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Despite Democratic Shift, Minnesotans Are No More Liberal Than Four Years Ago

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Smart Politics recently documented a notable shift in Party ID in Minnesota favoring the Democrats in recent years, and found that this shift is more of a result of Democrats attracting independents to their corner than the Republican Party losing its base to independents.

However, despite this shift in Party ID during the past five years among Gopher State residents, there has been no coinciding shift towards a more liberal political ideology.

A Smart Politics analysis of 56 public opinion polls conducted by SurveyUSA during the past five years finds the percentage of Minnesota residents professing to have a liberal ideology to have remained virtually identical year-to-year since the 2004 election.

In an analysis of polls aggregated yearly, 17.3 percent of Minnesotans identified themselves as liberal in 2005, holding steady at 17.6 percent in 2006, 17.1 percent in 2007, 17.0 percent in 2008, and 18.0 percent in one poll conducted in January 2009.

Trend in Liberal Ideology Among Minnesotans, 2005-2009

Year
Percent Liberal
2009
18.0
2008
17.0
2007
17.1
2006
17.6
2005
17.3

A disaggregation of these results reveals Minnesotans to have demonstrated remarkable ideological consistency from month-to-month as well: 41 of these 56 polls found the number of Minnesotans with a liberal ideology to be between 16 and 19 percent. In only four polls did 20 or more percent of Gopher State residents identify themselves as liberal (January 2006, August 2007, May 2008, October 2008), and in only four surveys did that number dip below 15 percent (July 2005, August 2007, July 2008, September 2008).

This consistency stands in stark contrast to the notable shift in Party ID documented at Smart Politics yesterday and the large political gains made by the DFL statewide since 2004. The DFL picked up two Constitutional offices in 2006 (Secretary of State and State Auditor) and increased its margin of victory in the presidential election from 3.5 points in 2004 to 10.2 points in 2008.

In legislative elections, the DFL has gained one seat in the U.S. House, netted 11 seats in the state Senate, and netted 21 seats in the state House during this span.

DFL Legislative Seats Held After Election Day, 2004-2008

Year
MN House
MN Senate
U.S. House
2008
87
46
5
2006
85
44
5
2004
66
35
4

In view of these gains, and the coinciding Democratic shift in Party ID, the DFL might be emboldened by their strong numbers to push a more leftist legislative agenda onto the plate of Governor Tim Pawlenty and the GOP caucuses in St. Paul.

But this would be a political miscalculation.

While Minnesotans may have more faith in the DFL than the GOP as political institutions at the moment, there is no evidence the state of Minnesota is more liberal than when the GOP controlled the House in 2004, nor is there evidence that it wants to see a more liberal ideology shape state public policy (e.g. Voter ID).

To think otherwise will spell disaster for the DFL in the 2010 elections.

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