Poll Director: Shutdown Hurt Montana Delegation

By Beacon Staff

HELENA — Montana’s entire congressional delegation may have taken a hit in their approval ratings because of the 16-day federal government shutdown, the director of a new Montana State University-Billings poll said Friday.

The poll, conducted during the shutdown earlier this month, asked state residents their views on several national and state issues and to assess the performance of their elected leaders.

Most respondents said they opposed President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul, but even more people, regardless of political party affiliation, opposed shutting down the federal government as a way of delaying its implementation, the poll found.

The respondents gave Democratic U.S. Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester both about a 44 percent approval rating, while freshman Republican U.S. Rep. Steve Daines received a 39 percent approval rating.

By comparison, respondents gave Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock, the only state elected official included in the poll, a 52 percent approval rating.

The poll has a 5 percent margin of error. MSU Billings students interviewed 410 Montanans by telephone between Oct. 7-10, calling both land lines and cellphones.

Poll director Craig Wilson said pollsters did not specifically ask whether the approval ratings were tied to the government shutdown, but the connection is clear.

“I attribute it to the discombobulation going on in Washington, and we were doing the poll at the time of the shutdown,” Wilson said. “When you look at the approval ratings of the federally elected officials, especially compared to Bullock, it absolutely, positively hurt all of them.”

The shutdown began Oct. 1 after Democrats refused House Republican demands to defund the health care law as a condition of passing a spending measure. Daines, a freshman Republican, was among those taking a stand against the health care law, though he voted to re-open the government Oct. 16.

Many respondents to the poll appear to be reserving judgment on Daines and Bullock, both of whom took office in January.

There are nearly as many people undecided (37 percent) as those who approve (39 percent) of Daines’ job performance. Bullock received a 53 percent approval rating, but one out of every three respondents said they were undecided about his performance.

The governor said Friday he was “heartened” by those who expressed a favorable opinion of his job performance, but didn’t put much stock in polls.

“My job isn’t to drive polls, my job is actually to govern,” he said.

Daines is considering a run for Baucus’ Senate seat in 2014, but has not announced any campaign plans. Spokeswoman Alee Lockman said Daines also is not focused on polls, but on the health care overhaul, political gridlock and the national debt.

Baucus and Tester’s offices each said the senators themselves are angry and frustrated after the shutdown, but they pledge to focus now on issues important to residents of Montana, such as passing a Farm Bill.