Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Record Turnout Pushed Montana Republican Sweep

An election worker wearing a yellow reflective vest and fingerless gloves holds an "I voted sticker"
Kevin Trevellyan
Yellowstone Public Radio
A Lewis and Clark County election official prepares to give a sticker to a "park and go" voter outside the City/County Building on Nov. 3, 2020.

High turnout in Republican strongholds contributed to a GOP sweep of top-tier and down ballot races in Montana.

Although results weren’t final as of Wednesday afternoon, Montana State University political scientist Eric Raile says the GOP exceeded pre-election poll expectations.

“I think the story of the election so far is that Republicans won just about everything. If you look at the federal races, you look at the statewide races, you look at what majorities are going to be in the state Senate and state House, Republicans have done very well for themselves," Raile says.

Republicans won Montana’s three major races: governor, U.S. Senate and U.S. House. They also kept control of the attorney general, secretary of state, auditor and superintendent of public instruction positions.

The election drew record-breaking turnout in Montana, surpassing the 2016 contest by more than 76,000 votes with many precincts still tallying ballots.

Although turnout rose in Democratic strongholds like Missoula and Gallatin counties compared to the last presidential election, Raile says more sizable jumps occurred in reliably Republican areas like Lake and Lincoln counties.

“In every single one of those more populous counties that had big bumps in turnout, the vote went Republican.”

An MSU poll released Oct. 14 suggested the governor, Senate and House races were toss ups within the margin of error. However, preliminary post-election results from the secretary of state’s office put the GOP candidates up at least 10 percentage points in each race.

Raile says younger voters may have unexpectedly shifted the results. The MSU poll placed 18- to 29-year-olds squarely on the side of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. But exit polls conducted by Edison Research showed that those same voters turned out overwhelmingly for Republican President Donald Trump.

“It looks like we have some dormant Republicans, where we had young people who would vote Republican, who haven't shown up in other elections. And they showed up this time," Raile says.

Bucking expectations, Raile says Trump may have been a boon for down ballot Republicans by attracting undecided voters in the campaign’s final weeks and possibly mobilizing new ones.