Canoeing the BWCA (
by Tony Petrangelo
Sep 23, 2013, 8:00 AM

Mining poll shows Minnesotans like the environment

Last week Mining Truth, a coalition of Minnesota environmental groups, released the results of a poll they had Public Policy Polling commission concerning Minnesota’s feelings about issues around sulfide mining. They released the results of two polls, one of the entire state of Minnesota, one of just the eighth congressional district.

These are the results of the first two questions of the statewide poll:

PPP (9/19, no trend lines):

Two companies, PolyMet and Twin Metals, are proposing to operate sulfide mines in northern Minnesota. Have you heard or seen anything about these new mines in Minnesota, or not?
Have 39
Have not 56
Not sure 6

Do you favor or oppose sulfide mining in Minnesota?
Favor 28
Oppose 32
Not sure 40
(MoE: ±4%)

The first question is an issue awareness question, asking Minnesotan’s if they have heard about the two proposed mining projects. The follow up is an approval-disapproval question.

Roughly 40%, two-fifths, of Minnesotans have heard about the proposed mines with the largest demographic splits being among respondents of different genders and political affiliations.

While 44% of men answered that they have heard of the projects, only 34% of women have. Likewise 48% of men say they have not heard of the projects while that number jumps to 62% for women.

And Republicans are like women on this issue. Only 24% of Republicans are aware of the issue while 67% are not. Among Democrats and independents it’s an almost 50-50 split.

While I don’t have a well articulated explanation for why this is the case among women, aside from the normal demographic differences between the sexes, I do think there is an explanation for this dynamic among partisans. At least partisans of the Democratic persuasion.

For Minnesota Democrats this issue has been long simmering just beneath the surface since the disastrous 1978 elections in which the DFL lost both US Senate seats, the Governorship and even the Auditor’s office to some guy named Carlson. Now, 35 years later and with the DFL again occupying the entirety of state government, many similar issues seems poised to re-emerge.

This is why Democrats are familiar with, a better term might be scared of, the mining issue, because it threatens to once again undo the party like it did in 1978. Although, it doesn’t quite explain why indies are as familiar with the issue as Democrats are.

After the two baseline questions, questions three through five were more specific issue related questions:

PPP (9/19, no trend lines):

Some people say it’s difficult for businesses, such as mining and farming companies, to create jobs unless we exempt them from some state environmental laws. I’m going to read two statements, and ask you which you agree with more. Here’s the first statement: ‘The state should relax or repeal current environmental laws if they interfere with businesses creating jobs.’ Here’s the second statement: ‘Our current state environmental laws must been forced for everyone.’ Which statement do you agree with more?
The state should relax or repeal current environmental laws if they interfere with businesses creating jobs 28
Our current state environmental laws must been forced for everyone 65
Not sure 7

Earlier this year, new mining was prohibited in an area around the Grand Canyon to protect its waters from pollution. Some people say that mining should be prohibited in areas where polluted runoff could enter the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Do you agree or disagree with that statement?
Agree 75
Disagree 17
Not sure 8

One proposed sulfide mine would operate for twenty years, but would require ongoing treatment of polluted water and maintenance of the site for hundreds of years after it closed.Based on this information, do you support or oppose this proposal?
Support 25
Oppose 48
Not sure 27
(MoE: ±4%)

What you see in these three questions is that when given the choice, Minnesotan’s choose to protect the environment. Even Minnesotan’s who consider themselves to be Republicans.

The first question (of those above, third question in the poll) explicitly asks if state environmental laws should be eased for the sake of jobs, a seemingly bread and butter Republican talking point these days. Well, according to this poll even 51% of Republicans in Minnesota think that existing environmental laws should be enforced, even at the expense of jobs.

The same dynamic is at play in the next question. When asked if mining should be prohibited where run-off water could reach the BWCAW, everyone says yes, yes it should.

What’s interesting is the third question. And the third question is a great example of why the mining companies are so eager to make it seem like they can operate these mines in an environmentally friendly way. While the third question talks about treating polluted water and ongoing maintenance for hundreds of years, when there’s no mention of possible environmental degradation, opposition to the mining projects softens quite a bit.

Support doesn’t really go up that much mind you, but opposition certainly softens.

But the inverse also seems to be true, that when Minnesotan’s are informed about the environmental realities of the mines being proposed, as in the first two questions above, they will be strongly opposed to any such project.

LeftMNer Steve Timmer has written 20(!) posts about this issue over the last few months, and if you want to get caught up on the issue of sulfide mining in Minnesota, he was nice enough to compile all the links into a single post.

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