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Contacts:
Dr. Craig Wilson, political science, 657-2995
Dr. Dan Lennon, sociology, 657-2915
Dr. Scott Rickard, Center for Applied Economic Research, 657-1763
Dan Carter, University Relations, 657-2269

November 16, 2009

Montanans sound off on elected officials' performance, environmental issues in latest MSU Billings poll

Lack of resolution to healthcare issue splits view on Sen. Baucus


MSU BILLINGS NEWS SERVICES — While Montanans generally approve of the work top state elected officials are doing this year, the lack of resolution in one key national issue — healthcare— is having a big effect on how people view the performance of U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, according to a new poll done by Montana State University Billings.

“He’s been in the eye of the storm of the healthcare debate and it hasn’t been resolved,” said Dr. Craig Wilson, professor of political science at MSU Billings and one of the co-directors of the poll. “That has to have an effect.”

The job performance views and other statewide issues were released Monday. The poll was conducted through a statewide random sample telephone survey on Nov. 5-8 with 414 Montanans. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percent.

Wilson and co-directors Dr. Dan Lennon (a sociologist at MSU Billings) and Dr. Scott Rickard (director of the Center for Applied Economic Research) talked about the results during a press conference at the university. Poll results on national and international results will be released Tuesday.

Poll groupThe poll shows that Montanans generally approve of the work that the statewide elected officials are doing, which is close to performance measures seen in 2007. For example, 62 percent of respondents in this year’s poll approved of the job Gov. Brian Schweitzer is doing. In 2007, the number was 62.8 percent.

Much was the same for Republican U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg and Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester. Approval ratings for Rehberg this year are at 54 percent (compared to 58.6 percent in 2007) while approval numbers for Tester is at 56 percent (compared to 57.1 percent in 2007).

The noticeable difference this year is with Baucus. According to the MSU Billings poll, a plurality of respondents (44 percent) approved of the job he is doing. In reply to the same question in 2007, 64.3 percent said they approved.

Among some of the statistically significant relationships regarding Baucus in the poll, the co-directors pointed out:

  • On the 1-10 scaled question regarding whether or not healthcare legislation would make U.S. healthcare better or worse, a plurality (19 percent) of the interviewees who felt the senator is doing a good job chose “5.” Among individuals who felt the Senator not doing a good job a plurality (49.4%) chose “1.”

  • While 63.9 percent of those interviewed believed Baucus is doing a good job supported a public healthcare option, 63.5 percent of the respondents who did not feel he was doing a good job opposed the public option.

  • A total of 67.1 percent of Democrats approved of the Senator’s performance. While a majority (57.1 percent) of Republicans and plurality (43.8 percent) of independents disapproved of the job he is doing.

The Montana Democrat is the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, which worked this fall to craft a healthcare reform bill that is now winding its way through Congress. Being in the center of that process had an effect on Baucus’ numbers, Wilson said, but just as notable was the larger amount of disapproval among independents.

While Democrats enjoyed a wide level of support before the 2008 elections, independents are having more of an effect this year, Wilson said.

“Generally, more people identify themselves as independents this year,” he said.

In other results reported in the poll:

  • Montanans seem split on a voter initiative dealing with the question of when life begins. The proposed voter initiative would amend the Montana Constitution to define a person to include every human being from the beginning of human being’s biological development. While 45 percent of the respondents said they opposed the initiative, 44 percent said they supported it. A majority (67.8 percent) of Democrats and a plurality of independents (41.7 percent) opposed the initiative while 62.2 percent of Republicans supported it.

  • Respondents are generally opposed to expanding casino gambling on American Indian reservations. The poll asked if people supported expanding casino gambling to include blackjack and slot machines on reservations. A majority (61 percent) opposed the idea while 24 percent and the remainder were undecided.

  • Respondents favor protection of grizzly bears in and around Yellowstone National Park but want to keep wolves under control. A majority of respondents (54 percent) said they thought that grizzly bears should be protected under the federal government’s endangered species laws while 30 percent wanted them removed from the list. Meanwhile, 75 percent of the respondents said they thought wolf hunting should be permitted in Montana.

  • Montanans like the idea of more wilderness. Fifty percent of those who were interviewed said they would support designating 600,000 additional acres of federal land in Montana as wilderness while 36 percent were opposed. A majority of Democrats (73.9 percent) supported new wilderness areas, while pluralities of Republicans (46.5 percent) and independents (41.7 percent) opposed the idea. Women favored the idea more than men.

This is the 21st year that MSU Billings has conducted an opinion poll as part of its political science program. It is the only political science program in the Montana University System where students do the full scope of political science polling, Wilson and Lennon said.

Nearly 30 students in upper-level political science and sociology classes participated in the interview process, Wilson said.

For a link to the full results of the poll, go to www.msubillings.edu/urelations/ and click on the Day 1 results in the “MSU Billings Poll” box.

PHOTO ABOVE: MSU Billings Poll co-directors, from left, Dr. Dan Lennon (sociology), Dr. Craig Wilson (political science) and Dr. Scott Rickard (Center for Applied Economic Research) talk about the new MSU Billings Poll that was release Monday.

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