Emerson: Trump, Biden in virtual tie in ... Minnesota?

Say what? Just two months after the killing of George Floyd set cities aflame across the country, Donald Trump has pulled into a virtual tie with Joe Biden in Minnesota — or so one pollster reports. According to a new Emerson poll, Biden only leads 50/47, while only a tiny percentage of voters claim to remain undecided:

A new Emerson College Poll finds Minnesota is competitive again in 2020, with 50% of voters planning on supporting former VP Joe Biden and 47% intending to vote for President Trump. While the race is close, only 3% of voters remain undecided. Of voters who plan to vote by mail, 91% plan to vote for Biden, and of those who plan to vote in person, 68% plan to vote for Trump.

President Trump’s approval rating amongst Minnesota voters is slightly underwater, with 46% approval, and 51% disapprove of his job performance, with 3% remaining neutral. Among independent voters, Trump’s approval is at 45% approval, and 47% disapproval.

I’d tend to be a little skeptical about these results, strictly from an observational point of view. However, this doesn’t appear to be much of an outlier. RCP doesn’t have much on Minnesota’s presidential polling, but Emerson’s not far off from a Trafalgar poll taken a couple of weeks earlier. The GOP-linked polling firm had a larger sample (1129 likely voters, compared to Emerson’s 733 registered voters), but found Biden only leading by five points, 49/44. Fox had Biden up thirteen earlier in June, 51/38, which now looks like more of an outlier.

Emerson also gives us our first look at the US Senate race in Minnesota. Former Rep. Jason Lewis has challenged interim appointment Tina Smith, and it looks like he’s in range of an upset as well:

In the race for US Senate, the Democratic incumbent Senator Tina Smith leads by a margin similar to the Presidential race with a 3 point lead of 48% to 45% over the presumptive Republican challenger former Congressman Jason Lewis. Seven-percent (7%) of voters are still undecided.

Spencer Kimball, Director of the Emerson College Poll points out that “in 2016, the Senate races in each state were won by the same party that won the Presidential election in that state, and it appears that the same pattern might emerge in 2020.”

A win by Republicans in either race would be a huge upset; a win in both races would be an epic takeaway from Democrats. It would be so epic, in fact, that it tends to reinforce the skepticism with which I started. Republicans haven’t won a statewide election in Minnesota since 2006, when Tim Pawlenty narrowly won re-election in a three-way race, 46.69/45.73 and the Independence Party picking up 6.43% of the vote.

Since then, it’s hardly ever even been close. Two years ago, Smith won the rest of her interim term by defeating Karin Housley by ten points, slightly narrower than Tim Walz’ gubernatorial win over Republican Jeff Johnson. The only reason the 2016 presidential election was close here was because Hillary Clinton didn’t turn out Barack Obama’s voters; Trump only added 2,726 votes to Mitt Romney’s 2012 totals, while Hillary lost 178,451 votes from 2012’s turnout.

Both Emerson and Trafalgar point to a much closer contest in November. If so — and if this isn’t just some polling noise — then it might be due to the “abolish the police” push in Minneapolis and the sharp rise in crime over the last two months. Trump and Lewis could very well benefit from that, plus the deterioration of security in the Twin Cities might act to deflate enthusiasm for turnout in November. That is the DFL’s power center when it comes to statewide elections, and any decline in turnout will increase the power of suburbs and “outstate Minnesota” in determining outcomes.

So yes, this might be an interesting year for elections in Minnesota. I’d like to see more polling on these statewide races before moving Minnesota to battleground status, but I’d bet that Democrats might start moving resources around sooner than that to shore up their standing here — and that’s not bad news for the GOP elsewhere.