In the Spotlight

News & Features
Poll: Senate Race is Close
By Laura McCallum
October 31, 2000
Part of MPR's Coverage of Campaign 2000
Click for audio RealAudio

DFL Senate candidate Mark Dayton maintains his advantage over Republican Sen. Rod Grams in the latest poll for Minnesota Public Radio, the Pioneer Press and KARE-TV. The former state auditor leads Grams by five percentage points, the same margin reported in the last MPR poll in September.

THE POLL of 625 registered Minnesota voters conducted late last week, found 47 percent support Dayton, 42 percent back Grams, and five percent say they'll vote for Independence Party candidate James Gibson. The poll's margin of error is plus or minus four percentage points. The poll shows a much closer race than a couple of other polls have found, most recently last week's Saint Cloud State University survey showing Dayton leading Grams by 15 percent.

See complete poll results
Brad Coker, managing director of Mason-Dixon Polling and Research, which conducted the MPR poll, says the difference in margins between the various polls is less significant than the fact that all show Grams behind, this close to the election.

"The fact that you have an incumbent that's trailing, that's the key sign there, and he's well below 50 percent at this point, and he's consistently polled in the low 40s, and that's probably where he's going to end up," says Coker.

Only six percent of those polled remain undecided, and Coker says undecided voters tend to support challengers more than incumbents. Dayton is also capturing a greater percentage of the voters who consider themselves moderates, which Coker says make up about half of Minnesota's population.

"The self-described liberals are going for Dayton by an overwhelming margin, the self-described conservatives are going for Grams by an overwhelming margin, and Dayton has about a 15-point lead among self-described moderates, and that's why he's winning this race," says Coker.

But the Grams campaign sees reason for optimism in the poll. Press secretary Kurt Zellers says Grams' poll numbers are rebounding from a low point after the expensive four-way DFL primary.

"Sen. Grams is slowly, but surely, riding back out of that negative inundation of $15 to $17 million worth of negative ads by all of the DFL opponents - the primary opponents - as well as Mr. Dayton, and then some of the special interest money from AFL-CIO and the trial lawyers," says Zellers.

Grams leads Dayton in northwest, southwest and southeast Minnesota, while Dayton is carrying the Iron Range and the Twin Cities metro. The poll also shows a gender gap, with women tending to support Dayton and men tending to support Grams.

The candidates have spent a small fortune in television ads. The poll asked respondents whether negative ads help them evaluate the positions of the Senate candidates, and the overwhelming majority - 83 percent - said no.

But the negative ads that Grams has been running against Dayton since the primary appear to be having an impact. Dayton's unfavorable rating increased nine percent from a poll taken a month earlier.

Dayton's press secretary, Sharon Ruhland, says Grams' attack have had an effect.

"The negative impact or tone of those ads has impacted how people may perceive Mark, but what it has not impacted is who they're going to support," she says.

Dayton still has a slight lead over Grams in favorable name recognition. The fourth major party Senate candidate - David Swan of the Constitution Party - got less than one percent support in the poll.