The two incumbents running for the top statewide elected offices are ahead of their challengers according to the latest MSU Billings statewide poll.
MSU Billings students polled 590 adult Montanans between October 3-10, 2016. 70% of those were reached via cell phone.
That snapshot in time found Democratic Governor Steve Bullock led his Republican challenger Greg Gianforte by a 44-to-32 percent margin. 20% replied DK/NA (didn’t know or no answer).
In the U-S House Race, Congressman Ryan Zinke led Democratic challenger Denise Juneau 50-to-31% with 19% DK/NA.
Finally, 43% of respondents said they would vote for Republican Donald Trump, 27% for Democrat Hillary Clinton with 20% DK/NA.
Montana State University Political Science Associate Professor David Parker is surprised by the high number of undecided responses in those races.
“As for the snapshot in time, I’m not surprised that Trump is in the lead that’s kinda where I expect the race to go,” says Parker. “I’m not surprised Ryan Zinke is in the lead, he definitely is the favorite to win re-election.”
Parker says he also wasn’t surprised the MSU Billings Poll found Bullock in the lead earlier in October, “and I guess the race could have tightened between then and the Lee Newspaper polls but that’s rather somewhat unlikely.”
The Lee Newspaper poll was conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling and Research. It was conducted slightly after the MSU Billings Poll, but released just over a week ago. In the Gubernatorial race, its results were within the margin of error with Bullock over Gianforte by a slim 2-percentage points.
Parker says professional polling firms will ask respondents if they say they are undecided which direction they are leaning. He says that’s not considered leading a respondent to make a choice, “’cause most people do lean in one direction or another.”
He says 20% is a high number of undecideds for the top political contests, especially in the gubernatorial and U.S. House races where there’s an incumbent.
MSU Billings students came up with the 27 questions in the latest poll and they helped analyze the results.
MSU Billings Assistant Professor Political Science and Poll Director Nisha Bellinger says the reason it took two-weeks from the end of the polling to the release date is because it took time for students to wade through the findings.
“It’s a learning experience for the students so we can’t rush through it,” she says. “We are doing so much more than being able just to predict who may or may not win the election.”
Besides the questions on the top political races, the poll also asked respondents their opinion on numerous issues, including legalizing marijuana, gun laws, and climate change.
“I applaud MSU Billings for doing this poll,” says MSU’s David Parker. “I would love for my students to do that kind of thing as well.”
He says because there are so few political polls in Montana, the challenge for this poll is whether it adds to the political discourse.
“Personally if I were to conduct a poll here I would rather have a poll conducted by professional phone callers to increase my certainty in the quality in the poll, in the results, and getting stuff out faster to contribute to the broader conversation than to have students conducting a poll over a long period of time,” says Parker.
The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.