About half of the state's voters outside Hennepin and Ramsey counties either do not accept or have doubts about the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election, according to a new Minnesota Poll.
In much of the state, about half of voters also do not consider the deadly siege of the U.S. Capitol an insurrection, the poll shows.
"Being able to trust and abide by legitimate election results lies at the heart of U.S. democracy and, frankly, democracy more generally," said David Levine, an elections integrity fellow for the nonpartisan Alliance for Securing Democracy. "If people can't trust legitimate election results, then that raises real questions about how much they trust democracy."
The poll, conducted Sept. 13-15, was sponsored by the Star Tribune, MPR News, KARE 11 and FRONTLINE.
When asked to describe the storming of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, most voters outside Hennepin and Ramsey counties called it a legitimate demonstration that turned violent due to the actions of a small group of extremists. In contrast, most voters living in the state's two most populous counties blamed former President Donald Trump for inciting supporters to breach the Capitol.
Overall, 60% of those polled said they believed Joe Biden legitimately won last year's election, 26% said he did not and 14% were not sure. Voters were more evenly split on how they perceived Jan. 6: 46% called it an insurrection aimed at overturning the election, while 42% said it was a legitimate demonstration.
But the poll shows a stark divide by geography.
In Hennepin and Ramsey counties, 77% of voters said Biden legitimately won the election, and 15% said he did not. In northern Minnesota, 51% of likely voters say Biden won and 32% said he did not. Another 17% said they are not sure.
In southern Minnesota, 50% said Biden won legitimately, 32% said he did not and 18% said they didn't know.
About half of those polled blamed Trump for inciting his supporters to storm the U.S. Capitol and 41% said he did not.
Federal prosecutors have charged more than 600 people for participating in the deadly siege of the U.S. Capitol. Rioters battered Capitol police with weapons and videos depicted the mob chanting threats to kill then-Vice President Mike Pence and other elected officials. Five people died that day.
The U.S. House voted to impeach Trump based in part on remarks delivered to thousands of supporters earlier that day in which he told the crowd that "we're going to walk down, and I'll be there with you" at the Capitol.
Trump later added: "We fight like hell. And if you don't fight like hell, you're not going to have a country anymore."
Polarization over election integrity is at stark odds with sweeping assessments from federal intelligence, law enforcement and elections officials that the 2020 vote was among the nation's most secure in history. Scores of lawsuits challenging Biden's victory were dismissed nationwide by judges appointed by both Republican and Democratic administrations.
"The 2020 election in Minnesota, and nationally, was fundamentally fair, accurate, honest and secure," said Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon, a Democrat. "And the reason we know that's true was this was the most watched, studied, scrutinized and litigated election in the history of the United States of America."
A memo filed late last week in a defamation lawsuit against the campaign and others by a former employee of Dominion, a voting machine company, showed that the Trump campaign knew claims of election fraud were false, even as campaign allies were spreading baseless conspiracy theories on television and in the media.
Steven Schier, a political-science professor at Carleton College, said partisan and geographic breakdowns over the election and Jan. 6 Capitol siege represent a "new normal" in the country's politics.
"I think some people see Jan. 6 as a dagger aimed at the heart of American democracy and others see it as a one-off protest that didn't produce much," Schier said. "The people who are very concerned about Jan. 6 are not going to forget about it — and they are on both sides of the divide: those who supported the assault on the Capitol and those who didn't."
Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy Inc. of Jacksonville, Fla., surveyed 800 registered Minnesota voters by cellphone and landline. The margin of sampling error for the poll is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
The poll revealed dramatic divides based on party affiliation: 96% of those who identified as Democrats believe Biden won the election, while just 24% of Republicans and 51% of voters who identified as Independent/Other answered the same way. Nearly half of Republican voters said Biden did not win, and another 29% were unsure.
Krystyn Kono, a 47-year-old Hastings resident who works in the energy industry, said she began doubting the election's results when she watched Trump's leads in several swing states reverse after election night.
The coronavirus pandemic led to a historic surge in mail-in voting last year. Minnesota's Legislature approved a temporary change to let election workers start counting early ballots two weeks before Election Day. But other states did not start counting votes until after polls closed, leading to lags in reporting.
"Things don't seem to add up to me," Kono said. "From the research I've done, what I've looked at and read about different states and different accounts from people who were working, it just doesn't add up."
Elizabeth Chamberlin, 79, of Austin has volunteered to help work on past elections in Minnesota and said she has never seen anything to suggest the state or country's elections are being compromised.
"I just don't believe anybody would bother," Chamberlin said. "You can barely get people to vote, let alone tamper with an election."
Only Hennepin and Ramsey counties had a majority of voters call Jan. 6 an insurrection aimed at overturning the 2020 election. Democrats and Republicans were far apart in their response to that question. Independent/Other voters were nearly even.
Political leanings and geography were similarly predictive of voters' views on whether Trump incited his supporters to storm the U.S. Capitol: Voters in Hennepin and Ramsey counties were the only ones to, by a majority, blame Trump.
Kono said she believed "things got out of hand" after what she called a peaceful demonstration at the Capitol on Jan. 6. She said Trump "didn't say anything that was more inflammatory than what I heard numerous other politicians say throughout the year — throughout 2020."
"Because I heard numerous politicians talk about going to the streets and doing things," she said.
But Shawn Bue, a St. Paul resident in his 60s, said that "there must be some connection" between Trump's words and the actions of his thousands of followers on the ground that day.
"Because they listen to him," Bue said. "People just follow his words and do what he wants for him."
Chamberlin placed blame on social media and disinformation. "I think it was from people who spend way too much time on the internet and on Twitter and believe everything that is on there," she said. "They were mostly Trump supporters."
The Minnesota Poll results were comparable to a June national poll by Monmouth University finding that 61% of Americans believed Biden fairly won the election. Nearly a third said they believed voter fraud was to blame. The poll found that 56% of voters referred to Jan. 6's events as an insurrection and 33% called it a legitimate protest.
Simon called the deadly Jan. 6 siege "the most obvious, prominent example" of an ongoing reckoning with political disinformation and tribal politics.
But he also pointed to the dozens of laws since passed by GOP-led legislatures aimed at tightening access to voting — often based on dubious allegations of wrongdoing in 2020.
"In the short and medium term, we have real problems with people peddling disinformation and some number of people who are unfortunately being misled — and I would say used — by those who are doing the peddling," Simon said.
Stephen Montemayor • 612-673-1755