KSTP/SurveyUSA poll: Walz leads all GOP challengers, but many undecided

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With 11 months to go until the 2022 elections, a new poll shows Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz has double-digit leads over each of six Republican candidates seeking their party’s endorsement to challenge him next November. However, one area of concern for the governor’s re-election bid is the large number of "likely voters" who say they’re undecided about whether to support him after his first three years in office.

Walz leads Republican Sen. Paul Gazelka 47% to 34%, while 5% prefer a candidate from another party and 14% are undecided. Gazelka is arguably the best known amongst the GOP challengers because of his former role as Senate Majority Leader. Senator Michelle Benson trails Walz by a similar margin, 47% to 35% with 4% preferring a candidate from another party and 14% undecided. Former state senator Dr. Scott Jensen trails Walz 48% to 36% with 5% choosing a candidate of another party and 11% undecided.

"I think you could have put Joe Bloke in there instead of Paul Gazelka, Michelle Benson or Scott Jensen and you probably would have gotten similar results because most people don’t know who these Republicans are," says Carleton College political analyst Steven Schier.

In fact, three lesser-known candidates fare about the same as the senators and former senator. Lexington Mayor Mike Murphy trails Walz 47% to 36%; Walz leads Dr. Neil Shah, a political newcomer, 48% to 31%; and businessman Mike Marti trails Walz 47% to 34%. Again, the undecided "likely voters" in each of those hypothetical races range from 12% to 16%.

"When you’re undecided at this point you can’t assume those people are going to break for the governor," Schier said after reviewing the poll results. "And that remains an uncertainty and a potential opportunity for Republicans in next year’s elections."

Despite the governor’s 2018 campaign slogan of "One Minnesota," our KSTP/SurveyUSA poll clearly shows two Minnesotas. For instance, Walz leads Gazelka 53% to 30% in Twin Cities suburbs and 51% to 36% in urban areas; Gazelka leads 43% to 33% in northeastern Minnesota and 53% to 29% in western Minnesota. The only part of greater Minnesota where Walz does well is in southern Minnesota, including his hometown of Mankato and the district he once served in Congress.

Schier says the suburbs will be the key battleground in 2022.

"The suburbs are quite volatile," he says. "How they go often determines statewide races. There are a lot of voters in Twin Cities suburbs."

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Our poll also shows Gov. Walz with a 55% job approval rating with 41% disapproving. The numbers are slightly lower on his handling of the economy, with 51% approving and 42% disapproving.

President Joe Biden is not as popular among Minnesotans. His overall approval rating is 48% with 48% also voicing disapproval. On the handling of the economy, Biden is much lower at 42% approving with 53% disapproving.

Our KSTP/SurveyUSA poll includes interviews with 675 Minnesota adults online. Of those adults, 506 were identified as "likely voters." The sample includes 37% Democrats, 33% Republicans and 25% independents. The "credibility interval" is ±5.1%.

You can view the full survey results below.