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2020 Elections

Montana State University Poll Shows Close Races In Montana

Portraits show Republican U.S. Congressman Greg Gianforte and Democratic Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney, who are vying to become Montana's next governor.
Greg Gianforte and Mike Cooney
Republican U.S. Congressman Greg Gianforte (left) and Democratic Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney are vying to become Montana's next governor.

A Montana State University poll released Wednesday suggests Montana’s three high profile races are toss ups.

The gubernatorial, U.S. Senate and U.S. House races are all close enough to be within the 4 percent margin of error, according to an MSU poll conducted Sept. 14 to Oct. 2.

“If you look at other polls that have examined these races there's a bit of variability but a lot of them are showing close races as well,” says MSU political scientist Eric Raile.

The governor’s race features the widest gap between candidates. Republican Congressman Greg Gianforte holds a 47 to 42 percent lead over Democratic Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney, with seven percent of voters undecided. Raile says the large number of undecided voters likely reflects a low approval rating for Gianforte and Cooney not being very well known, despite holding statewide office.

In the Senate race, Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock and Republican Sen. Steve Daines are in a statistical tie. Bullock is polling at 49 to Daines’ 47 percent, with 3 percent of voters undecided. Raile says Bullock had the highest approval rating of any official involved with the polling.

Portraits show Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock (left), who is trying to oust incumbent Republican Sen. Steve Daines. Daines is seeking a second term in office.
Steve Bullock and Steve Daines
Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock (left) is trying to oust incumbent Republican Sen. Steve Daines, who is seeking a second term in office.

Meanwhile, the race between Republican state Auditor Matt Rosendale and Democratic former state lawmaker Kathleen Williams is also too close to call with 5 percent of voters undecided.

The poll suggests more Republican voters will support Democratic candidates this election than vice versa. Raile attributes the GOP slippage to President Donald Trump. The poll shows him with a 7 percent lead over Democratic challenger former Vice President Joe Biden, a much tighter margin than in 2016.

“I think there are some Republicans who are not happy with the president’s behavior and the way he’s handled some major issues over the last few months,” Raile says.

Still, there are more Republican than Democratic voters in Montana, which is why Raile says Democrats have little room for error. He says they will likely rely on independent and young voters, both groups that favor Democrats by wide margins.

“If the Democratic candidates are going to have a chance to win, they really need to turn out with those groups," Raile says.

Raile says high turnout among independent and young voters would also likely lead to approval of an initiative to legalize recreational marijuana. Forty-nine percent of poll respondents supported legalization, while 39 percent did not. Ten percent of voters were undecided.

To conduct the poll, MSU mailed questionnaires to 9,000 randomly selected active voters proportionally drawn from state legislative districts.