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MSU-B Poll Shows Daines Pulling Away, Zinke With Slight Lead

Rep. Ryan Zinke.
Kaci Felstet

The top races in Montana look like they’re going red according to the state’s only public opinion poll released Friday, with the U.S. House race much closer than the Senate.

The poll of 410 Montanans gave Republican Ryan Zinke a 7-point lead in the race for the state’s sole U.S. House seat. Zinke garnered the support of 39.8 percent of all respondents support while his Democratic opponent, former aide to U.S. Sen. Max Baucus John Lewis, scored 32.9 percent.

Montana State University political science professor David Parker noted there was good news in the numbers for the Lewis camp.

Results gave Lewis a slight edge in the retired vote, with 45.5 percent of respondents older than 62 supporting him over Zinke.

“Older voters are really important because older voters show up,” he said. “If a Democrat does good with them, that’s a good sign.”

Parker added that Lewis faces an uphill battle as a Democrat in Montana, and that he’ll need to get the support of independent voters to win this November.

While the House numbers gave an edge to Zinke, the Senate results seemed to indicate the century-long run of the Democratic control of the U.S. Senate seats is set to end.

The results gave Republican Steve Daines a 16-point lead over Democrat Amanda Curtis -- 46.7 percent to 30.6 percent. Just more than two percent said they’d vote for Libertarian Roger Roots, while the remaining 20 percent said they were undecided.

“It’s just supposed to be a Republican year,” said University of Montana political science professor Jeffrey Greene.

Parker agreed, saying most national forecasters have long thought Daines would run away with the Montana Senate seat, even before Democrat incumbent John Walsh dropped out after a plagiarism scandal.

“Certainly that lead has only grown,” Parker said.

Curtis, who served one term in the state legislature, replaced Walsh in August and hasn’t had a major campaign presence, with her first ad appearing just yesterday.

Moving down the ballot, incumbents appeared to have the edge in the state Supreme Court races, though a majority of the voters said they were undecided.

Jim Rice got 27 percent of the vote while his opponent W. David Herbert got only 3.2 percent although almost 70 percent of the voters said they were undecided.

Fellow incumbent Mike Wheat’s race against Lawrence VanDyke is much closer. Wheat came out ahead with 24.9 percent to Van Dyke’s 12.9 percent. Just over 62 percent were undecided in this race.

Ads from both sides – and outside groups -- have appeared over the last few weeks, making this campaign more partisan and heated than the other Supreme Court race. Despite the effort to inject party politics into the race Parker said it seemed to be having little impact.

“People are going to go with the name they know,” he said.

According to the survey people are also going to go against the initiatives on the ballot.

A clear majority (56 percent) said they were against the ballot referendum to end same-day voter registration. The constitutional amendment to change the title of the State Auditor was losing by more than 8 points, with 37.3 percent opposed to the change and 28.8 percent supporting it.

Results also show a plurality of voters support Republicans in the Montana House of Representatives races. Just under a quarter were undecided in the race.

"Republicans have a pretty good chance of keeping the majorities in both houses, but I expect it to be a bit smaller than two years ago," said poll co-director Craig Wilson, adding that many of the legislative races "are less ideological than they were two years ago."

Republican positions also won out on many of the national political issues polled in the survey, with clear majorities supporting the construction of the XL pipeline and opposing the Affordable Care Act and disapproving of the job President Obama has done.

As Wilson put it, "the only time you will see Obama here in Montana is when the Republicans pay to put the president's picture next to a fellow Democrat."

Students from Montana State University – Billings conducted the phone poll that was directed by Wilson and political scientist Josh Poulette and Mathew McMullen of the Psychology department. It carries a 5 percent margin of error.

UM School of Journalism

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