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Dr. Nisha Bellinger

Dr. Nisha Bellinger reads the results of the annual MSU Billings Poll of Montana during a press conference Tuesday, October 25, 2016.

Public opinion favors incumbents and Republicans in the upcoming election, according to a poll released by Montana State University Billings.

The poll was conducted by students, who asked Montana residents about state and national races, as well as a number of issues. It was presented during a conference Tuesday at the university.

Incumbent Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock was favored at 44 percent, while Republican Greg Gianforte garnered 32 percent in favor. Nearly half of those polled identified as Republican.

At the conference, MSUB Assistant Professor Nisha Bellinger and three students presented some demographic factors. For example, women tended to support Bullock while men leaned toward Gianforte. The data were broken down by age, too.

"When it comes to Gianforte, he's drawing support primarily from respondents over 61 years of age," Bellinger said.

Another incumbent, Republican U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke received 50 percent support in the poll, compared to 31 percent for his opponent, Democrat Denise Juneau. Of those polled, 19 percent were unsure.

In state House and Senate races, Republicans were favored with margins that reflected the sample. Overall, interviewees were 48 percent Republican, 28 percent Democrat and 16 percent Independent.

MSU Billings 2016 poll: Presidential race

An MSUB poll had 43 percent of respondents favoring Donald Trump for president.

Student pollsters

This was the 30th poll by the university's political science class. A group of 22 students obtained a sample list and conducted trial runs of the phone surveys.

Annemarie Overcast, a 20-year-old political science major, said they cut the survey down to 27 questions to save on time. During the actual survey, some respondents gave more than one-word answers.

"We had a couple who were going on to 30 minutes or an hour," she said.

By the end, the students had interviewed 590 adult Montanans for the poll. The margin of error was plus or minus four percentage points.


In addition to covering election races, the poll sought approval ratings for Montana's U.S. senators, who aren't up for a vote this year. Democratic Sen. Jon Tester secured 46 percent approval against 34 percent disapproval.

Republican Sen. Steve Daines had a similar approval rate — 44 percent — though more respondents came out unsure than those who disapproved.

In a separate question, nearly three-quarters said they disapprove of Congress.


The MSUB poll covered a range of issues, many of which took mainstream conservative stances. Of those polled, 44 percent opposed the legalization of marijuana for recreational purposes, and 58 percent felt that the Affordable Care Act had a negative effect on Montana.

A plurality of 48 percent said undocumented immigrants without criminal histories should not be allowed to stay in the United States.

Other results had a more progressive stance. A 63-percent majority said that the federal government should put more emphasis on renewable sources of energy, and 62 percent said the federal minimum wage should be increased.

The blurring of ideological lines was one thing that surprised Bellinger in the poll.

In the most decisive result of the poll, 91 percent said that employers should pay men and women equally for the same work.

The MSUB poll reflected a recent Lee Newspapers poll for outright election winners. 

It can be slow-going conducting a poll, Overcast said. Of the 40 people she called, she said 10 answered. Just five of those people took the survey. But for the most part, Montanans were polite to the pollsters.

"I enjoyed it," she said. "I only had one rude respondent."


General Assignment Reporter

Reporter for The Billings Gazette.