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MSU post-election poll: Independent voters key in MT’s 2018 Senate, House races

Posted: 5:56 PM, Jan 21, 2019
Updated: 2019-01-22 00:19:56-05


This is the first of a three-part series on MTN-MSU’s post-election poll

BOZEMAN – Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester defeated Republican challenger Matt Rosendale last November largely on his strength among independent voters, an MTN News-Montana State University post-election poll shows.

And while President Donald Trump visited the state an unprecedented four times in 2018 to campaign against Tester, poll data indicate his efforts probably had more impact on the U.S. House race won by Republican Congressman Greg Gianforte.

MSU political scientist David Parker, who helped devise and conduct the poll, said Trump’s visits “nationalized” the House contest between Gianforte and lesser-known Democratic challenger Kathleen Williams.

U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte, R-Mont., at Trump rally last year

That effect probably helped Gianforte to his better showing among Republicans and Independents, Parker said.

“If you look at the data among independent voters, (they) did not break as heavily for Kathleen Williams as they did for Tester and she didn’t do as well among Republicans (as did Tester),” Parker said. “That … probably led to her defeat.”

Democratic U.S. House candidate Kathleen Williams.

Gianforte won with 51 percent of the vote, compared to Williams’ 46 percent. Libertarian Elinor Swanson had 3 percent.

The MTN-MSU post-election poll showed that 95 percent of voters who identified as Republicans voted for Gianforte and 43 percent of Independents supported him.

Tester defeated Rosendale 50 percent to 47 percent in the U.S. Senate race and Libertarian Rick Breckenridge had 3 percent.

The poll showed that 91 percent of voters identifying as Republicans voted for Rosendale, but only 34 percent of self-described Independents supported him. Independents make up about a third of the Montana electorate.

Poll results are based on responses from 1,424 Montanans who replied to questionnaires mailed the day after the Nov. 6 election. The questionnaires were sent to the 2,000 people who responded to MTN-MSU’s pre-election poll in late September and early October.

GOP U.S. Senate candidate Matt Rosendale with President Trump in Missoula

The results of the post-election poll have a margin of error plus-or-minus 2.6 percent.

The poll asked Montanans a variety of questions about how and why they voted in the 2018 elections and where they stand on key issues facing the state.

Results from questions on the U.S. Senate and House races include:

• Partisan voters mainly stuck with their party’s candidate, although Tester peeled away more Republicans than did Williams. He won 99 percent of those voters identifying as Democrats and 7 percent of those identifying as Republicans.

Williams also won 99 percent of voters identifying as Democrats but only 4 percent of Republicans.

• Both Democratic candidates won among independent voters, but Tester did far better than Williams. He won independents by a 61 percent to 34 percent margin, while Williams won them by 53 percent to 43 percent.

• The Republican candidates did much better with male voters, while losing among women voters – but, they won married women. The Democratic candidates won big among single women and also did relatively well among single men.

Rosendale won male voters by a 53 percent to 43 percent margin over Tester, but lost women 43 percent to 55 percent. He carried married women voters by a 53 percent to 45 percent margin, but lost among single women voters 25 percent to 73 percent and lost single male voters by 44 percent to 48 percent.

Gianforte won male voters by a commanding 57 percent to 39 percent and lost among women 46 percent to 53 percent. He, too, won married women voters by 55 percent to 44 percent, but lost among single women 29 percent to 70 percent. Among single male voters, he and Williams tied with 48 percent each.

• About half of Montana voters said President Trump played a factor in their vote in the U.S. House and Senate races – and, of those voters, slightly more than half said they voted to support the president.

In the U.S. Senate race, 30 percent of poll respondents said their vote was based on support of the president, 24 percent said they voted to oppose the president and 45 percent said Trump wasn’t a factor.

In the U.S. House race, 29 percent said they based their vote on support for President Trump, 23 percent said they voted based on opposition to the president, and 48 percent said Trump didn’t factor into their vote.

In the Senate race, the poll also asked voters whether the high-profile hearings on U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh in late September influenced their vote.

Sixty percent said that it did – and, of those about 58 percent said they voted for Rosendale.

Parker said those results indicate the Kavanaugh hearings probably galvanized Republican voters and helped Rosendale solidify his base – but that wasn’t enough to turn the race in his favor.

“The Kavanaugh hearings had an effect to get Matt Rosendale’s base back in line where he needed it to be, but the problem is, you can’t win on base alone in Montana,” he said. “Jon Tester won with an overwhelming advantage among independents.”

In the House race, the poll asked voters whether Gianforte’s assault of a reporter in Bozeman on the eve of his initial May 2017 election played a role in their vote last November. Gianforte later pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault for punching Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs.

Fifty-six percent said the assault charge mattered “not at all” or “not too much,” and 43 percent said it mattered either “a good amount” or “a great deal” – but those responses largely broke along partisan lines.

Among Republican voters, 90 percent said the assault charge didn’t matter much, or at all, and 83 percent of Democrats said it mattered.

Tomorrow: Poll results on voter makeup in the rejection of initiatives 185 and 186