The Minnesota Community Project was created by former vice president Walter Mondale in 2003.
The changing face of Minnesota
By Rick Moore
Published on December 18, 2004
"The times they are a-changin'," Bob Dylan sang four decades ago. In his home state of Minnesota, that may be as true now as at any time since he wrote those words.
The face of Minnesota is indeed changing in some very perceptible ways--demographically, politically, culturally, and religiously--and not all residents are happy about our current state of affairs, according to survey results presented December 14 at the Minnesota Community Project, an event hosted by the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs.
Minnesotans are downbeat in general and are becoming more divided into "increasingly irreconcilable groups," the survey suggests. They are skeptical of public institutions and disagree as to their role in our lives. And, perhaps alarmingly, they are concerned with the increasing presence of immigrants in communities throughout the state. However, not all is bleak and dreary; Minnesotans still believe in a high quality of life and equal opportunity for everyone.
The findings were presented by Stan and Anna Greenberg of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, Inc., and were based on survey research and focus group interviews conducted in February and June of 2004. Much of the research was focused on exurban counties of the Twin Cities metropolitan area--those residential communities just outside of the suburbs. The presentation was followed by a panel discussion, led by Ted Mondale, which addressed the survey findings and the challenges they pose for the state's future.
Following is a closer look at some of the key findings of Minnesota Community Project:
- Exurban counties are the fastest growing areas of the state. While residents there tend to be more educated, slightly younger, and have slightly younger children, they are not demographically much different from people in the rest of the state, saed Anna Greenberg. They do tend to be slightly more conservative, politically, but they are "ideologically complex"--in the middle ground between urban and rural, she adds. For instance, exurbanites tend to fall the middle on issues such as gay marriage, abortion, and the NRA; they are more liberal than rural residents and more conservative than urban dwellers.
- The collective mood in Minnesota is downbeat. Statewide, we are in a bit of a malaise, reflecting our concerns about the declining quality of public schools and the increasing cost of health care. (Interestingly, exurbanites are the most optimistic; more than urban and rural residents, they tend to feel that the "American Dream" is still attainable.)
- Minnesotans are concerned about the government. In general, residents are discouraged by what they feel are high taxes. Further, they feel that government is wasteful and inefficient, squandering hard-earned tax dollars on programs that are not well run or do not benefit all people equally. Despite that belief, they understand that there is an important role for government to play in maintaining infrastructure, keeping the environment clean, and providing a quality public education.
- Religious institutions are becoming increasingly diverse, what with the rise of immigration and with the growth of evangelical "mega-churches" in suburban and exurban counties. A majority of Minnesotans says that their religious commitment reflects their personal relationship with God rather than a responsibility to help the disadvantaged.
- Minnesotans have a conflicting view on immigrants. While residents value the open-mindedness of Minnesota--an element of the "Minnesota way" that they prize--they are increasing concerned about immigrants, whom they see as unwilling to assimilate and sometimes as a drain on resources. Outside of the metro area, in particular, residents perceive that increased immigration is draining resources from public schools and other services. As Anna Greenberg pointed out, there seems to be some misconceptions about immigrants: that most are on welfare, that they don't work, and that they don't pay taxes.
Participants in the panel discussion were concerned about Minnesotans' views on immigrants. Emmett Carson, president and CEO of The Minneapolis Foundation, called those findings an early diagnosis of a cancer in our community. "We think [immigration is] a light switch that we can turn on and off. And that's not true. It's here to stay," he said. "The second message we have to communicate is that it's good for Minnesota.... People want to move to Minnesota because it's diverse.... This is consistent with what America is, at its core."
It could be that immigrants are this generation's targets of choice in the current era of discontent, said Joel Gibson, who works with immigrants at Abraham Lincoln High School (an English immersion alternative school in Minneapolis) and as the executive director of the Institute for New Americans. "They are more like us than we are comfortable in perceiving," he said, adding that immigrants represent Minnesotans looking over their shoulders at previous generations. He said the key to reducing any friction is education--and that Minnesotans need to learn about where immigrants come from, what their needs are, and how we can help them.
Despite some of the negative findings, Minnesotans still embrace the idea of a "100 percent" Minnesota, and feel that everyone should have the same chance at a high quality of life. For exurban residents, there is more of an element of self-sufficiency to those sentiments; they feel that the "100 percent Minnesota" framework must include government accountability and personal accountability.
Finally, the survey results suggest that Minnesotans feel that communities are declining, and that people no longer know their neighbors or lend a helping hand. For residents of this state to thrive in the future, the findings suggest, we need to renew our commitment to community.
For more on the Minnesota Community Project, see MCP.