HELENA — The race for governor is about even and within the margin of error, with Democrat Steve Bullock receiving 44 percent of the likely vote to Republican Rick Hill’s 43 percent, a new Gazette State Poll taken this week shows.
It also found that 11 percent of the likely voters remain undecided, while 2 percent favor Libertarian Ron Vandevender.
The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points, but it is higher for any subgroups such as region or gender.
From Monday through Wednesday, Mason-Dixon Polling & Research Inc. of Washington, D.C., polled 625 registered Montana voters who said they were likely to vote if the November election were held today.
A separate question in the poll asked voters if they recognized two major party candidates’ names and if so, whether they have a favorable, unfavorable or neutral opinion of the candidate.
Bullock, Montana’s attorney general, had higher favorable and lower unfavorable ratings than Hill. For Bullock, 42 percent of voters had a favorable opinion, to 23 percent unfavorable, with 33 percent having a neutral opinion and 2 percent not recognizing his name.
Hill received a favorable opinion from 32 percent of voters and an unfavorable one from 31 percent, while 31 percent had neutral ones and 6 percent didn’t’ recognize his name.
“In the governor’s race, I was kind of struck by Hill’s negatives and Bullock being slightly ahead,” said Brad Coker, managing director of Mason-Dixon Polling & Research. That may be the Democrats’ best opportunity.”
In the separate matchup for governor, here was the breakdown by various groupings:
-- Gender: The poll found 49 percent of men favoring Hill to 39 percent backing Bullock, with 9 percent undecided and 3 percent for Vandevender.
Women, however, back Bullock over Hill by a 49 percent to 37 percent, with 13 percent undecided and Vandevender getting 1 percent.
-- Political-party identification. Among Democrats, Bullock leads Hill 89 percent to 4 percent, with 7 percent undecided.
Meanwhile, among Republicans, Hill registered a 79 percent to 7 percent lead over Bullock, with 11 percent undecided and 3 percent for Vandevender.
Among self-described independents, Hill got 43 percent of the vote to 38 percent for Bullock, with 15 percent undecided.
By region, Hill outpaced Bullock in the Eastern Montana and Billings and southeastern Montana media markets, while Bullock had leads in the Butte-Helena-Bozeman and Missoula-Kalispell markets. The Great Falls market was about a tossup. Here were the specifics:
-- Eastern Montana, 15 counties: Hill had 56 percent to Bullock’s 29 percent, with 15 percent undecided.
--Billings and southeastern Montana, 11 counties: Hill led Bullock 54 percent to 36 percent, with 10 percent undecided.
--Great Falls and northcentral Montana, 12 counties: Bullock had 45 percent to Hill’s 44 percent, with 11 percent undecided.
--Butte-Helena-Bozeman areas, 10 counties: Bullock led Hill by 51 percent to 34 percent, with 12 percent undecided and Vandevender getting 3 percent.
--Missoula-Kalispell area, eight counties: Results showed Bullock at 45 percent to Hill’s 40 percent, with 11 percent undecided. Vandevender had 4 percent.
Interviews with some voters who were polled reflected the sharp division for governor.
“I’m a strong supporter of Steve Bullock,” said Cathy Kendall, a retired state government employee from Helena. “I am familiar with his work as attorney general. I appreciate his vision for the state. His position on economic development is more than just supporting the extractive industries. He’s got a moderate approach to also protecting the natural resources of this state.”
Gary Rose, of Kalispell, a retired school facilities and transportation manger, saw it differently: “I think they both have some issues, but I have to go with Hill because I think he’s going to develop our resources and get the economy rolling.”
Carol Finnicun, of Joliet, a former insurance worker, said she won’t be voting for Hill “because I remember when Rick Hill was in Congress and I really don’t have any interest in giving him my support.”
Mary Davis of Conner said she’ll be voting for Hill.
“As attorney general, (Bullock) hasn’t done anything to correct a lot of the wrongs,” Davis said.