SurveyUSA poll shows Minnesota slipping away from GOP ... again

In almost every electoral cycle, Republicans feel they have a winning hand in Minnesota to turn the state red. And in almost every electoral cycle, their hopes get dashed. The GOP has not won a statewide electoral contest in Minnesota since Tim Pawlenty’s narrow re-election victory in 2006, and according to Survey USA’s latest poll, 2014 won’t break the pattern:

In Minnesota, one month to Election Day, incumbent Democrats Mark Dayton and Al Franken appear well positioned for re-election, according to a SurveyUSA poll conducted for KSTP-TV in Minneapolis-St Paul. The victories do not reflect any larger love for Democrats nationwide. Barack Obama’s approval rating in Minnesota is Minus 14, with just 39% approving of the job he is doing as President.

In the Senate race, Al Franken leads today by 18 points, 55% to 37%. Compared to an identical SurveyUSA poll released 08/22/14, Franken is up 4 points, and Republican challenger Mike McFadden is down 5 points. Franken had led McFadden by 9 points, now twice that. In August, McFadden had led among men by 5 points. Today, Franken leads among men by 15 points, a 20-point swing to the DFL. In August, Franken and McFadden were tied among independent voters; Franken today leads by 17. In Northeast MN, McFadden in August had led by 2 points, now trails by 28 points. Franken’s job approval today is at its all-time high of 56%, unchanged from August 2014.

In the Governor race, Mark Dayton today leads by 11 points, 51% to 39%. Compared to an identical SurveyUSA poll released 08/22/14, Dayton is up a nominal 2 points, Republican challenger Jeff Johnson is down a nominal 1 point. Although at the highest level, the polling is stable, there is some offsetting movement in the sub-populations. Among men, Dayton has gained ground. Among women, Dayton has lost ground. Among independents, Dayton had trailed by 3, now leads by 10. In Western MN, Johnson had led by 6, now trails by 7. In Northeastern MN, Johnson had led by 2, now trails by 10. Dayton’s job approval number today is 53%, the highest it has been since May of 2012.

At times during the summer, both races seemed to show hints of a surprise. This throws a deluge of cold water on those prospects. Despite widespread unhappiness over ObamaCare and its local manifestation in MNSure (which has a 24/52 approval rating), both Democratic incumbents have surpassed the “magic” 50% threshold needed to feel secure about their electoral prospects. Even more significant is the gap their challengers face — double digits with less than four weeks to go before the election.

That’s not the only bad news for the GOP in this poll, either. In the previous two iterations in this series, the GOP had narrow leads on the generic legislative ballot. That now favors the majority Democrats 46/42, thanks to a big shift among independent voters of 23 points in the gap. That kind of shift is a little mystifying, considering the lack of a triggering event in what has been a relatively quiet campaign in the state, especially in light of the disfavor shown toward MNSure. Independents disapprove at almost the same margin as the overall population, 24/50. They also disapprove of the job that the state legislature is doing, and that’s not even close at 28/53. One has to wonder whether that shift in the legislative ballot is an outlier.

But alas, there’s no such wondering about the numbers for Dayton and Franken. Despite their majority disapproval of Barack Obama (36/53) and MNSure, independent voters think highly of both Dayton (53/35) and Franken (53/38). With those kind of positive numbers in the mix, there simply aren’t enough Republicans in the state to overcome it. The only hope for the GOP would be a superior GOTV effort based on voter unhappiness, but that doesn’t appear to be emerging in Minnesota as a big force. Also, although the state Republican Party has improved its finances and competitiveness, the emergence of a superior GOTV operation would be a surprise.

Republicans look to having a very good night on Election Day this November, but don’t expect Minnesota to be part of it.

Addendum: In case anyone wonders, Survey USA usually does a pretty good job of statewide polling in Minnesota. The sample was D+10 among 577 likely voters, which is probably not a bad model for MN — and in any case would not be so far off to change these numbers significantly.