Obama, McCain Fare Better in Montana Poll

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – The presidential front-runners are not faring as well in Montana, where a new poll shows the state has its own favorites among the field of candidates.

Among three of the top Republicans, Sen. John McCain has the highest favorable rating at 49 percent. And among the top Democrats, Sen. Barack Obama has the highest favorable rating at 47 percent, according to the survey released Friday by Montana State University-Billings.

The choices clearly differ from national polls where McCain is often third among Republicans in direct matchups and Obama second to front-runner Sen. Hillary Clinton in the Democratic field.

The telephone survey of 412 adults was conducted Nov. 8-11 and had a margin of error of five percentage points.

The poll asked respondents if they had a “positive or negative perception” of each of the top three candidates from both parties. It did not ask which candidate they were likely to vote for.

On the Republican side, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani was behind McCain with a 40 percent positive and a 44 percent negative rating. In comparison, McCain’s negative rating was 29 percent. Of those surveyed, 24 percent had a positive view of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, while 38 percent had a negative view. The poll did not ask about former Sen. Fred Thompson.

Behind Obama, 36 percent said they had a positive view of former Sen. John Edwards, while 35 percent said it was negative. In comparison, Obama’s negative rating was 31 percent. Meanwhile, Clinton’s positive rating was 31 percent, with 59 percent of respondents saying they had a negative view of the New York senator.

“There’s probably a lot of A-B-C voters out there — Anyone But Clinton,” said political scientist Craig Wilson, who led the poll effort.

Wilson noted that, in response to a separate question, nearly 84 percent said they could vote for a woman to be president, 12 percent said they could not and just over 4 percent were undecided.

“If you’re coming out of the gate and 12 percent of voters aren’t going to vote for you, you’ve got a steep hill to climb,” Wilson said.

State Republicans will be holding a closed caucus in early February. The general primary for Democrats won’t be held until June, long after the race is likely decided.

Democratic presidential candidates have historically done poorly in Montana, but the poll indicated they might have a chance.

About 33 percent said they would go with the Democratic candidate if the election were held today, while 29 percent said they would choose a Republican. About 25 percent said it depended on the candidate.

“There has been some shift, but I don’t think it’s been a sea change for Montana,” Wilson said. “I’m not saying there’s not a Bush effect. Bush is hurting other candidates.”

Democrats will also be pleased that 34 percent said they would vote for a Democrat in the state House if the elections were held today, while 31 percent said they would choose a Republican and 35 percent were undecided.

In last year’s survey, before the 2006 election, 43 percent favored a Republican and 38 percent wanted a Democrat. The Legislature ended up split between the parties.

Sociologist Dan Lennon, who also worked on the poll, said the new poll numbers show the races are wide open.

“This indicates there is a greater shift toward undecided, and maybe, but there’s no way to determine until next year, toward Democrats,” Lennon said.

In other survey questions:

— More than half, 57 percent, say owners of hydroelectric dams should pay rent for the land the dams sit on.

— 56 percent believe that physician-assisted suicide should be legal for terminally ill people.

— 81 percents say that it is not cruel and unusual punishment to kill death row inmates using intravenous drugs.

— 76 percent say they had a cell phone.

— 56 percent say they had attended a high school sporting event in the last year.

— Just 68 percent were able to identify the correct year of the 9/11 terrorist attacks (2001).

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