HELENA — Montana voters have handed the 2011 Legislature failing grades, a Gazette State Poll shows.
It found that 61 percent of voters rated the Legislature's job performance negatively, while only 24 percent gave it a positive rating. The other 15 percent were undecided.
The poll asked those surveyed how they would rate the performance of the 2011 Montana Legislature and gave them four choices.
The "excellent" and "pretty good" scores are combined to come up with the positive ratings, and the "only fair" and "poor" scores are added together to produce the negative rating.
Voters from all subgroups, including Republicans, gave the GOP-controlled Legislature negative grades, although Republicans rated the Legislature much higher than other groups.
Here were the breakdowns:
* Men: 61 percent rate it negative, while 26 percent called it positive and 13 percent were undecided.
* Women: 60 percent negative, 23 percent positive and 17 percent undecided.
* Democrats: 84 percent negative, 13 percent positive and 3 percent undecided.
* Republicans: 44 percent negative, 36 percent positive and 20 percent undecided.
* Independents: 61 percent negative, 20 percent positive and 19 percent undecided.
The telephone poll of 625 registered voters was taken March 14-16 for the Gazette State Bureau by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research of Washington, D.C. It has a margin of error of plus or minus four percentage points, with higher margins of error for any subgroup, such as gender.
Brad Coker, managing director of Mason-Dixon, which polls in many states, said low ratings are not uncommon for state legislatures.
"I've never seen a legislative rating that I would call unusually low," Coker said. "I'm more surprised when they are unusually high."
Coker said job performance ratings on legislatures are similar to those on Congress. People tend to like their own congressmen but dislike Congress as a whole.
Some people who were polled agreed to be interviewed later by State Bureau reporters.
Many who were critical about the 2011 Legislature had strong feelings about the subject.
"I think it's absolutely appalling," said Barbara Archer of Billings, a retired clergywoman. "Cutting back on social services and health care, it's going to cost people state jobs."
She also criticized the Legislature's attempts to "nullify" or block some federal laws that certain members oppose.
"That's a war that's already been fought," Archer said, referring to the Civil War.
Peggy Cain, a retired Missoula nurse, said the Legislature has done a "horrid job, just horrid."
"I think any of those bozos who put ridiculous bills with no chance of succeeding should have to give their pay back to the state of Montana for wasting taxpayer dollars."
Ella Schultz, a retired accountant from Deer Lodge, said, "I think they're on marijuana. We can't make sense of what they're doing. It's not for the people. I don't know what planet they're on."
Not everyone who spoke with the State Bureau saw the Legislature in a negative light.
Lila Erickson, a homemaker from Troy, said the Legislature is "doing pretty good" and applauded its attempts to create more jobs.
"Montana needs to get to work," she said. "My boys had to leave town to get work."
Farmer-rancher Bruce Newman of Geyser said lawmakers have done an "adequate" job but added that he's been too busy to pay much attention to it.
Realtor Jeff Bretherton said, "From my vantage point over here in Missoula, I haven't seen great signs of progress, but lots of the members of the (Legislature) over there are working to get good bills passed before the end of their term."
Richard Hanson, a licensed private investigator from Columbus, said lawmakers are turning Montana into "a laughingstock because of the Tea Party up there and their crazy, loony ideas. ... They're laughing at us on the late-night talk shows."
"I am surprised they have not tried to making 'Dueling Banjos' as our state song," he added.