HELENA - Montana voters are split over whether the federal government should allow drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge but believe it is possible to strike a workable compromise between environmental protection and job creation, a recent poll shows.

Of the 625 people polled between April 30 and May 2, 47 percent supported new oil development - including drilling in the Alaskan wildlife refuge - and 46 percent were opposed, for a statistical dead heat, with 7 percent undecided. The question did not mention that President George W. Bush advocated the drilling.

The poll, commissioned by Lee Newspapers and conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling and Research Inc. of Washington, D.C., has a margin of error of 4 percentage points.

Men and women answered the question differently, however. Of the 308 men questioned, 54 percent supported new drilling, while 38 percent opposed it. Women tended to oppose new drilling; of the 317 women questioned, 40 percent supported new drilling and 54 percent were opposed.

Men and women also had different opinions about Bush's environmental policies.

Women were slightly more likely to object to Bush's environmental decisions - with 47 percent opposed and 41 percent in support. Men, on the other hand, were in favor of the president's choices, with 54 percent in support and 38 percent opposed.

Statistically speaking, men and women did agree that it is possible to find a compromise between environmental and business interests. Their combined responses showed 74 percent believe that such give-and-take is possible. Eighteen percent didn't think it could happen and 8 percent weren't sure.

Nearly one-third of those questioned said they're not sure how the Montana Legislature's revisions to the Montana Environmental Policy Act will affect the environment. Changes to the law include a provision that explicitly states that MEPA, which requires assessment of the environmental impacts of an industrial project, is policy and not substantive law.

Forty-four percent of the respondents said the changes to MEPA will not harm the environment. Twenty-nine percent said the changes will lead to environmental damage, and 27 percent were undecided.

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