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Republican state Auditor Matt Rosendale, left, and Democrat U.S. Sen. Jon Tester

Republican state Auditor Matt Rosendale, left, and Democrat U.S. Sen. Jon Tester

GREAT FALLS — Montanans voting in this year's midterm election don't feel good about the direction the country is going, with 52 percent of people telling the Associated Press the nation is headed in the wrong direction. Forty-four percent say it is going in the right direction.

When asked about the most important issues facing the country, Montana voters ranked health care as the most important. The economy and jobs and immigration were next on the list.

Among people who voted in Tuesday's election, job approval for President Donald Trump was effectively even. About 48 percent of voters surveyed approved of the president's performance and 51 percent disapproved.

Trump has played an out-sized role in the U.S. Senate race between Democratic incumbent U.S. Sen. Jon Tester and his Republican challenger, state Auditor Matt Rosendale.

Among voters surveyed, 61 percent said Trump was a factor in their vote and 38 percent said Trump was not a factor. 

Among those who said Trump played a role in their decision, there was a slight difference in how that played out; 33 percent said their vote was to express opposition to Trump and 28 percent said it was to support Trump.

Trump made an unprecedented four visits to Montana since July to support Rosendale, holding campaign-style rallies in Great Falls, Billings, Missoula and Bozeman. Montana was one of 10 states where an incumbent Democratic U.S. senator was seeking re-election in a state Trump won in 2016. But Tester was in the president's crosshairs for a different reason.

In April, Tester publicized allegations brought to the Senate of inappropriate behavior by Trump's nominee to run the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Rear Admiral Ronny Jackson.

Several people who worked with Jackson claimed he created a hostile work environment, improperly prescribed pills and drank on the job. Tester, the top Democrat on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, shared those anonymous claims publicly. Jackson later withdrew his nomination and is still under investigation by the Department of Defense.

Trump attacked Tester over the failed nomination, saying the senator would have a "big price to pay."

At each of the four Montana rallies, Trump talked about Jackson. By the third rally in Missoula, the president said that was the reason for his focus on the race.

The margin of error for AP's VoteCast voter poll is 2.4 percent. It was designed to capture public opinion as voters reached their decisions about whom to vote for, or whether to cast a ballot at all. The survey of 2,665 voters in Montana was conducted Oct. 31 to Nov. 6, concluding as polls closed on Election Day.

The poll showed Montanans were divided on how Trump has handled immigration, international trade and Supreme Court nominations, as well as how he's handled border security. 

Voters did not approve of Trump's handling of health care, but have approved of his handling of the economy.

Overall, 48 percent of voters had a very unfavorable opinion of Trump, compared to 28 percent with a very favorable opinion.

Firearms played a large role in the campaign commercials for both the Senate and U.S. House races.  But voters put guns near the bottom of the list of issues most important to them.

Rosendale tried to paint Tester as soft on the Second Amendment because of his support of former President Barack Obama's Supreme Court justices. In the U.S. House race, incumbent Rep. Greg Gianforte tried to say his opponent, Democrat Kathleen Williams, did not support the Second Amendment because she called for some gun reforms, such as limiting access to assault rifles in response to school shootings. Williams is a hunter who says she supports gun rights but wants to curb violence.

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Of those asked their opinion of the Republican Party, 57 percent had a very unfavorable opinion or somewhat unfavorable opinion. About 39 percent had a very favorable opinion or somewhat favorable opinion.

When it came to the Democratic Party, about 42 percent of voters had a very or somewhat favorable opinion of the Democratic Party and 54 percent had a somewhat or very unfavorable opinion.

The confirmation of Associate Supreme Court Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh played a role with voters, with 49 percent saying it was very important.

Montana voters were divided over whether Trump's policies on trade have helped the national economy. But when it came to the local economy, 42 percent felt the policies had hurt and 35 percent felt they had helped.

Voters thought the Affordable Care Act should be repealed either in full or part, with 59 percent calling for that versus 39 percent of voters saying to leave it as is or expand it.

There was a clear difference between voters who opposed a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico, with 53 percent of voters opposing a wall to 46 percent favoring one.

Voters were also divided over whether gun laws should be more strict or kept as they are.

Results will be updated as more data is available.

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