Poll: The view from the ‘other’ Minnesota?

The interests, values and policy preferences of most Greater Minnesota residents are at odds with the liberal agenda coming out of St. Paul.

The most recent Thinking Minnesota Poll, a quarterly research project carried out by Center of the American Experiment, accompanies this issue’s cover story on the urban elites’ war on Greater Minnesota. This quarter, for the first time, the poll focuses exclusively on Greater Minnesota. It confirms that the interests, values and policy preferences of most Greater Minnesota residents are at odds with the liberal agenda coming out of St. Paul.

Meeting Street Research, a polling company based in Charleston, South Carolina, employed a mix of cellphones and landlines to interview 500 registered Minnesota voters, all outside the metro area, between June 15 and June 17. The margin of error for a sample size of 500 is +/- 4.38 percent.

The survey finds that Greater Minnesotans are significantly more apt to describe themselves as conservative than residents of the Twin Cities metro area. A plurality of 41 percent say they are conservative, compared to only 19 percent who describe themselves as liberal. Consistent with that orientation, Greater Minnesota voters are likely to view much of state spending as wasteful. In this poll, the median voter estimated that 35 percent of state spending is wasted.

Still, Greater Minnesotans are not in an angry mood. By 51 percent to 38 percent, they think things in Minnesota are on the right track—a smaller margin than in the metro area, but still positive. By 48 percent to 37 percent, they approve of the performance of Minnesota’s legislature, while by 53 percent to 31 percent they approve of Governor Tim Walz’s first year in office.

But when we turn to specific issues, the Thinking Minnesota Poll finds that Greater Minnesotans generally reject the current DFL agenda. That rejection suggests that the governor’s first year in office was deemed a success because, in contrast with the Dayton era, there was little drama: St. Paul Democrats and Republicans compromised, no radical legislation passed, and there was no shutdown or serious threat of a shutdown. In order to achieve that perception of cooperation, it can be argued that the governor abandoned most of his party’s policy priorities, at least for now. There was no increase in the gas tax, only a modest increase in spending compared with last year’s session, a small personal income tax cut, no imposition of additional “green” energy mandates, and so on.

But those policy priorities will soon be back on the table in St. Paul. How do they play in Greater Minnesota? The Thinking Minnesota Poll finds that they play poorly.

In this year’s session, the governor and his party in the legislature proposed a 70 percent increase in the gas tax. They abandoned the proposal at the end of the legislative session, but Governor Walz says it will be back next year. Such an increase in the gas tax is wildly unpopular outside the metro area, with only 21 percent in favor, while 74 percent oppose it.

In Minnesota, as in other states, “green” energy mandates are being pushed as a purported means of combating global warming. In the 2019 session, DFLers first introduced legislation that would have raised the state’s wind and solar electricity mandate from the current 25 percent to 50 percent. That proposal was then withdrawn and replaced with a demand for 100 percent wind and solar, which is not technologically feasible but would, if attempted, exponentially increase the price of electricity.

These “green” initiatives have little support in Greater Minnesota. The Thinking Minnesota Poll finds that climate change ranks near the bottom of voters’ priorities, while traditional bread and butter issues—health care, roads and highways, taxes, jobs, public schools and agriculture—are at the top. It seems clear that the liberal agenda that often dominates conversation in the Twin Cities fails to resonate with a large majority of non-metro Minnesotans.

Consistent with those priorities, most respondents are not willing to spend more than $100 annually to reduce Minnesota’s impact on climate change, while 41 percent say they would spend nothing at all.

Conversely, the price of energy is critically important to Greater Minnesotans. An overwhelming 98 percent say that maintaining a reasonable price of energy is important, with 78 percent saying it is extremely important or very important.

The prospect of a doubling in the cost of energy is appalling to most Greater Minnesotans. Eighty-six percent say that a doubling of energy costs due to new “green” requirements would hurt their communities, with 61 percent believing their communities would be greatly damaged.

Similarly, 79 percent say that a doubling of energy costs due to “green” initiatives would hurt their families.

The industries that would be most damaged by higher electricity costs—agriculture, mining and manufacturing—are concentrated in Greater Minnesota. As one would expect, these industries are considered important by almost everyone in Greater Minnesota. Mining, being concentrated in the northeastern part of the state, directly impacts fewer communities than agriculture and manufacturing, but it is still considered important to local communities by around half of Greater Minnesotans.

As the poll responses show, agriculture is the industry that pervades nearly all of Minnesota outside the Twin Cities. And yet, most residents of Greater Minnesota do not believe that the state’s legislature has been helpful to Minnesota’s signature industry. Only 26 percent think that Minnesota’s government has been helpful to agriculture, while, remarkably, 17 percent think that the state’s government has actually damaged it. There is obviously plenty of room for Minnesota’s policymakers to prioritize agriculture in a positive way, rather than demonizing the industry as so often happens on the left.

The key to Minnesota’s future, like that of any state, is the ability to create large numbers of high-quality, well-paying jobs. Here, the picture in Minnesota has been mixed. If we compare Minnesota’s metropolitan statistical areas (as defined by the federal government) with all of the nation’s MSAs, we find that economic growth in the Mankato and Rochester areas has been above average in the 21st century, compared with the U.S. as a whole, while GDP growth in the Duluth and St. Cloud areas has been below average. (Economic growth in the Twin Cities has been below average, as well.)

The economic picture varies considerably around the state of Minnesota. A concern that is specific to Greater Minnesota is the exodus of young people to regions that provide greater job opportunity. While that worry is not universal, it is widespread. The Thinking Minnesota Poll finds that 65 percent of Greater Minnesotans are concerned—31 percent either “extremely” or “very”—“that many of Minnesota’s young and talented residents are leaving your community because of the lack of opportunity.”

These findings would appear to offer strong guidance to Minnesota’s policymakers and politicians. Our political class should not take Greater Minnesota for granted. Rather, politicians should forgo policies that might be popular with urban millennials, like discouraging driving with a high gas tax and raising the cost of energy through initiatives that purport to benefit the environment. Instead, they should focus on the issues of immediate import to voters around the state: tax, regulatory and educational policies that will make it easier for the manufacturing, mining and agriculture industries to prosper and create jobs.

It is a simple formula, and politicians who adopt it will get a warm reception in Greater Minnesota.