After the Star Tribune's first round of election-year polls in January, we used this space for some key takeaways. As you may remember, that poll had good findings for Republicans, with President Donald Trump's approval rating holding up decently, while Democrats held a narrow lead in our congressional polling, but not enough to foretell any kind of "blue wave."
Our most recent round of polling tells a much different story.
Because politics has become so nationalized, an unpopular president portends bad things for his party, as Democrats learned in 2010 and 2014.
Trump's approval rating has dropped from 45 percent to 39 percent, while 56 percent disapprove of his handling of the job, according to our recent Minnesota Poll, which was conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy in partnership with MPR News. The pollster conducted 800 interviews, with a margin of sampling error of 3.5 percentage points.
The question is whether Minnesota voters who disapprove of Trump will take out their frustrations on Republican candidates — yes, it may seem strange, but voters often choose legislative candidates based on how they feel about the president.
Perhaps most surprising and most troubling for the GOP: Trump's approval rating in southern Minnesota is just 40 percent, which belies the conventional wisdom that Trump is popular in greater Minnesota.
In other results, Democrats are safely ahead of Republicans in nearly every major statewide race. U.S. Rep. Tim Walz leads Jeff Johnson by 9 points in the governor's race, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar is up big over Jim Newberger, and U.S. Sen. Tina Smith leads state Sen. Karin Housley by 7 points.
The only real bright spot for Republicans? Doug Wardlow is within striking distance of U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison in the attorney general contest, though still trailing by 5 percentage points, with 18 percent undecided. That's after Ellison was accused by an ex-girlfriend of domestic abuse, which he denies.
Republicans can also take comfort in a few other findings:
Walz may have a comfortable lead over Johnson, but he's still short of 50 percent, with plenty of Minnesotans unfamiliar with both candidates and probably just now beginning to make decisions.
Smith, who was preferred by our poll respondents 44-37, also has work to do getting to 50 percent, while Housley remains largely unknown.
Republicans also believe the composition of the electorate will work to their advantage. Nearly one in five of our poll respondents was age 18-34, and that group favored Democrats by huge numbers. But a GOP operative I talked to is betting the electorate will be much older. And 61 percent of our respondents were in Hennepin, Ramsey and the suburban counties, whereas Republicans think the electorate will tilt toward greater Minnesota.
Any way you cut it, our poll should serve as a warning to Republicans — there's work to do.
J. Patrick Coolican 651-925-5042 Twitter: @jpcoolican firstname.lastname@example.org