why is minnesota so liberal

Why is Minnesota So Liberal? Exploring the North Star State’s Progressive Roots

Minnesota’s politics have long marched to a more progressive beat compared to its Midwestern neighbors. While states like North and South Dakota, and Iowa were painted Republican red in the 2020 presidential election.

But Minnesota stuck with its pattern of backing Democratic candidates. Even so much as to get a trifecta controlling both the house, senate and governor’s office.

The state hasn’t supported a Republican presidential candidate since Richard Nixon in 1972. So what makes Minnesota such an outlier in the heartland? Let’s take a closer look.

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Historical Roots and Cultural Influences

Minnesota’s liberal political tradition has deep roots tracing back to the state’s settlement by European immigrants in the 19th century. As Steven Schier, a retired political science professor from Carleton College, explains:

“Minnesota was settled largely by churchgoing Scandinavians and Germans, who were ‘moralistic and public regarding,’ and tended to agree with the notion that government had a role to play when it’s in the best interest of everyone.”

This civic-minded, progressive ethos took hold and has persisted through high voter turnout rates that have frequently benefited left-leaning candidates over the years.

The creation of the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party (DFL) in 1944 further solidified liberal forces by uniting the Democratic Party with the more radical Farmer-Labor Party at that time.

Rise of the Minnesota DFL

The DFL brought together diverse coalitions including the labor movement, farmers, academics, feminists, and veterans under one progressive banner. Influential leaders like Hubert Humphrey and Orville Freeman were instrumental in building and expanding the DFL’s statewide base starting in the 1940s and 1950s.

As Iric Nathanson, a Twin Cities columnist, describes it: “You had the partnership of the charismatic ideologue [Humphrey] and this organizational genius [Freeman], and that really gave the DFL a good institutional foundation.”

Demographic Shifts Favor Democrats

While Minnesota’s liberal roots run deep, demographic changes in recent decades have also benefited the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party.

The Republican Party has become “more uniformly conservative and rural in its base,” notes Schier. This has opened opportunities for Democrats to gain support in the Twin Cities metro area and inner-ring suburbs which hold an increasing share of the state’s population.

In contrast to more rural conservative shifts, urban and suburban areas have trended progressive – allowing the DFL to build a stronghold in the Minneapolis-St. Paul region and making it an outlier compared to the redder rural Midwestern landscape.

A Progressive Force to be Reckoned With

So there you have it – a mix of cultural heritage, savvy coalition-building, and demographic shifts have contributed to Minnesota’s status as a progressive island in a predominantly red-leaning region.

While surrounding states have moved rightward, the North Star State seems poised to maintain its liberal leanings for the foreseeable future.

Whether you find Minnesota’s political outlier status admirable or concerning, one thing is clear: This state’s progressive forces have established a durable foothold that makes them a formidable power to be reckoned with in Midwestern politics.

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