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September, 2006 - SMAC in the News

Local poll suggests voter discontent

Dana Yost

War in Iraq and health care issues are the leading concerns of residents in a new local poll that also points to strong voter cynicism over the performance of current lawmakers, a result that should concern incumbents, the poll's executive director said Thursday.

The poll was released by the Southwest Marketing Advisory Center at Southwest Minnesota State University.

SMSU professor Mike Rich is the advisory center's executive director and led the polling, which studied perceptions of voters in legislative districts 20, 21, and 22.

Rich said one of the newsworthy results of the poll are results that suggest voters are in a mood to “throw the rascals out.“

One questions asked voters to identify their political views, and almost 50 percent described themselves as moderate, and more than 25 percent said “somewhat conservative.“

Yet, the next question asked voters to describe their political affiliation: About 65 percent said they were Democratic or Independent. That was interesting, Rich said, considering much of the surveyed area often votes Republican.

Eighty-five percent of those surveyed also said they would vote more on an individual candidate than then candidate's party affiliation. Taken together, those three responses suggest voter discontent with the state's current political situation, Rich said.

“They say their political views are moderate, but say they will vote Democrat or Independent,“ Rich said. “This to me would be an indication of the 'throw-the-rascals-out' mentality. A lot of people in this state are upset with the way (Gov. Tim) Pawlenty had dodged a bullet on taxes and passed it all down to the local level. When you cut state aid to municipalities, a municipality then has to either cut its services or raise its own taxes.“

He said the large majority that says they'll vote for a candidate over the party line are saying “they'll vote for that person based on a (specific) situation.“

A vast majority of those polled said they vote in every election, and believe politicians can make a difference in issues they feel strongly about.

However, about 75 percent of poll respondents aid they think candidates tell them what they want to hear while running for office, only to pursue their party's agenda once in office regardless of what they said while campaigning.

Broken promises, in other words.

“It's extremely cynical,“ Rich said about that part of voters' response.

He also said it's another example of voters wanting to change the current political leadership.

“It's all coming down to a view that seems to be leaning Democratic or Independent,“ he said.

Poll respondents also strongly said they do not think voters will do enough to educate themselves about candidates before Election Day.

Voters split 50/50 on whether national or state issues mattered more to them.

On national issues, the war ranked No. 1, followed by health care, energy/gas costs and the federal budget.

Health care concerns topped the state list, followed by k-12 education, energy/gas costs and the rural economy.

Rich said the poll showed most voters are more worried about cuts in vital programs such as education than they are with their taxes, which ranked eighth on the state list.

“You could read into that that a tax increase is not going to kill these people,“ he said. “They're more concerned about what is being lost on the other end.“

Social issues such as abortion were further down the list and gay marriage barely received mention, poll data shows.

The survey also asked voters to list the leading personal characteristics they look for in candidates. Honestly was the No. 1 trait, mentioned by almost 65 percent of respondents. It was followed by trustworthiness and integrity.

Rich laughed as he noted competency finished far down the list of desired traits, saying it shows voters almost don't think they can elect anyone competent, “so if we have honestly and trust, I'm going to go with that.“

On specific local legislative races, the poll asked voters to say which candidates had the traits they look for. It didn't ask who they'd vote for or who they liked, merely if they identified candidates with their favorite traits.

In House district 21A, 50 percent said Rep. Marty Seifert had the traits they like, while 25 percent said Pat Mellenthin did. In the Senate 21 race, incumbent Dennis Frederickson was named by 23 percent and DFL challenger Margie Hoyt 16. A whopping 61 percent in that race were undecided.

In House District 20A, Rep. Aaron Peterson and challenger Mike Bredeck each got 25 percent. In Senate district 22, Sen. Jim Vickerman had 65 percent and challenger Bill Weber 13. In Senate District 20, Sen. Gary Kubly was matched by 55 percent and challenger Roger Dale by 15.

In state races, Pawlenty was named by 37 percent and gubernatorial rival Mike Hatch by 35. In the Senate race, Amy Klobuchar was at 37 and Mark Kennedy 35.

And in the 7th Congressional District race, Collin Peterson was named by 42 percent and challenger Michael Barrett by 8 percent.

“It is important to remember, this question was not about issues and we didn't run it as a popularity contest on who you were going to vote for,“ Rich said. “And we don't know what characteristics (respondents) picked. It was just of the three characteristics you said were important, which candidates (matches) them. It doesn't say who they were voting for, that's important to mention.“

The study was paid for through the advisory center's own budget. Student Jesse Warner was the project director. Questions were sent in written surveys, and determined by input from focus group discussion and preliminary telephone surveys.

For further information, call 507-537-7102 or e-mail:

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