HELENA – A Lee Newspapers poll this week shows that the Montana governor’s race remains tight, with Republican Rick Hill at 49 percent to Democrat Steve Bullock at 46 percent.
The difference falls within the poll’s margin of error, which is plus or minus 4 percentage points. The margins are higher for subgroups such as region or gender.
Only 3 percent of the voters were undecided heading into Tuesday’s election, while Libertarian Ron Vandevender had 2 percent.
Mason-Dixon Polling and Research Inc. of Washington, D.C., polled 625 registered voters from Monday through Wednesday who said they were likely to vote.
“I’m a little surprised,” said Brad Coker, managing director of Mason-Dixon. “Hill has been getting some bad press. I’d still call that one a tossup.”
Coker was referring to the controversy that broke when Bullock went to court Oct. 18 to challenge the legality of Hill’s campaign receipt of a $500,000 donation from the Montana Republican Party, to block him from spending it. A state district judge from Helena ruled Wednesday that the contribution is likely illegal, and ordered the campaign to continue not spending it. Hill’s campaign has maintained it’s a legal donation.
An earlier Mason-Dixon poll for Lee Newspapers, taken Sept. 17-19, showed Bullock at 44 percent and Hill at 43 percent. Eleven percent were undecided then, while Vandevender was at 2 percent.
“The fact that Hill’s survived and picked up a little bit since he picked up some bad press is encouraging to him,” Coker said. “Having the Republican label I’m sure is making the difference.”
He added: “When it comes to campaign finance, for whatever reason, it just doesn’t seem to resonate with voters.”
The recent poll also showed that men favor Hill over Bullock by 53 percent to 42 percent, while women support Bullock over Hill, 49 percent to 46 percent.
By party, those people saying they are Democrats support Bullock over Hill by 96 percent to 2 percent. Republicans back Hill over Bullock 92 percent to 5 percent.
Among independents, Hill captured 46 percent, while Bullock had 41 percent.
By media markets, here was the breakdown:
• Eastern Montana area (15 counties): Hill had 63 percent to Bullock’s 31 percent.
• Billings area (11 counties): Hill had 59 percent to Bullock’s 34 percent.
• Great Falls area (12 counties) Bullock had 52 percent to Hill’s 43 percent.
• Butte, Helena and Bozeman area (10 counties): Bullock had 54 percent to Hill’s 41 percent.
• Missoula and Kalispell area (eight counties) Hill had 49 percent to Bullock’s 48 percent.
The poll also asked if voters recognized the names of candidates, and if so, whether they had a favorable, unfavorable or neutral opinion.
Results showed Bullock with a 44 percent favorable recognition to 33 percent unfavorable, with 21 percent neutral and 2 percent didn’t recognize him.
For Hill, it showed 43 percent favorable recognition to 36 percent unfavorable, with 18 percent neutral and 3 percent who didn’t know him.