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October 23, 2008

Obama, McCain in statistical dead heat in Montana, MSU Billings poll shows

Majority of Montanans disapprove of bailout plan, don’t want wolves protected, other poll results show

MSU BILLINGS NEWS SERVICES — With less than two weeks to election day, the hotly contested U.S. presidential race between Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain is a virtual dead heat in Montana, according to a poll released Thursday by Montana State University Billings.

The poll, reflecting the opinions of 403 Montana registered voters who said they were likely to vote in the Nov. 4 general election, showed that 44.4 percent said they were likely to vote for Obama while 40.2 percent said they would vote for McCain.  There were 9.5 percent of the respondents who said they were undecided while 4.2 percent said they supported Constitutional Party candidate Ron Paul.

Because the five percent margin of error, the race is essentially a tie right now between the major candidates, scientists at MSU Billings said.

“Statistically it’s a dead heat,” said Dr. Dan Lennon, an assistant professor of sociology at MSU Billings.

Dr. Craig Wilson, professor of political science at MSU Billings, noted that the results will likely run contrary to assumptions by many that McCain would easily carry the traditionally Republican state. Five separate appearances in Montana by Obama combined with falling approval ratings for President George W. Bush and the recent “tsunami” of economic woes are not helping McCain, Wilson said.

“For the first time, one of the presidential candidates is a real player in Montana,” Wilson said, adding that McCain has been “MIA (missing in action) in Montana.”

While the race is tight in Montana, Wilson reminded those who attended a press conference releasing results from the MSU Billings poll that “a week is a long time in politics.”

The MSU Billings poll was started in 1989 and this year marks the 23rd survey of voter preferences and opinions. The co-directors of the poll are Wilson, Lennon and Dr. Scott Rickard, director of the Center for Applied Economic Research.  The poll involves students enrolled in Political Science 350, a public opinion and polling class. They help write the questions and do phone surveys through the university’s Computer Assisted Telephone Interviewing (CATI) lab.

The phone survey was completed over the course of five nights last week dialing of random phone numbers across the state. The methodology selects both the phone numbers and the members of a household to interview.

Wilson said the poll give students hands-on experience that they would not get anywhere else.

“This is the only political science program in the state where students actually get to do political scientists and do the polls,” Wilson said.

Montanans are far from apathetic about this election, the poll shows. In fact, of those interviewed, 92 percent said they were interested in the upcoming general election.

“I’ve rarely seen a poll that shows the strength of interest in general than I have in Montana,” Lennon said.

Among other results from the poll:

  • 60 percent of respondents said that they disapproved of President Bush’s overall job performance. His highest approval ratings captured by the MSU Billings poll was 87 percent in 2001.
  • 43 percent of respondents said that McCain has run the most negative campaign. About 19 percent said Obama had run the most negative campaign while about 22 percent said it was about equal.
  • 52 percent of the respondents said McCain would do the best at handling foreign relations while 48 percent said Obama would do better at managing the economy.
  • 51 percent of the respondents said they disapproved of the federal economic assistance package developed by Congress and federal finance managers.
  • 61 percent of Montanans said that gray wolves should not be placed on the endangered species list.
  • 50 percent supported the use of private snowmobiles in Yellowstone National Park.
  • 71 percent of respondents said they believed there should be more drilling for oil in offshore ocean waters controlled by the United States.

Wilson, Lennon and Rickard on Friday will release results from the poll that deal with statewide candidates, ballot issues and lifestyle issues.

A link to the report of the poll results can be found on the MSU Billings web site.

10-23 MSUB poll release 2.jpg

Dr. Dan Lennon and Dr. Craig Wilson talk about the MSU Billings poll at a press conference Thursday.


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