The Darkest Hour has Come and Gone for Minnesota Democrats

Polling tends to hit the wall earlier than other consultants; unless you have nightly trackers running straight on until the end, some of us are suddenly doing much less work this week and mostly attending to anxious clients and conference calls. That nervous energy has to go somewhere, so Victoria Research & Consulting conducted two online focus groups with small groups of rural Minnesotans on November 3rd.  In general, I have to say that talking with voters in this manner has made me feel like the darkest hour for Democrats has gone and the dawn is a-coming!

  • Participants were between the ages of 19 and 70, and they had generic Democratic support scores ranging from 20 to 79.3 (high scores denote more Democratic). We excluded voters with scores 0-20 and 80-100, and supporters of Clinton or Trump who were “totally committed” to their choice. 57% were female, 43% male. All lived in rural portions of congressional districts 1, 2, 7, or 8 in Minnesota.
  • A little less than half of the participants were Clinton supporters (46%), 23% were Trump supporters, 15% support Gary Johnson, 1 person said someone else, and 1 person said planning to skip it on the ballot.
  • It was noticeably a chat room discussion about politics that was not angry; moderators never had to prompt participants to keep it friendly. Given all the acrimony in this election, and all the discussion about acrimony, there was very little on display. In fact, I would say that qualitative we’ve observed and conducted in Minnesota six months ago was angrier in tone.  That in itself was a finding.
  • Minnesotans say Life is Good. Very large majorities say that Minnesota is on the right track and that Minnesota is “doing better than most” states.  In a state where Democrats are largely identified as the status quo, this is important.  In the wake of several bad weeks of news stories about MNSure and the Affordable Care Act, it is very important. The focus on education and the growth of the tech industry were commonly cited as reasons respondents believed things were headed in the right direction.
    • “I think our low unemployment rate is a great example. Jobs and our budget surplus has been consistent the past three years.” (Male, 50-64, Skipping Presidential, D-score 30.8)
    • “I'm from a smaller town, my kids have and are receiving good educations. Health care is a little shaky but it’s at least evolving. Where I live there are more jobs than people and that’s driving wages up.” (Male, 35-49, Clinton, D-score 68.7)
    • Of course there were more pessimistic views, but not polemics: “If I had another choice, I would say it’s headed nowhere [MN—right track/wrong track]. We seem to be stuck in a rut. A democratic governor and a senate/house of representatives that are consistently at a stalemate or opposing positions.” (Male, 50-64, Clinton, D-score 65.8)
    • “Minnesota has long been on the road to a mixed economy government.  We are over taxed and our government spends too much money on the wrong things” Moderator – J- can you explain what "mixed economy government" means? “We are traveling further and further away from a capitalist economy; too much government regulation and interference our schools” (Female, 65+, Trump, D-score 20.7)
  • Providing affordable healthcare was brought up by a number of respondents, but not in the extremely negative context we expected. Instead comments were focused on improving our healthcare system and making sure affordable healthcare was available.
  • Voters are mostly feeling frustrated and disappointed with the presidential election – but again, the anger seems to have settled.
    • Views of Donald Trump generally included that he is either a “joke” or “nuts,” or they tended to be more sinister, that he is a “racist” or a “narcissistic.” Even Trump Supporters say he is “a bully, outrageous” and “a boastful bigot."
    • Views of Hillary Clinton were largely dependent on vote choice. Supporters tend to cite that she is “qualified” or a “Capable intelligent woman.” Weak Clinton supporters and those not voting for Clinton or Trump described Clinton mainly as “dishonest” and “untrustworthy,” while Trump supporter’s descriptions of her were much more pointed, and included “Criminal” and “the epitome of political corruption.”
  • Regardless of how hard we pushed them, voters do not see themselves as party-line voters. It is clear that they believe being an “issue voter” is a loftier ideal than voting for a specific party. This has more import, however, for many down ballot candidates who in some places, have to be concerned that people are worried about giving Clinton a mandate and will split-ticket down ballot, but it is vital to the survival of many Democrats in rural areas who have to be able to gain support from significant numbers of Trump/3rd Party voters.
    • “I am an issue voter.  Most times that falls into the same party, but sometimes it doesn't.” – (Female, 35-49, Johnson, D-score 38.8)
    • “Yes, issues matter, values matter. If you are going to vote you should know who you are voting for. Party shouldn't decide your vote.” – (Male, 35-49, Clinton, D-score 68.7)
  • In sum, one of the biggest conclusions is that not all non-Clinton voters are closed off to Democrats down-ballot. Anyone who is expressing interest in a 3rd Party candidate is a target for us, no matter how they eventually vote top of the ticket. Further, a sizable number of his supporters can and will vote for Democrats down ballot. Voting for Trump, at least in Minnesota, is not a reliable indicator of straight ticket Republican voting. Probably the best example of this was a woman who was a pretty firm Trump supporter but also favors adding a public option to the ACA to fix healthcare (Hey, she has health problems).
  • Fixing MNSure is cited as the respondent’s top priority, followed by making college more affordable and providing funding to fix roads, bridges, and railroads. While there was some belief that we should get rid of MNSure, respondents more commonly said we need to fix it, and that regardless of the system, the real issue is providing affordable healthcare to citizens. This was in response to a closed-end question, exact wording is visible on Pie chart. It was preceded by an open-ended ask of what were the top issues, which got largely the same response – education, healthcare, infrastructure, and jobs. While this list admittedly skews towards the questions we are most interested as Democrats in communicating on, I’d have to say that Republican campaigns at the state and federal level have spent a lot of the last two weeks trying to attack Democrats on healthcare, ACA, MNSure. It is NOT working.  If they want to keep arguing the final days of this campaign on our turf, let them!
  • Who is responsible for MNSure’s current issues did not seem that important to respondents, but they did put more blame on the State Legislature (both Democrats and Republicans) than Governor Dayton or national figures like President Obama or Congress. This is seen more as an issue of our State Legislature not working together and the system failing as a result.  Voters want MNSure fixed.  They want the Affordable Care Act fixed. Who Ya Gonna Call when you need health care policy fixed? Absolutely no one supports the Republicans’ signal achievement of the last 6 years – voting 60+ times (is it over 100x yet?) to repeal the ACA. So when legislative Republicans say their solution is to close up MNsure and move Minnesota voters into the federal exchange…it is not exactly seen as a plan


I want to get this post up asap today, so I’m just going to close with these reasoned descriptions of where MN is at on health care reform. And yes, maybe I will be able to get some sleep tonight!

  • Re closing MNSure: “It would mean that I would not have any health care coverage as my husband is temporarily unemployed and I am also. We could not afford private insurance nor could we afford continuing under the other health care of that he is old employer offered. And we certainly couldn't afford really any co-pays at this time. I do have some medical needs and therefore it would be a very tenuous situation.” (Female, 50-64, Clinton, D-score 79.3)
  • "Health care is expensive. But I do not feel MN Sure failed. But solving how to care for people as a whole cheaply is the issue.” (Male, 50-64, Johnson, D-score 53.2)
  • “My insurance costs are set to almost double in December with the current system, I have no choice my children need to be insured.” (Male, 35-49, Clinton, D-score 68.7)
  • “I don't think moving to the federal system will be any better.  I think that RX prices do need a cap prices.” (Female, 35-49, Trump, D-score 54.2)
  • “Follow the money who doesn'twant affordable healthcare.” (Male, 50-64, Someone Else, D-score 67.5)
  • “I believe MN can fix this if they try. But it will take tough choices by both parties. Don't just shift the problem.” (Male, 50-64, Johnson, D-score 53.2)