Thousands of registered voters in Montana may be receiving a poll soon in their mailboxes asking for their views on the candidates, elected officials, and some issues. The poll is co-sponsored by Montana State University and the Montana Television Network.
MSU political scientist David Parker said there’s been a dearth of results from surveys in recent years as Lee Newspapers and Montana State University Billings both have stopped funding regular polling.
He said MSU and MTN have pooled their resources to query registered voters by mail, instead of by telephone.
“The problem with cell phones is people don’t answer cell phones with a number they don’t recognize,” he said.
The benefit of polling by mail is a better response rate, although it takes a bit longer for those responses to be returned. It’s a trade-off he predicted will result in a better snapshot to understand the Montana electorate.
“This poll is designed to inform the public. It’s designed to allow us to make better policy decisions. And it’s designed to help hold elected officials to account,” Parker said. “It’s a poll by Montanans for Montanans where a lot of the polling firms are from out of state.”
He said the problem with polling in this state right now is most are done by the candidates and they’re either not shared or if shared, the released results may be selective not to mention the question of whether the release was for informational or political purposes.
Parker said their poll was tested to make sure it is free from bias and to see how long it took most people to complete the survey - on average it took 10 minutes.
The poll will ask questions like: If the election were held today who will you vote for? Or what issues are most important to you?
Parker is also working on a follow-up survey after the November election.
“And that’s important too because what we’re trying to do is try to understand after the fact how the candidates won,” he said. “What messages worked with voters.”
He said the post-election voters contacted will be a sample from those registered voters who answered and mailed back the first survey.
“So the idea is to see how people’s views of the candidates changed as from what we see the campaigns do in the public realm,” he said. “So for example, we know there’s a lot of advertising. Does the advertising that we see actually affect at least how people perceive the issues in the race?”
The pre-election survey will be mailed to 10,000 Montana households starting next week. Parker said that will make it one of the most extensive political polls in Montana. He hoped to get back at least 1,500 to 2,000 responses. If that happens, Parker said it would be one of the largest in recent history as most Montana polls rely on responses from between 400-to-600 people.
The plan is to announce the results the first week of October. That would be before regular absentee ballots start going out in the mail October 12, 2018.
The MSU/MTN survey envelope will carry their respective logos and will contain the questionnaire and a self-addressed, postage paid envelope to return the poll.