notable exceptions. A lifelong smoker, she was upset that he signed a cigarette-tax increase in 2013 that added about $1.60 to the price of a pack, which helped pay for the new Minnesota Vikings stadium.
“I can’t afford to go to that stadium, and it’s wrong that I had to help pay for it,” Carlson said. “I’ve tried to quit smoking. I can’t. So now I drive to Iowa to buy cigarettes.”
Respondent Pete Vikeras, a 48-year-old computer programmer from Savage, had the opposite impulse. A Republican, he’s supporting Johnson despite being impressed by Dayton’s high-profile stadium push.
“The one thing I’m pleased with is we’re getting that stadium built,” Vikeras said. He said he’s “not really studied up” on Johnson as a candidate, but the “R” behind his name “is good enough for me,” Vikeras added.
Even among Republicans, however, Johnson has had difficulty nailing down support. While 80 percent of Republicans plan to vote for him, only 53 percent have a favorable impression of him. Another 39 percent are neutral, while 8 percent don’t recognize his name. Dayton, meanwhile, is backed by 90 percent of Democrats, and has a favorable rating of 83 percent among his party.
“He comes across to me as a weak candidate,” Jim Render, a 61-year-old real estate developer from Orono, said of Johnson. A Republican who said he’d never vote for Dayton — despite considering him “basically honest” — Render said he’s leaning toward casting what he called a protest vote for Nicollet.
“Both parties pander to the extremists, and nobody pays attention,” Render said. “Sixty percent of Americans are on the same page about nearly everything, and the candidates we get are 20 percent on one side and 20 percent on the other.”