Q&A with Todd Rapp, Minnesota Political Expert
Housing Industry News recently sat with one of the state’s premier political forecasters, Todd Rapp, to get his perspective on what Minnesota voters are thinking about as they engage with their ballots this fall and how the political landscape could impact our elections.
Q: Just weeks remain until the November elections, what do you see as the top issues for voters as they go to the ballot box? TR: Three critical issues for 2022 voters have already emerged, and the polarized opinions on these issues have shaped the closeness of this election. Opinions on President Biden’s performance, Donald Trump’s continued influence and the Dobbs decision have solidified the partisan divisions in this country.
For likely voters who are still uncertain about who to vote for, personal security issues — ranging from the economy, the stock market, crime, COVID, access to health care and Ukraine — will be front and center in their decision-making. As the Jan. 6 committee continues to meet, we may see revelations that impact the election, although its work may already be baked into the results.
Q: Starting a new 10-year journey following the census and redistricting, what do we make of the political composition of our state — how many ‘Minnesotas’ are there today?
TR: Politically, Minnesota has five geographic regions that are ideologically distinct. The most conservative areas of the state are the exurban counties, some of the fastest growing areas of the state and the core of libertarian politics.
Counties dominated by rural townships and small cities are the second most conservative, but they are shrinking in population and have a higher percentage of 65+ voters than any section of the state.
The second- and third-tier suburbs, with about 20% of the voters, are the true swing areas of the state. As second-tier suburbs pass through their redevelopment stages, they are becoming more DFL in their voting patterns.
Rural cities with colleges have emerged as part of the DFL party’s emerging liberal base. Although less than 10% of the state’s population, they are an important target for DFL turnout in statewide elections.
The urban areas within the I-694 and I-494 beltway are the most dependable liberal voters and the most strongly aligned with significant progressive change, with a number of DFL statewide and legislative candidates winning these areas with 70% or more of the vote.
Q: In 2020, Minnesota voters chose to elect a split state legislature with a DFL-controlled House of Representatives and a GOP-controlled Senate. Does Minnesota continue its tradition of ticket-splitting down ballots?
TR: In 15 of the last 16 statewide elections, Minnesota has ended up with purple government, a nation-leading outcome for a state traditionally perceive to be blue. Ticket-splitting is a Minnesota tradition, although it is becoming less prominent than a decade ago. Today, the concentration of DFL voters (especially in Congressional Districts 4 and 5) helps DFL statewide candidates but results in a lot of “wasted votes” for DFL legislative candidates. For example, the DFL has 30 super-majority seats in the Minnesota House (likely margins of 65%-35% or more), while Republicans only have 17 similar seats.
That represents a lot of extra DFL votes in safe seats, which explains why DFL statewide candidates can win by as much as 7% to 10% yet the battle for legislative control can be very close. Sometimes, just based on how the lines are drawn, this will result in the parties sharing control, each with small majorities in their branch of the Legislature. So, I expect that we will continue to see shared government much of the time for the remainder of this decade, caused by the concentration of voters as much as actual ticket-splitting.
Q: How do you assess the national landscape?
TR: The national landscape is dominated by voters’ distrust for the opposition party, or in the case of Independents, distrust of both parties. This “anti-ideological” trend is beginning to cause splits with the two parties, as pro-Trump Republicans clamor for the defeat of RINOs, and super-progressive Democrats from the far West and Northeast complain about the voting patterns of moderate Democrats from the Midwest and South.
It is unlikely that the current leadership in Washington will be able to create a course correction, so it may be 5-10 years before we see more stable outcomes in the national elections. I am expecting more than just a few surprise results in congressional races on election night.