Data shows widening partisan divide between cities, greater Minnesota

By: - November 14, 2022 6:04 am

Gov. Tim Walz poses for a selfie with a University of Minnesota Duluth student on Wednesday, Nov. 2. Photo by Michelle Griffith/Minnesota Reformer.

Gov. Tim Walz handily beat Republican challenger Scott Jensen on Tuesday, with preliminary data showing Walz with nearly an 8-point margin

While comfortable, that margin is somewhat diminished from Walz’s first campaign in 2018, when he defeated Jeff Johnson by more than 11% for the gubernatorial seat vacated by Mark Dayton. 

Below the surface, however, the data reveal that the geographic polarization of Minnesota voters continues apace. Walz ran up his margins in the Twin Cities and Rochester this year, winning more decisively than he did in 2018. But in parts of greater Minnesota — particularly the northwest and southwest corners of the state — support for the Democrat dropped by 10 percentage points or more.

Overall, the story of Minnesota partisan politics is much the same as it is elsewhere around the nation: Democratic party strength is growing in urban areas but waning considerably in the places far away from large cities. In counties considered ‘rural,’ for instance — which effectively includes everything not in the metro areas of Minneapolis-St. Paul, Rochester, Duluth, Fargo and East Grand Forks — Walz’s support fell by an average of 7 points relative to 2018. 

In the seven-county core of the Twin Cities metro, by contrast, he ran ahead of his 2018 margins by about 1.5 points.

In Marshall and Mahnomen counties in the northwest part of the state, the share of voters supporting Walz fell by 10 percentage points. Lincoln County, on the South Dakota border, posted the steepest drop, with support for Walz falling by 14 percentage points. Overall, he captured a majority in just 12 of the state’s 87 counties this year, compared to 16 in 2018.

Importantly, however, land doesn’t vote: people do. Walz’s increased margins in the populous Twin Cities were more than enough to offset the losses elsewhere.

Still, the data clearly show why the DFL can’t afford to write off rural Minnesota completely. Walz got about 197,000 votes in the state’s non-metro counties. That number is notably larger than his margin of victory (192,000 votes) over Jensen. If it weren’t for the state’s rural Democrats, in other words, Jensen would have won.

Of course, with a small enough margin every constituency can lay claim to being the one that put the winning candidate over the finish line. But the data’s a good reminder that while they don’t tend to draw a lot of media coverage, nearly 200,000 rural Minnesota Democrats are out there. And like everyone else, they’re watching closely to see what Walz does with his newly minted trifecta at the state Capitol.

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Christopher Ingraham
Christopher Ingraham

Christopher Ingraham covers greater Minnesota and reports on data-driven stories across the state. He's the author of the book "If You Lived Here You'd Be Home By Now," about his family's journey from the Baltimore suburbs to rural northwest Minnesota. He was previously a data reporter for the Washington Post.