MISSOULA — Montanans across the political spectrum think federal public lands benefit the state’s economy and quality of life, according to a new poll released by the University of Montana.
“We found that support for national parks and conservation is about as popular and bipartisan an issue as you can find these days,” UM geography professor Rick Graetz said Wednesday. “There’s agreement in the state, on all sectors of politics.”
The poll of 500 registered voters throughout Montana took place on May 7, 9 and 11 by wireless and landline telephone interviews. It used the bipartisan team of Republican pollster Lori Weigel and Democratic pollster Dave Metz, who have cooperated on numerous other opinion surveys in the Rocky Mountain West. The poll had a margin of error of 4.38 percent.
Respondents believed parks and public lands had positive impacts both as national treasures and on personal income. When asked the same question in 2014, 62 percent said national parks produced a positive impact on jobs. That number jumped to 77 percent in 2016.
“That’s a full 15 points,” Metz said. “Some of the other questions were within the margin of error, but all were moving up. In each case, more respondents were telling us that parks have a positive impact than they did two years ago.”
The poll found three-to-one support for the Blackfoot-Clearwater Stewardship Project, which would add about 85,000 acres of new wilderness along the edges of the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex while creating new places for snowmobile riding and timber harvest. Republicans favored the project by 74 percent, Independents by 75 percent and Democrats by 73 percent.
Similarly strong majorities opposed plans to drill for oil and gas in the Badger-Two Medicine region between Glacier National Park and the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, with an overall 70 percent against the idea. On the partisan scale, 50 percent of Republicans opposed it, along with 71 percent of Independents and 93 percent of Democrats.
Montanans are somewhat out of step with the rest of the region in their opposition to state takeover of federal public lands. This poll found 55 percent opposed the idea while 41 percent supported it.
Weigel said in other regional polls, she’s found people’s general inclination was that states do a better job than the federal government.
“It’s pretty significant that a majority oppose that in Montana, given the historically low ratings for the federal government and Congress,” Weigel said.
She added it was surprising to see twice as much strong opposition (38 percent) to state takeover, compared to strong support (19 percent).