New Poll Reveals Views of Montana’s “Outdoor Voting Bloc”

Jun 27, 2016

By Center for Western Priorities

Opportunity for candidates to win support with pro-outdoors positions on public lands

“Winning the West” effort geared towards highlighting importance of outdoor issues for campaigns looking to gain votes in Montana and Mountain West swing states

The Center for Western Priorities released its 2016 Montana Winning the West poll—conducted for the first time in the state—showing Montanans’ deep commitment to the outdoors and finding that a candidate’s positions on public lands can influence who they vote for in this year’s elections.

Asked to rank the importance of various issues, Montana voters prioritized public lands, waters and wildlife near the top of the list, above issues like taxes and immigration, and on par with healthcare and agriculture. Strong majorities across party lines disagreed with the idea that there is too much public land in Montana. And when asked about Montana’s Stream Access Law, a large bipartisan majority (74 percent) supported allowing public access to rivers and streams in Montana for recreational purposes regardless of who owns the surrounding property.

“Just about every Montanan believes the mountains, rivers, and wide open spaces are what make living in Montana special and view the national parks, forests, and other public lands as an essential part of their quality of life,” said Brian Gottlieb, Managing Director at Purple Strategies. “The takeaway for candidates is they have a real opportunity to gain support based on their commitment to Montana’s outdoor economy and the positions they take on how public lands should be used and protected. Candidates who are pro-outdoors can win the state’s ‘outdoors voting bloc’ in November.”

Looking to the upcoming elections in the key purple state, the poll revealed voters’ reactions to candidate positions on outdoor issues.

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The poll also highlighted some “third-rail” public lands issues in Montana. A majority of voters across party lines were less likely to vote for a candidate who wanted to open public lands to more private development (63 percent) and sell public lands to reduce the budget (63 percent). A majority of voters also disagreed with the actions of militia groups in Montana and neighboring states on public lands, including recent armed standoffs with government officials (53 percent). Strong majorities believe in finding collaborative solutions over conflict (74 percent).

While bipartisan majorities support increased efficiency (74 percent) and renewable energy (73 percent), fracking is a divisive issue, with Republicans in support, Democrats strongly opposed, and independents split on the practice.

“Voters across the Mountain West love their public lands, but for Montanans the deep affection for the land is off the charts,” said Center for Western Priorities Executive Director Jennifer Rokala. “From the majestic mountain peaks to the awe-inspiring valleys, the public lands under Montana’s big sky support the state’s economy and define its way of life. Candidates looking to win in the state should show a real commitment and balanced approach to public lands—extreme positions do not fly in Montana.”

In a hypothetical matchup, Montana’s ticket-splitting swing voters, by a 59 to 17 percent margin, favored a Democratic candidate who believes Montana’s outdoors define the state, opposes transferring national public lands to state or local control, supports a strong recreation economy, and calls for a balanced approach to energy development over a Republican candidate who supports selling some public lands to close the budget deficit, prioritizes oil and gas production, and who wants to aggressively challenge the federal ownership of public lands.

In contrast, ticket-splitting voters, by a 46 to 30 percent margin, favored a Republican with an identical balanced approach to public lands over a Democrat who strongly prioritizes renewable energy and supports ending oil, gas and coal production on public lands.

In addition to the poll in Montana, the Center for Western Priorities’ Winning the West effort previously conducted polls of Colorado and Nevada voters, as well as focus groups in Colorado. The Winning the West website—which includes poll results, focus group videos, and issue ads—is intended to educate candidates and campaigns about how important it is to show support for public lands and access to the outdoors, particularly among swing voters in Mountain West purple states.

The Winning the West poll in Montana was conducted by Purple Insights. It included 600 telephone interviews of likely 2016 voters in Montana between June 11-15. Respondents were randomly selected from a voter file. 54 percent of interviews were completed with voters on landlines and 46 percent were completed with voters on their cell phones. The margin of error is +/-4.0 percent.