REGIONAL— As this week’s edition of the Timberjay went to press, President Donald Trump was set to visit Bemidji in what he’s calling the “Great America Comeback” …
REGIONAL— As this week’s edition of the Timberjay went to press, President Donald Trump was set to visit Bemidji in what he’s calling the “Great America Comeback” Tour.
The presidential visit is just the latest in a string of trips to northern Minnesota by top members of his administration and other high-level campaign surrogates. It coincides with a visit to the state by his Democratic counterpart, Vice President Joe Biden.
A recent statewide poll, commissioned by conservative-leaning KSTP TV and conducted by the well-respected SurveyUSA, suggests why northern Minnesota has become such a regular destination for the members of the Trump administration and campaign.
The Trump campaign is making an aggressive play for Minnesota’s ten electoral votes, and recent polling suggests that northern Minnesotans, particularly those in northeastern Minnesota, are receptive to the president’s message.
While the SurveyUSA poll, conducted last week, shows Biden with a 49-40 percent lead in the state, that margin is buoyed by strong support for the Democrat among voters in the Twin Cities metro region and a more modest lead elsewhere in southern Minnesota. But those numbers flip sharply in northern Minnesota, where Trump holds a commanding lead, particularly among men. A New York Times/Sienna College poll, released over this past weekend, also pegged the race at 49-40 for Biden.
The SurveyUSA poll queried likely voters in several regions of the state and found that the president fared best in northeastern Minnesota. The region was a longtime Democratic stronghold that has trended to the right in recent years. The poll found that enthusiasm for Trump has only grown in the region since 2016. The poll found Trump with a 61-37 percent lead, a substantial improvement over the 54-38 margin by which Trump won Minnesota’s Eighth District, which encompasses northeastern and east-central Minnesota in 2016. The Trump campaign is clearly hoping to boost turnout in his primary stronghold in the state in hopes of overcoming Biden’s clear advantage elsewhere in Minnesota.
Voters in northeastern Minnesota appear receptive to Trump’s economic message, which has centered on trade tariffs, eliminating environmental regulations, and cutting taxes for corporations and the wealthy. Trump has also sided with supporters of copper-nickel mining in the region when he reversed an Obama era decision not to renew a mineral lease for the proposed Twin Metals mine. That decision remains in litigation and the financial viability of the Twin Metals project remains to be seen, but it’s an issue that appears to be playing to Trump’s political advantage.
While the SurveyUSA poll found Biden held a 45-43 lead on the question of who would be better for the economy statewide, Trump found much stronger support on that question in northeastern Minnesota, where voters chose Trump over Biden by a 60-35 percent margin.
State Rep. Rob Ecklund acknowledges that many North Country residents back Trump’s economic message. “And I don’t know why,” said Ecklund, noting that neither of the region’s two industrial sectors, taconite and wood products, have benefitted from Trump’s policies.
Ecklund took issue with the recent comments from Scott Dane, head of the Associated Contract Loggers and Truckers, who spoke at the recent Republican National Convention. Dane appeared to blame the Obama administration for the closure of wood products plants, but Ecklund said Dane had his timeline wrong.
“The board mills started closing in 2006 and 2007, under the Bush administration,” noted Ecklund. While those plant closures were made permanent a couple years later at the depths of the Great Recession, Ecklund said the decisions to close those plants preceeded the Obama administration. “The only board plant that closed under Obama was at Sartell, and that was the result of a boiler explosion,” he added. “One of the last remaining paper mills, Verso, shut down under Trump’s watch,” noted Ecklund. That closure came earlier this year and has put further strain on the region’s struggling timber economy. “To me, the economic message doesn’t match the reality,” said Ecklund.
Even so, the latest poll demonstrates the political sea change that has occurred in the region.
Trump’s wide lead in the region stands in sharp contrast to 2012, when President Barack Obama and Vice President Biden defeated Republican Mitt Romney by a 52-46 percent margin in the Eighth District.
The SurveyUSA poll was not able to determine differences in support within the various regions of the state it examined. The Eighth Congressional District is geographically large and portions of the district have long been GOP strongholds. While Donald Trump won the district handily in 2016 and appears to have a healthy lead in the district today, the poll was not able to break down that support by county. DFL-leaning St. Louis County, the largest county in the district and home to Duluth, backed Hillary Clinton in 2016 by a 51-40 percent margin. That was a far narrower margin than the 63-34 percent margin by which the county’s voters backed Obama over Romney in 2012. Election results in November will reveal whether Trump has lost or gained support in the county since his election four years ago.
The latest poll also suggests that the political leanings in northeastern Minnesota go beyond an affinity for Trump. The same survey found that former right-wing talk show host Jason Lewis leads DFL Sen. Tina Smith in northeastern Minnesota by a similar 60-35 percent margin. Statewide, the poll found Smith with a 47-36 percent lead over Lewis. By contrast, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar defeated her Republican rival in that same election by a 65-30 percent margin in the Eighth District.
Other poll findings
The SurveyUSA poll also found a sharp divide in how supporters of the two major party candidates plan to cast their ballots, and that could have an impact on the initial reporting of election results. The survey found that among those Minnesotans who plan to cast their ballots in-person, Trump leads 59-32 percent. By contrast, those who indicated they plan to vote by mail, backed Biden by an astonishing 71-16 percent margin. The poll found that just 42 percent of Minnesotans plan to cast their ballots in person on Election Day. Just over a third of voters say they plan to vote by mail, while 17 percent say they plan to vote in person before Election Day. Those early in-person voters also backed Biden, although by a smaller margin of 51-38 percent.
President Trump has, at time, discouraged his supporters from voting by mail, falsely alleging that mail-in balloting is rife with fraud. Trump has also downplayed the dangers of the COVID-19 pandemic and his voters appear less concerned about the risks of in-person voting on Nov. 3. Trump has also argued that only results from in-person voting on Election Day should be counted. Mail-in ballots often take longer to process, so final results in closer races may not be known for several days in some cases. The latest survey suggests that initial results on Election Day may not be reflective of the final tally when all the votes are counted in Minnesota.
The Survey USA poll found Biden winning strong support from both urban and suburban voters. In the cities, Biden led 60-31, but also led by a 52-35 percent margin in the metro suburbs, a key region that has shifted toward the Democrats in recent elections. Trump found majority support only among rural voters, where he led 55-35 percent.
Biden held a 49-40 percent advantage on the question of who would keep Minnesotans safer.
The poll also revealed a sizable gender gap, with women backing Biden 54-36 percent, while men were divided 45-44 percent in favor of Trump, although that’s a difference well within the poll’s margin of error.
The education gap was even wider. Among those adults with no more than a high school degree, Trump led 48-42 percent, while those Minnesotans with at least a four-year degree backed Biden by 56-35 percent.
Biden found his strongest margins of support among young voters, at 55-32 percent, and voters over 65, where Biden led by a 54-42 percent margin. Biden’s support among older voters suggests that Trump’s handling of the coronavirus may be hurting him with the segment of the population most vulnerable to the disease.
Both the SurveyUSA and NY Times/Sienna polls suggest that voters on both sides are unlikely to change their minds, a troubling sign for the president’s chances in Minnesota. Just one percent of Democrats said they would consider voting for anyone but Biden in the NY Times/Sienna poll, while only five percent of Republicans said they might reconsider their support of Trump.
Biden also is viewed more favorably by Minnesotans, according to SurveyUSA, which found that 42 percent of voters view him favorably with 41 percent giving him an unfavorable rating. Trump remains well under water in terms of favorability with Minnesotans. Just 39 percent view Trump favorably, while 53 percent view him unfavorably, according to the poll.