Updated: 08/25/2014 9:22 PM
Created: 08/24/2014 11:02 PM KSTP.com
By: Tom Hauser
Democrat incumbent Gov. Mark Dayton leads Republican challenger Jeff Johnson 49 percent to 40 percent in our first SurveyUSA/KSTP-TV general election poll in the 2014 Minnesota governor's race.
Independence Party candidate Hannah Nicollet is at 3 percent, and another 8percent favor someone else or are undecided. The poll was conducted over a three-day period from Aug. 19-21 beginning one week after the primary elections.
Although Dayton has a significant lead, University of Minnesota political analyst Larry Jacobs puts the lead in historical context.
"That lead is probably going to dwindle," Jacobs says. "That is pretty common as voters learn more about the challenger."
Jacobs says most voters have already formed opinions about the incumbent after four years and if they're undecided now, they're more likely to vote for the challenger.
For example, the last time an incumbent governor was on the ballot in 2006, Republican Tim Pawlenty had a 14-point lead over Democrat Mike Hatch at about this same time period. Pawlenty ultimately won by less than one percentage point.
Another significant story to watch will be how the Independence Party candidates fare in statewide polls. The party needs its candidate for governor or U.S. Senate to achieve five percent of the vote this year to retain "major party" status in Minnesota.
The head-to-head match-up of the gubernatorial candidates in this poll was conducted among 600 "likely voters" across the state. The sample included 37 percent who describe themselves as Democrats, 30 percent as Republican and 25 percent as independent. The other eight percent either didn't say or favored different parties.
Also in our poll, Mark Dayton has a 51 percent job performance approval rating while 37 percent disapprove among 725 "registered voters" in Minnesota.