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Montana voters are split on whether President Donald Trump should be impeached, with the majority opposed to impeachment, according to a new poll from the University of Montana.

When asked if President Trump should be impeached and removed from office, 52% of respondents answered no, 39% responded yes, and 10% responded that they did not know. However, 41.9% of those polled rated the Republican president's job performance as “poor,” while 29.5% rated it as “excellent.”

The Big Sky Poll, conducted by UM’s Department of Public Administration and Policy, recently surveyed online 303 registered Montana voters and found mixed reviews about impeachment, the economy and the job performance of elected officials.

Big Sky Poll job approval

Women were more likely to support impeachment, with 47% saying yes compared to 41% saying no, while almost 60% of men said no to impeachment compared to 34.4% saying yes.

When asked if the election for Montana’s U.S. Senate seat was held today, 64% of respondents said they would vote for the incumbent Sen. Steve Daines (R), and 18% selected challenger Jack Ballard (a Democrat who dropped out for medical reasons after the poll was conducted), 9% said they would vote for Wilmot Collins (D) and 9% for John Mues (D). (Democrat Cora Neumann also has announced, and Democrat Michael Chantry Knoles filed with the Federal Election Commission.)

When asked if the election were held today for Montana’s U.S. House of Representative seat election, 36% of respondents selected Kathleen Williams (D), 35% selected Matt Rosendale (R), and 20% selected current Sec. of State Corey Stapleton (R).

Full results are online for all polling questions; candidates with smaller portions of the vote are not listed in this story.

Montana's primary elections are scheduled for June of next year, and after that each party will have only one candidate on the ballot for the November election.

When asked if the election were held today for Montana’s governor, 35% selected current U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte (R), 23% selected current Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney (D), 16% selected current Montana Attorney General Tim Fox (R), 8% selected Whitney Williams (D), and 8% selected Albert Olszewski (R).

If the U.S. Presidential election were held today, the poll showed President Trump winning head-to-head matchups with all the top-polling Democrat challengers, such as Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris. However, 51.9% of Montana voters said they would choose current Gov. Steve Bullock over the 48.1% who said they would choose Trump.

Jeremy Johnson, an associate professor of political science at Carroll College in Helena, said the poll shows it's clear that Trump is now less popular in Montana than he has been based on previous polls, although he's still not "underwater," or below a 50% approval rating.

"Trump won this state by 20 points in 2016," Johnson said. "So if the (Big Sky Poll) numbers held up in the presidential election (in 2020), the last Democrat to do that well would be Obama in 2008."

He cautioned that polls nationwide show that feelings about impeachment and Trump are "in flux" because new information comes out daily and more people become aware of the issues.

Johnson also said the poll was "heavily skewed" towards respondents with a college education and probably should have been weighted for education, in his opinion.

Lee Banville, a political analyst and a professor of journalism at UM, said polls that only survey registered voters are generally skewed to have more views from Democrats. 

"If you just go registered voters, that tilts more toward Democrat usually," he said. "If you just go likely voters, it drifts toward Republicans."

Banville said a sample size of 303 registered voters is "fine" for getting a fairly accurate sense of what Montanans think of "big picture" subjects like impeachment, but he cautioned about relying on that small of a sample size for extrapolating what certain segments of the population, such as those with college degrees or those without, think about politicians.

"You want to be careful about slicing a group too thinly," he said. 

Banville said although the poll is only of 303 registered voters, he still thinks it can be valuable.

"This is as good a snapshot of the feelings of Montanans as we get," he said. "We often operate with so little sense of how Montanans are feeling. But whenever UM or Montana State University tries to gauge the thoughts of the public, it's helpful."

Banville said it makes everyone smarter to get polling data instead of just looking at Twitter.

"This poll and other efforts give us a more nuanced view, and it's helpful in that way," he said.

As far as the results, Banville said he wasn't surprised.

"It tells you that President Trump has a well of support in Montana, but also that there is a sizable portion of the population that is really frustrated with the president," he said. "It gives you a little bit of a sense of what's the mood of the moment. It's more of an impressionist painting than a super bright line."

When asked about the economy, 42% said the economy was improving, 31% said it was staying the same, and 27% said it was getting worse.

The U.S. Congress didn’t grade well, with 50.2% saying it was doing a poor job and only 1% saying it was doing an excellent job. Sen. Jon Tester (D) and Sen. Steve Daines (R) both got roughly 21% of respondents rating them as doing a “poor” job. However, 36.4% said Daines was doing a good job, and 26.8% said Tester was doing a good job. Only about 10.8% said Daines was doing an “excellent” job, with 22.3% saying Tester was doing "excellent."

A full 35% rated Rep. Gianforte’s job performance as “poor”, with 12% calling it “excellent” and 25% calling it “good.”

Gov. Bullock got 26% in the “poor” category with 18% excellent and 32% good.

The survey was conducted Sept. 26 through Oct. 3, and has a margin of error of +/- 5.63 percentage points at a 95% confidence level. It was conducted by UM associate professor Sara Rinfret, the chair of the Public Administration and Policy Departemnt, along with UM marketing associate professor Justin Angle in conjunction with four graduate students. Full results are online at http://umt.edu/bigskypoll.

The current poll was conducted online. Last fall in a telephone survey from Oct. 10 to 18, the Big Sky Poll showed Democratic U.S. Sen. Tester 10 points ahead of Republican challenger and then-state auditor Rosendale. It showed Democratic congressional candidate Kathleen Williams with a 1 point lead over Republican candidate Gianforte, within the poll’s margin of error.

In the November election, Tester won with 50% of the vote compared to Rosendale’s 47%, and Gianforte won with 51% to Williams’ 46%.

The fall 2019 Big Sky Poll results were weighted by geography and gender to more accurately reflect demographics of the registered voter population in Montana, according to Rinfret. 

"The idea behind weighting is to ensure a sample that is representative of Montana's population," she said. "It's acceptable (in polling) to weight for gender and urban and rural."

The reason they don't weight for political party is because voters in Montana aren't required to register for a political party, she added. And when it gets closer to the election, she said they'll begin asking "likely" voters rather than just registered voters.

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