MPR News-Humphrey Institute Poll

Democrat Mark Dayton widens lead over Republican Tom Emmer

Minnesota Public Radio
Oct 27, 2010

Democrat Mark Dayton has opened a 12-point lead over the Republican Party candidate Tom Emmer in the race for Minnesota governor, according to the latest MPR News-Humphrey Institute Poll.

The poll — conducted by Minnesota Public Radio News and the Humphrey Institute at the University of Minnesota — surveryed voters' preferences in the governor's race and approval ratings of politicians. See the full poll report and methodology, or read MPR News reporter Mark Zdechlik's report on this portion of poll.

2010 governor's race

Among likely voters, Mark Dayton has widened his lead in the MPR-HHH poll ahead of Tom Emmer, at 41 percent to 29 percent, respectively. The previous MPR-HHH poll also showed Dayton with a substantial lead, 38 percent to 27 percent. Independence Party candidate Tom Horner's support is down to 11 percent from 16 percent last month.

It's important to note that fifth of likely voters still say they are undecided, refused to answer or said they won't vote.

Key Findings

  • • Dayton's lead rests on engaging Democrats, broadening his coalition more than Emmer, his economic populism, and localizing the election to capitalize on the unpopularity of Governor Tim Pawlenty.

  • • Dayton has the advantage among voters who are leaning toward a candidate but his support is not as firm as Emmer's and Horner's support is soft.

  • • Emmer's greatest opportunity is to reframe the election as a national referendum on President Barack Obama and the nation's direction.

How Dayton Moved Ahead

There are four factors that explain Dayton's lead, many of which defy patterns in other states around the country.

Democrats Engaged: Although Republicans around the country appear far more inclined to vote in the 2010 elections than dispirited Democrats, the story is quite different in Minnesota. Among those who are extremely or very enthusiastic about the election, Democrats are matching Republicans -- 50 percent of those who say they are extremely or very enthusiastic about the election are Democrats and 46 percent are Republicans.

Dayton Coalition: Dayton has been more effective in constructing a broad coalition of key voting groups. He has more successfully rallied Democrats while still attracting more independents, and he enjoys substantial advantages among women (23 points) and voters earning less than $50,000 a year (34 points). Horner is hurting Emmer a bit more than Dayton by drawing 11 percent from Republicans compared to 7 percent among Democrats.

Economic Populism: The Great Recession is powerfully impacting Minnesota politics in ways that help Dayton. The astounding 92 percent of likely voters who believe that the national economy is in poor shape are breaking for the Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mark Dayton over his Republican rival Tom Emmer by 10 points (40 percent to 30 percent).

Among the 58 percent percent of likely voters who report that their own household economic situation is in poor shape, Dayton boasts a 19-percentage-point advantage (44 percent versus 25 percent for Emmer). By contrast, Emmer enjoys a 28-point margin (46 percent to 18 percent) among voters worried about their family's future economic conditions. The problem for Emmer is that only 10 percent expect their household situations to worsen over the coming year.

Localization of Election: A key question about the 2010 election is whether it would focus on national politics (which hurts Democrats) or on state policy where local issues and personalities come into play. Unlike other states, the gubernatorial election in Minnesota has focused on local issues. Dayton's economic populism has dominated the debate. In addition, more voters disapprove than approve of Governor Pawlenty's job performance (50 percent versus 41 percent) and they are breaking decisively for Dayton by a 66 percent to 7 percent margin.

Move your mouse pointer over the image to compare these results to the September poll.

Leaners Favor Dayton

The last week of the 2010 campaign will answer important questions, some of which we can tease out. One in five voters indicate that they do not know which candidate they will vote for or they refused to state their choice, raising the possibility of a last minute shift that could change the outcome of the raise.

It appears, though, that Dayton will more than hold his own as voters make up their minds. Six out of 10 undecided voters are leaning toward one candidate and Dayton is the most favored. Among voters leaning toward a candidate, 31 percent support Dayton as opposed to 14 percent who favor Emmer and 15 percent who are tilting to Horner. Once the leanings of voters are taking into account, Dayton's lead grows to 16 percent (47 percent versus 31 percent) and the number of truly undecided numbers is at 9 percent.

About the survey and methodology

This survey is a collaboration between Minnesota Public Radio News and the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance at the University of Minnesota's Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs. The survey was analyzed by the Center. The research team was Lawrence R. Jacobs, the center's director, and Joanne M. Miller, associate professor of political science. Charles Gregory provided research assistance.

The survey was fielded by the Information Specialists Group (ISG) and is based on a landline, random-digit dial survey in Minnesota. ISG called a sample of telephone exchanges that was randomly selected by a computer from a list of active residential exchanges within Minnesota. Within each exchange, random digits were added to form a complete telephone number, thus permitting access to both listed and unlisted numbers. Within each household, one adult was selected to be the respondent for the survey.

As is common with public opinion surveys, the data were weighted. In the first stage, the data were weighted based on the number of potential survey respondents and the number of landline telephone numbers in the household. In the second stage, data were weighted according to cell phone usage, as well as gender, age, race, and Hispanic ethnicity to approximate the demographic characteristics of the population according to the Census.

Results are based on a model that accounts for the likelihood of a respondent voting based on the following factors: self-reported probability of voting in the upcoming election, voting in the 2006 gubernatorial election as reported by the respondent, interest in the 2010 election, and whether the respondent reported being registered to vote. The general model projects a turnout of 58 percent. A model that projects a turnout of 71 percent yielded similar results.

Party identification percentages are calculated by first asking respondents: "Generally speaking, do you usually think of yourself as a Republican, a Democrat, an Independent, or what?" Respondents who identify as an Independent or as a member of another party, as well as those who say "I don't know" or refused to answer the question, were asked a follow-up question: "Do you think of yourself as closer to the Republican Party or Democratic Party or neither?" Respondents who think of themselves as closer to the Republican Party are counted as Republicans and those who think of themselves as closer to the Democratic Party are counted as Democrats. The only respondents who are counted as Independents are those who say that they do not lean toward one of the two major parties.

Between Oct. 21 and Oct. 25, 2010, 751 likely voters living in Minnesota were interviewed by telephone. The margin of error ranges between +/-3.6 percentage points based on the conventional calculation and +/-5.5 percentage points, which is a more cautious estimate that takes into account design effects, in accordance with professional best practices.

The conventional calculation of the margin of sampling error is primarily based on the number of respondents and, critically, assumes that all respondents selected for interviewing were actually reached. More infomation about the poll's methodology is available in the complete poll results.