This is the second of a several-part series on the results of an MTN/MSU poll on this year’s electoral races in Montana, and other issues.
HELENA – Republican Congressman Greg Gianforte, running for his first full term in Montana’s only U.S. House seat, holds a 47.6 percent to 40.1 percent lead over Democratic challenger Kathleen Williams, according to a Montana Television Network-Montana State University poll.
Only 2.4 percent of registered voters in the survey said they would support Libertarian Elinor Swanson, who’s also on the ballot. Ten percent said they are undecided or would support someone else.
The mail-ballot poll of more than 2,000 registered voters, conducted during a three-week period in late September and early October, has an error margin of plus-or-minus 2 percent.
Absentee voting for Montana began the weekend of Oct. 13. Election day is Nov. 6.
Gianforte, the co-founder of a successful software-development firm in Bozeman, won the congressional seat in a special election May 25 last year and was sworn in the following month. Republicans have held the statewide seat since 1997.
Williams, a former state legislator and resource-and-recreation specialist from Bozeman, won the Democratic nomination in a six-way primary in June.
After her primary victory, Williams has posted impressive fundraising numbers, raising $2.5 million since July 1. In the third quarter ending Sept. 30, Gianforte reported raising about $1.1 million.
Williams has been traveling the state to campaign and make herself known, while Gianforte has been emphasizing his support of President Trump’s agenda and has appeared with the president at three campaign rallies since July – most recently last week in Missoula.
At the Missoula rally, Trump unexpectedly praised Gianforte for assaulting a journalist in Bozeman on the eve of Gianforte’s election last year. Williams immediately released a TV campaign ad that refers to the assault, saying “this is not who we are.”
The MTN/MSU poll mailed questionnaires to a random sample of 10,215 registered voters, distributed geographically among all 100 state House districts. Recipients were sent a self-addressed, stamped envelope to return the ballot.
A total of 2,079 people responded, or slightly more than 20 percent. The responses were then weighted based on demographics, political leanings of the respondents and the 2016 presidential vote, to reflect as closely as possible the current electorate.
The MTN-MSU poll showed that Gianforte enjoys support among many demographical groups in Montana, but not all:
• Women voters favored Williams by 47 percent to 41 percent – but among married women, Gianforte held a lead, 47 percent to 39.5 percent. However, about 11 percent of married women said they are undecided in the race.
Gianforte had a commanding lead among male voters, 54 percent to 34 percent.
• Gianforte led among all voters 40 and older, and had particularly big leads among middle-aged voters. He had a 25-point lead among voters aged 40-49 and a 19-point lead among voters aged 50-59. His lead was in the single digits among older voters, while Williams led by about five percentage points among voters younger than 40.
• Gianforte led strongly among voters with less than a four-year college degree, while Williams had big leads among voters with four years of college or more.
Those who did not have a high-school degree favored Gianforte by 62 percent to 25 percent; those with only a high-school education favored him 51 percent to 34 percent; and those with a two-year college degree favored him 56 percent to 30 percent.
Among voters with a bachelor’s degree, Williams led 54 percent to 37 percent, and among those with an advanced college degree, she led 65 percent to 28 percent.
• Williams had strong support among self-professed Democrats, with 95 percent of them behind her. Gianforte had slightly less support among self-professed Republicans, at 88 percent.
Among self-professed Independents, a sizeable voting bloc in Montana, Williams led 46.6 percent to 34.2 percent – and 11.4 percent of this group said they are undecided.
Next: Voter initiatives on the ballot