By Jennifer Brooks, Star Tribune - One year into President Donald Trump’s term, Minnesota voters are sharply divided on his job performance even as a majority believe he lacks the right temperament for the office and is not always truthful, results of a new statewide Minnesota Poll show.
As a candidate, Trump narrowly lost the state to Hillary Clinton while winning over voters in the vast majority of counties outside the Twin Cities. Those divisions remain a year later, with views of Trump widely divergent in different regions, between men and women and among different age groups.
For the most part, the poll shows, Minnesotans who voted for Trump still like him. They say they like that he has at least tried to tackle the promises he made to bring back jobs, cut back on immigration and put conservative judges on the bench. Even when he hasn’t delivered on promises — to repeal Obamacare, to build a wall on the Mexican border, to spend a trillion dollars on roads and bridges — they like that he’s still talking about it.
“I’m very surprised, and happily so,” said Lionel Baumet, a retired analyst for Caterpillar Inc. who lives in the tiny Anoka County community of Lake George. “He seemed erratic when he was running, but he just seemed to come through. ... It’s the economy. He’s doing good on the economy.”
With the stock market booming and the economy stable, the percentage of Minnesotans who approve of Trump’s performance in office rose from 40 percent last April to 45 percent this month. Another 47 percent of registered voters polled disapproved, and 8 percent remained undecided at the one-year mark.
On his handling of the economy and jobs, Trump tallied a 54 percent approval rating statewide.
But there were stronger doubts about his temperament and honesty. Just 36 percent said he has the right temperament for the presidency while 58 percent said he does not, slightly higher than what the Minnesota poll found last April. Meanwhile, 53 percent of voters said they don’t think Trump generally speaks the truth.
“I worry about how fit he is,” said Sheryll Mennicke, a retired educator from St. Paul. “I worry that he has a not-very-robust relationship with the truth.”
The poll of 800 registered Minnesota voters was conducted Jan. 8-10, using both landlines and cellphones. It has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. The poll’s sample was composed of 34 percent self-identified Democrats, 32 percent Republicans and 34 percent independents/other.
That Trump’s overall approval would rise in Minnesota from last April is likely to delight his fans and infuriate his critics. The poll’s methodology is the same as last time, and the party samples are close to the same.
By several measures, Trump is dividing Minnesotans even more than he did in the April poll. His lowest levels of support came from women and from residents of Hennepin and Ramsey counties, and those numbers were close to the same in January as they were last April. But among men and residents of the rest of the state, his support grew from the last poll to the new one. And while his extremely low support among Democrats remained steady, his standing rose among both Republicans and independents.
A Gallup poll at the end of December found Trump at his highest national approval rating in months, at 39 percent. That was shortly after he signed a federal tax overhaul that amounted to the most concrete legislative accomplishment of his first term. Other recent national polls have shown Trump continuing to struggle: a Quinnipiac University National Poll taken Jan. 5-9 found 69 percent of Americans view Trump as not levelheaded, and 57 percent believe he’s not fit to be president.
The Minnesota Poll was also taken before Trump’s latest self-generated controversy, when he used a profane term late last week to describe African countries in a discussion about limiting immigration to the United States.
The idea that anyone could give the president high marks after a year of caps-locked tweets, profane outbursts and showdowns with North Korea over the size of his nuclear button stuns Trump’s Minnesota critics.
“I think it’s kind of been a disaster,” Mennicke said. To her, the president looks like a blustering bully. An embarrassment.
“I hate the nicknames. The tweets are making me crazy,” she said of Trump’s tendency to slap labels like “Sloppy Steve” or “Pocahontas” on his adversaries. “It just seems like it’s chaos over there.”
The president’s approval ratings range from a peak of 60 percent in southern Minnesota and 59 percent in northern Minnesota, down to a dismal 25 percent around Minneapolis and St. Paul. In Twin Cities counties, exempting Hennepin and Ramsey, he’s at 51 percent approval.
Myron Buccek, a retired corporate comptroller who proudly wore his Trump campaign shirt around Minneapolis, thinks the president takes heat for saying things that many other Americans also believe.
“Things are really, really hosed up,” Buccek said. Trump, he said, “does care about everybody in America. He wants to make us like we used to be. We’re no longer that country and it’s going to take somebody like a Trump in order to shake up this country.”
He credits the president for the rosy economy and the administration’s scaled back environmental regulations.
“He’s a doer. He’s the type of guy who sees a particular problem and he wants to fix it,” Buccek said. “That just happens to be the nature of his character.”
In northern Minnesota, a region hit hard by the steel slump and layoffs in the iron mines, 70 percent approved of the way Trump is handling the economy and job policy. His administration recently reversed regulatory roadblocks to help make way for a planned copper-nickel mining operation by the Boundary Waters.
Some of the widest divisions in the Minnesota Poll were between men and women. Only 37 percent of women statewide approved of Trump’s job performance, compared to 54 percent of the men.
Those splits repeated themselves throughout the poll: Only one-quarter of women thought Trump had the right temperament for the job, and 61 percent said he doesn’t generally speak the truth.
Perhaps the widest gender gap came in a question about North Korea: Asked whether they approved of how Trump is handling relations with the diplomatically isolated nation, which has included taunting tweets aimed at its leader Kim Jong Un, 55 percent of men said they backed Trump while only 30 percent of women did.
Overall, more people disapproved of Trump’s North Korea dealings than approved. He also lagged on that question in the Twin Cities suburbs outside Hennepin and Ramsey, compared to his overall approval rating. But again, his numbers in that regard soared in greater Minnesota.
Trump posted his lowest ratings across various poll findings among Minnesotans aged 18-34, followed by those aged 35-49. His best numbers were with people aged 50 to 64, followed by those 65 and older. While people without college degrees gave him majority support, a majority of people with at least a college degree disapproved.
“I don’t believe he is mentally fit for the job. He’s got a bad temperament,” said Chris Rathbun, a 44-year-old retail worker from Brooklyn Center. “He seems like he’s just a kid on a playground who can’t really deal with adult situations.”
Rathbun said he’s continually shocked “by the amount of lies and dishonesty he has told the American public. In my 44 years of life I’ve never seen a president so dishonest. And when he’s confronted with a lie, he just denies it.”
Trump’s poll numbers also showed the two major political parties deeply polarized: Among Democrats, just 4 percent approve of Trump while 92 percent disapprove; among Republicans, he’s at 89 percent approval and 2 percent disapproval.
His numbers among independents closely echo those of the poll overall, with 46 percent approving and 45 percent disapproving. But a full 63 percent of independents liked the way Trump is handling the economy and jobs.
Twenty percent of Republicans did question Trump’s presidential temperament. But that wasn’t enough to earn the president overall losing marks with his party.
“I wish he’d be careful what he tweets,” said Baumet, a Republican who said he’s voted for Democrats in the past. “But I like the fact he’s so communicative. ... It’s remarkable. He’s a remarkable president. ”