Is Minnesota Trending Away From Democrats?

The Pioneer Press had an interesting piece this weekend on how the political dynamics in Minnesota are still trending towards the GOP:

The national scene seems to portend Democratic gains in governorships and Congressional seats, possibly leading to Democratic control of Congress. Low job approval for President Bush and Congress result from a familiar litany of problems — endless conflict in Iraq, high energy prices, anxieties about international turmoil and ongoing domestic controversies over immigration and health care.

Democrats, however, have not quite closed the deal with American voters. Surveys reveal them as unpopular as Republicans. Democrats have yet to present an appealing alternative to the GOP agenda. It will be up to individual Congressional candidates — in Minnesota, most notably Senate aspirant Amy Klobuchar and 6th District House candidate Patty Wetterling — to make the case for change. So far, their national party has not carried that argument with likely voters.

Running directly contrary to this national current is the favorable trend for the GOP in Minnesota state politics. This trend is of recent vintage. Part of it stems from growing GOP party identification in the state, detected in a recent Star Tribune Minnesota poll. In addition, a peaceful state legislative session, a budget surplus, improved economic growth and job creation all help Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty and GOP state legislative candidates.

I would also had that the Republican Party of Minnesota is one of the most disciplined and effective political organizations out there today. When it comes to identifying voters and getting them to the polls, the state GOP has it down. This is also part of a national trend in which the GOP has been doing an excellent job in terms of GOTV efforts. The Democrats still retain a slight edge in party ID, but that edge is slipping. Part of it is due to the changing nature of the US electorate — the unions, which used to be the Democratic Party’s biggest asset, are slowly being replaced by a more independent workforce. Blue states are generally losing population, while Red states are gaining. Even with immigration and urbanization, the GOP still holds a slight demographic advantage.

As the article notes, it also helps that there are deep divisions just under the surface of the DFL. The DFLers I’ve spoken to have noted that there’s a pretty substantial divide between the urban liberals and the traditional Farmer-Labor voters. The war in Iraq has become a political litmus test here in Minnesota for Democrats just as it has been national, and candidates such as Amy Klobuchar who are trying to find a moderate path are getting pushed by hardcore anti-war voters. Discipline is key to a political party’s future, and the DFL’s divisions could slow down their ground game come election time.

That doesn’t mean that Minnesota is likely to go red any time soon. However, it does show that even in largely inhospitable political climates, a disciplined and effective political operation can still win. The unpopularity of the President doesn’t necessarily effect local races — in fact, it has a very small effect, if any. When it comes to having a solid ground game, the GOP is doing quite well, which is how so many state offices are held by Republicans despite Minnesota being considered a very blue state.

3 thoughts on “Is Minnesota Trending Away From Democrats?

  1. Ask Minnesota’s voters how peaceful the Pawlenty reign has been, with the $185 million cut to education. Ask the 100,000 Minnesotans who have lost health care since Pawlenty took over. Ask them why only 15% of corporate profits are going towards wage increases in Minnesota, or why health care costs have gone up 73% since Pawlenty took over.

    There is a slight demographic trend towards the GOP in Minnesota, but the IP is more of the culprit than anything the Republicans have done.

    How many seats did the GOP lose in 2004 in Minnesota?

    Red states are gaining population more quickly, but a lot of that is going to areas that are traditionally filled with Democratic voters.

    The GOP has a much better national ground game. But the Democrats know it, and are finally starting to catch up. I think you’ll see that advantage disappear in the next 10-20 years, and there is big trouble for the GOP then.

    When talking about the decline of unions, “More independent workforce” is one of the better GOP euphemisms I’ve ever heard.

  2. Long-term, there’s no question that Minnesota is trending Republican. The DFL is increasingly dependent on three counties (Hennepin, Ramsey, and St. Louis) to drag their candidates across the finish line. All are zero-growth counties. On the other hand, the five fastest-growing counties in Minnesota (Scott, Sherburne, Carver, Wright, and Isanti) are in exurbia and all went for George Bush by more than 20 points in 2004, and went even better for Tim Pawlenty and Norm Coleman in 2002. These counties are experiencing blistering population growth and the vast majority of new residents are Republicans. Four of these five counties, for instance, were carried twice by Bill Clinton in the 1990’s. Even the three most heavily-populated suburban counties (Anoka, Dakota and Washington) are trending Republican. All were blue-collar Michael Dukakis and Paul Wellstone counties back in the day, but have voted for twice for George Bush since 2000, handily for Pawlenty and Coleman in 2002, and even for Rod Grams in 2000.

    Outstate Minnesota is experiencing a slower trickle to the GOP as the only growth regions outstate are in the cabin counties running in north-central Minnesota along the Mississippi River Valley. The culturally conservative natives are voting more along the “God, guns, and gays” issues while the yuppies are buying up all the lakefront property and essentially extending Apple Valley-style demographics and politics all the way up to Bemidji. A few rural areas have went the other way in the last 10 years, but most are population-stagnant (or declining). The only bright spot for Dems outstate is Rochester, which has been trending away from the GOP ever since 2000. Will a blue (or at least bluer) Rochester be enough to offset the massive GOP growth of Elk River, St. Michael, and Lakeville though? No way in hell.

    The bottom line is that Hennepin, Ramsey and St. Louis are losing their ability to overwhelm the GOP in Minnesota elections. Even if current regions of the state maintain their existing political allegiances right down to the percentage point, the blistering growth of far-right exurbia is fast approaching the kind of strength-in-numbers dominance it will need to make Pawlenty and Coleman-esque victories of 2002 the standard rather than the exception. The sad thing is from the DFL standpoint is that Democrats all seem to believe they’ve turned a corner in Minnesota. Indeed, I’m not expecting 2006 to be a good year for Republicans in the state, but beyond that, demographics will turn Minnesota into a red-leaning state, perhaps as soon as 2008, and certainly by 2012, unless there’s a huge transformation of political identity among the yuppies of Shakopee and Forest Lake.

  3. “There is a slight demographic trend towards the GOP in Minnesota, but the IP is more of the culprit than anything the Republicans have done.”

    Another troubling development. In 2002, the Green and Independence Parties almost assuredly cost the DFL the Secretary of State and Auditor’s offices, both of which were narrowly won by Republicans. I fear that the same will happen in those races in 2006, with the left/center-left vote divided among three parties. Furthermore, don’t be surprised if Mike Hatch and the DFL candidate for the open Attorney General’s race fail to get elected in 2006 as well, defeated not by Republicans, but by Green and Independence candidates.

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