Inside the polls, local factors in MN-8’s waning weeks

The campaign for Minnesota’s Eighth Congressional District now enters its final weeks. Politico recently profiled the race, showing a wider view of the contest than we see in the more earnest, adorable local media. The first debate between incumbent Rep. Chip Cravaack and challenger Rick Nolan was Tuesday.

And now the polls. We’ve long been waiting for an independent, public pollster’s snapshot of this district. Two years ago it was Survey USA’s poll that showed Cravaack rapidly gaining on Jim Oberstar. There was much hand-wringing by the DFL about the crosstabs of that poll — heck, from me, too. But crosstabs be damned, the topline was about right at the time.

The SUSA October 2012 topline: Nolan 46, Cravaack 45. It’s a statistical tie, with a slight edge to the challenger.

I still see odd things in the crosstabs of this one. For instance, I don’t see why Romney and Cravaack would both lead in cell-phone only households. But I must admit the the totals “feel” about right.

Meantime, the Nolan campaign has released results of an internal poll by a firm called Victoria Research showing Nolan with a 48-44 lead. Their poll also claims a 63 percent negative job approval of Cravaack. Naturally, we don’t have crosstabs on the campaign poll.

These polls show that Democratic Party surveys showing a close race in August were right and that millions of dollars spent have jiggled, but not moved, the needles. And hey, why not? An 18-month DFL primary campaign didn’t change the conventional wisdom either. Cravaack has now raised almost $2 million, including almost half a million this last quarter. We’re going to see a lot more ads. And maybe those ads will help Cravaack pull ahead, as he did in 2010. This one in particular, aimed at peeling off Iron Range Democratic voters, is crushingly good:

But Cravaack’s path to victory is just as narrow as Nolan’s. His ceiling is right where he left it — dang near 50 percent. The only thing that will stop this madness is when we drive the wooden stake of our vote into the vampire carcass that is this election on Nov. 6. Then we’ll really know. A Nolan victory makes us a DFL-leaning swing district. A Cravaack victory makes it a GOP-leaning swinger, though a two-term Cravaack would probably be even harder to beat in the future.

But let’s go back to that SUSA poll. What’s funny about it is that the demographic breakdown looks like the opposite of most partisan races. Younger people are seen favoring Cravaack, the conservative Republican, while older voters seem to support Nolan, the progressive Democrat. I know a lot of my blog pals will be quick to call “bull” on that, and I do think that it’s really hard to phone poll young people and young families for a lot of logistical reasons. Nevertheless, I will go out on a limb to drop this bombshell:

Young people who live and work in northern Minnesota are more conservative than their parents and considerably more conservative than their grandparents.

No, I don’t think that they’ve been adding Essence d’Edmund Burke into the drinking water or anything. It’s not that young people here have gone through an ideological transformation fueled by academic research of governing philosophies. Liberal parents are still more likely to have liberal children. Conservative parents are more likely to have conservative children. The issue is that some children grew up to live here, work here and vote here. Other children grow up to move to Duluth or Minneapolis. Guess which group is conservative and which is liberal?

On the Iron Range in particular we 20- and 30-somethings are sorting ourselves. My most liberal friends, with a few exceptions, have by and large tracked to a city. Keith Ellison will get as many Range youth votes as Rick Nolan does. My most conservative friends, with a few exceptions, are still here. And most of them are likely to vote for Cravaack. I think this is happening all over the “woods and waters” region of the 8th District. There will remain conservatives and liberals on the Range, but the old 80-20 days of DFL victories will be gone.

That sounds pretty rough for the DFL and it could well be. But there is a silver lining for Democrats. Duluth is gaining population and becoming more economically diverse. I dare say that Duluth is becoming more liberal while the Range is becoming more conservative, and that these changes more or less offset one another.

That is why this election is still close.

It boils down to the fact that this is the first time MN-8 has functioned as a pure toss-up swing district. We don’t yet know how different voting populations will react to the vast amounts of spending and negative ads we’re getting up here. Perhaps they will act “normally”; perhaps they will react differently.

But in the days after Election Day 2012 we’ll be able to go through the map of the district and know much more about the 21st century composition of this vaunted political landscape.


  1. Did the Deerwood to Duluth drive yesterday and I was somewhat surprised to see how few Nolan signs I saw in absolute terms while seeing a lot of Cravaack signs. I wonder what the party breakdown was of the SUSA poll was.

    If Nolan is to beat Cravaack he would likely need to take back some of the thousands of voters Oberstar lost in Morrison and Crow Wing counties. It is an interesting question whether he will do so. He is a local here so it would seem likely. But the counter to that is that Oberstar lost most of those votes because he was no longer willing to stand against the shedding of innocent blood in abortion. Nolan is militantly pro-abortion. So I wonder if and how much he can cut into Cravaack’s majorities here.

  2. Also complicating polling is, as I understand it, we don’t have partisan breakdowns of voting from 2010.

  3. Thanks for a really interesting analysis, especially on the generational split. I’d suggest a bit of a modification, when it comes to Duluth. I agree that Duluth is becoming more liberal, especially on cultural issues, but that doesn’t mean it is becoming more Democratic. It is always been overwhelmingly Democratic, and it remains so. What’s happening is that Democrats and Democratic leaners are becoming more liberal. While that does have an effect on the political culture of the city, and by extension the district, it doesn’t necessarily produce any more Democratic votes out of the city than has historically been the case.

  4. Mr. Gray, I have enjoyed and appreciated your comments through the years. I must take exception, however, to the phrase [your words], “militantly pro-abortion.” I have never met a soul who promotes abortion, per se.

    The region I hail from includes steep, winding terrain. Every so often one sees a sign announcing an escape ramp for runaway trucks. [It happens; brakes get hot, the fluid boils, and everyone on the road is in mortal danger. Sometimes the truck driver takes the runaway ramp and dies in the process. Use your imagination.] Does that mean the highway department is militantly pro-runaway truck?

  5. Adding: I find the yard sign survey to be an interesting barometer of the candidates’ prospects. In 2010 I noticed a preponderance of Cravaack signs, especially along the rural byways of CD-8. This time it doesn’t look so lopsided. Plus, the top of the ticket will likely boost Nolan, especially in the bigger precincts. All of that said, I wouldn’t be surprised if Cravaack prevails. That double vowel alone has to be good for a few dozen votes among the Finlanders.

  6. “I have never met a soul who promotes abortion, per se” – I can envision your white, smiling teeth CJH.

    But you’ve met souls who are pro-choice? Choice between what?

    I hail from a region where a guy once said – “I did not have sexual relations with that woman”, per se..

  7. “I must take exception, however, to the phrase [your words], “militantly pro-abortion.” I have never met a soul who promotes abortion, per se.”

    Well if someone favors legalized slavery would they be considered pro-slavery?

  8. Mr Gray’s analogy is ridiculous…and so is his terminology.

  9. “Mr Gray’s analogy is ridiculous”

    I’m sorry but if you don’t understand something that does not inherently render it ridiculous.

  10. It’s easy to decide ethical matters for someone else. But you wouldn’t want someone else to decide yours.

  11. “It’s easy to decide ethical matters for someone else. But you wouldn’t want someone else to decide yours.”

    Except that is basically the function of the law.

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