Liberal Minnesota?

Our Thinking Minnesota survey reveals Minnesotans aren’t as liberal as many think.

The conventional wisdom is that Minnesotans exhibit conservative values in their personal lives but hold mostly liberal political views. The first part is true: by many measures—such as work ethic, percentage of births to unwed mothers, community participation as volunteers, contributions to charities, etc.—Minnesotans demonstrate social mores that would generally be described as conservative.

But for those who assume Minnesotans are liberal when it comes to politics, this month’s Thinking Minnesota Poll has some eye-opening results. Start with taxes, perhaps the most basic dividing line between liberals and conservatives. Minnesota is undeniably a high-tax state, but most voters say they don’t want it that way. By a stunning 65 percent to 31 percent, Minnesotans favor cutting personal income tax rates in all tax brackets.

Other tax cuts are popular, too. When told that Minnesota’s corporate income tax rate is the third-highest in the country, voters favor reducing it by 56 percent to 39 percent. And by 50 percent to 39 percent, Minnesotans would like to see the estate tax abolished.

Results of the poll on spending are similar. Minnesotans are skeptical that state government spends their tax dollars wisely: poll respondents attribute 20 percent to wasteful spending. So, not surprisingly, Minnesotans overwhelmingly support, by 76 percent to 18 percent, cutting state government spending by 10 to 20 percent to eliminate waste and fraud.

When we turn to non-fiscal issues, Minnesotans continue to display a conservative bent. On immigration, proposals that are popular on the left fall flat. By 62 percent to 29 percent, Minnesotans oppose abolishing ICE. And by 60 percent to 36 percent, they don’t want Minnesota to be a sanctuary state.

On education, only 33 percent of Minnesotans favor the common practice of teaching the political doctrines of white privilege and white supremacy to public school students, while 53 percent are opposed. And race-based discipline quotas, the subject of Katherine Kersten’s article in this issue, fare even worse, being opposed by 71 percent with only 12 percent in favor.

On transportation, too, Minnesotans lean to the right—or that is what they tell pollsters, anyway. The state’s transportation policies emphasize trains and bicycle paths, but 77 percent of Minnesotans prefer that our agencies concentrate on roads and bridges. Only 19 percent want to see their money go to light rail and bicycle paths.

Minnesotans are more closely split on healthcare but still lean toward conservative policies. By 51 percent to 42 percent, Minnesotans favor policies that increase competition in the health insurance market rather than the single payer, government-only plan that is favored by the left.

These responses suggest that when it comes to specific policy issues, Minnesotans are not so different from our neighbors in Iowa, the Dakotas and Wisconsin, who are generally stereotyped as more conservative. But that raises an obvious question: why do some Minnesotans apparently not vote for the policies they tell us they want?

The reasons why people vote for political candidates are complex. Issues are important, but so are candidates’ personalities, an overriding emotional commitment on a single issue, and often simply family tradition. But if there is one takeaway from the Thinking Minnesota Poll, it is this: conservative political candidates in Minnesota shouldn’t shy away from conservative positions because most voters are with them. But they should sharpen and highlight the policy differences between them and their liberal opponents.