MPR News-Humphrey Institute poll: Voters torn between smaller government, higher taxesby Mark Zdechlik, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — More than half of Minnesotans prefer a smaller government with fewer services but two thirds think higher taxes are needed right now to balance the state budget, according to the latest Minnesota Public Radio News-Humphrey Institute poll.
Robert Mulrennan, a retired building materials distributor who lives in Minnetonka, said he was very open to Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mark Dayton's proposal to raise income tax rates on the wealthy.
"It's an idea that can be explored and if it really and truly helps the middle class and doesn't hurt the upper middle class too much, I think that would be good," Mulrennan said.
Mulrennan, who supports Independence Party candidate Tom Horner, also thinks dramatically cutting state spending and jobs would only further exacerbate unemployment problems
Among those who want the state to balance its books is Bob Pool, a retired farmer who lives about a half hour west of the Twin Cities in Greenfield. Pool is fed up with Washington, and he wants Minnesota to solve its budget woes without increasing taxes.
That why he's voting for Republican nominee Tom Emmer for governor on Tuesday.
"I think we need to hold it where we are probably," Pool said. "We've got a lot of things going wrong but we're going to have to bite the bullet until the money's there because with the people not working now, you can't pull the teeth out of them."
But unlike Pool, most likely voters think the state needs to increase taxes to balance the budget, the poll found. Only 22 percent support relying on spending cuts as Emmer proposes.
University of Minnesota Political Science Professor Larry Jacobs oversaw the poll which has a conventional margin of error of 3.6 percentage points and a more conservative margin of 5.5. Jacobs said the higher margin of error accounts for possible discrepancies that could arise from the design of the poll.
Jacobs said most of the two thirds who favor tax increases believe Dayton's proposal to increase income taxes on top earners is a better option than Horner's call for an expanded sales tax. Horner's plan was supported by only 13 percent.
"If Dayton were to win there would be a strong fiscal mandate here for him to move ahead looking at balancing the budget by raising more revenue," Jacobs said.
The poll shows six of 10 likely voters back state sponsored casino gambling as a source of revenue.
Nearly half of those polled disapprove of the state Legislature's performance.
Democrats control of both houses of the Legislature, but on the question of which party can do a better job handling the state budget Democrats are about even with Republicans. In the MPR/ Humphrey Institute's August poll, more respondents gave Republicans the edge on that question than Democrats.
The new poll also found that Democrats are unifying behind their party's legislative candidates slightly more than are Republicans rallying around theirs.
Jacobs said the enthusiasm Democrats have in Minnesota is unique to Minnesota in this election cycle. He said even though many voters here say they don't have much trust in the federal government, and they're more angry with Washington than they have been in the past, it doesn't seem to be hurting Democrats.
"Minnesota Democrats are not sitting out this election. We see Minnesota Democrats being a bit more enthusiastic about voting this year in contrast to Democrats almost everywhere else in the country who are ready to sit this one out," Jacobs said. "When you look at national polls you see that Republicans have almost a two-to-one advantage in terms of enthusiasm while here in Minnesota the Democrats have a bit of an advantage in terms of enthusiasm. That's going to turn out a lot of Democrats at the polls."
Jacobs said the DFL could come out of next week's election not only taking the governor's office for the first time since the mid-1980s, but also retaining control of both houses of the Minnesota Legislature.
- Morning Edition, 10/29/2010, 6:50 a.m.