Poll: Montanans tepid about leaders, split on policy issues

Majority support banning gender-affirming care for minors and share concerns about homelessness

By: - November 3, 2023 5:03 pm

Photo illustration by Getty Images.

The deep division and uncertainty that seems prevalent in national politics is alive and well in Montana, as the results of the annual Mountain States Poll were released Thursday.

The poll, conducted by Montana State University-Billings, demonstrates that Montanans generally support their state politicians while being displeased with how things are shaping up nationally. And it demonstrates uncertainty and division on a number of social issues ranging from the state’s first-of-its-kind ban on TikTok to whether medical professionals should be able to treat transgender youth who seek affirmative healthcare.

The Mountain States Poll, the 36th conducted by the university, sampled nearly 5,000 people between Oct. 2-13, and has a margin of error rate of +/- 3.8%.

The poll begins with a look at Treasure State residents’ opinions on a national level, with 60% of the state disapproving of the job President Joe Biden has done while in office; his approval rating was less than half of that at 27%.

Assistant Professor Hope Dewell Gentry, whose class led the poll, said the results aren’t surprising or out of line with other national trends, which often show residents dissatisfied with the national political scene, but becoming increasingly more pleased with elected leaders the closer you get to home, in this case, Montana.

And if Biden’s numbers are bad, Congress is even worse, according to the poll results with nearly two-thirds of residents disapproving of the job Congress is doing. Only 13% had a favorable view of how Congress is doing while 64% were dissatisfied. Twenty percent neither approved nor disapproved.

Montanans are also split on whether the United States should send more aid to Ukraine. Gentry said one of the limitations or wrinkles of the poll is that it was conducted as the war in Israel began, so respondents didn’t get a chance to respond on the issue of aid to Israel. Forty percent approve of sending aid, while 36% disapproved, leaving 20% undecided.

Divisions within Montana came into more focus as residents were asked about approval ratings for statewide politicians. None of the leaders who were featured in the polling questions received a majority of support, with residents showing mixed responses.

“Most people ease up because the person that represents you in Congress because he or she may live in your area, is one of you, or supposed to be,” Gentry said.

That may help explain why Congress in general has low ratings while members of Congress poll stronger in their home districts.

For example, Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte, a Republican, received the strongest approval rating at just 49%, with 22% saying they disapproved and 22% saying they neither approved nor disapproved.

Meanwhile, the popularity of Rep. Matt Rosendale on a statewide level was mixed at best, showing a 32% approval rating, the lowest of any statewide representative, with 25% expressing disapproval and 32% saying they neither approved nor disapproved.

His counterpart, Rep. Ryan Zinke, a Republican, was statistically similar with a 36% approval rating, and 23% disapproving while one-quarter of the respondents were neutral.

Montana’s Senators, Jon Tester, a Democrat, and Steve Daines, a Republican, had similar-looking results. While Daines held a 40% approval rating to Tester’s 39%, more were critical of Tester. Thirty percent of the respondents disapproved of Tester’s job, while 19% disapproved of Daines’ while the rest neither approved nor disapproved.

“That says that people aren’t totally dissatisfied, but that things aren’t going as well as they could be,” Gentry said. “The Republicans were the loudest group in the polling, but not necessarily the biggest group.”

Gentry said the results on many of the questions revealed a plurality of votes, rather than majorities, which tends to confirm Montana’s reputation of being more a “purple” state than either red or blue – colors affiliated with Republican or Democrat voters respectively.

Social issues

The Mountain States Poll also asked residents about different topics that were addressed in the 2023 Legislature, including a ban on the social media application TikTok.

Less than half of the residents favored the idea, with 45% supporting the ban, and the rest either disapproving or neutral.

Gentry said that one of the most interesting areas of the poll was the split on the TikTok questions. Generally speaking, more Republicans favored the ban, which was enacted by the Legislature. The GOP held a supermajority during the session, too.

However, that support waned as the demographics got younger. One of the biggest splits on the question: Men tended to favor the TikTok ban much more so than women, Gentry pointed out..

However, Montanans seemed to support the Legislature banning medical gender-affirming care for minors, with 61% showing support, while 21% disapproved of it.

“Because this was a quantitative poll not a qualitative, we didn’t ask if they would have a different opinion of banning medical care for adults, so it’s hard to tell what is opposition (to the issue) and what may be because it deals with minors,” Gentry said.

Montanans overwhelmingly identified homelessness as a problem in the community, with 70% saying it is a problem. Another question asked if residents think there are systems in place to address homelessness, with 54% saying “no.”

“That could suggest that residents are seeing homelessness in the community and not feeling it’s being addressed,” Gentry said. “It’s either that, or there are systems in place, but they’re not effective.”

Montanans were also queried on whether they approved of the current allocation of revenue generated from recreational marijuana with 70% approving, but 64% said they hadn’t seen any significant impact due to the additional revenue in their communities.

The poll also found that Montana residents get their political information from a variety of sources, with the highest percentage (27%) getting it from TV news, followed by social media and word of mouth. However, nearly half of the respondents said they “closely inspect the legitimacy of individual sources.” Eighty-five percent of Montanans said that America is vulnerable to misinformation.

Mountain States Poll 2023 Presentation

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Darrell Ehrlick
Darrell Ehrlick

Darrell Ehrlick is the editor-in-chief of the Daily Montanan, after leading his native state’s largest paper, The Billings Gazette. He is an award-winning journalist, author, historian and teacher, whose career has taken him to North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Utah, and Wyoming.