Like I Was Saying

A Growing Disconnect

When asked about their quality of life, 55% of state residents say it has gotten worse over the last five years

By Kellyn Brown

A survey of Montanans released last week confirmed what many of us already know, or, at least, could sense. Residents here think the population in the state is growing too fast and, consequently, our quality of life is getting worse. 

The research was published by the University of Montana Crown of the Continent and Greater Yellowstone Initiative. And it found, regardless of your party affiliation, chances are you’re increasingly unhappy with the direction of our state. 

In a media call after the survey was released, Rick Graetz, initiative director with UM, said: “If we really want to call ourselves the ‘Last Best Place,’ decision-makers on all levels of government need to figure out how we’re going to keep Montana from being loved to death.”

When asked about their quality of life, 55% of state residents say it has gotten worse over the last five years; 36% say it has stayed about the same; and just 7% of respondents say it has gotten better. Current events, from the pandemic to inflation, could be expected to sour everyone’s overall mood, but these results are a giant red flag.

Why would a working-class local stick around if the reason that attracted them in the first place is now gone, or at least no longer a good enough reason to stay? Here are the percentages of Montanans who think the following are “serious” or “extremely serious” problems in the state: Lack of affordable housing (92%); development sprawling into what were once ranches or open lands (85%); changing character of the state (77%); crowding and more people at places where you recreate outdoors (76%).

Remember when the state spent years trying get people to either visit or move here? “Get Lost in Montana,” we said. Well, it’s a lot harder to get lost in Montana since the pandemic-induced land rush. It’s even harder for many locals to find housing. 

Of course, we’re not the only region feeling pinched by the country’s population shifts. It’s also happening in high-growth urban areas, such as Texas, the second-most populous state in the country. There, like here, many residents are over it. 

According to a poll released last week by the University of Texas and Texas Politics Projects, 40% of Texans say the “surge of newcomers in recent years has been a net negative,” while just 34% view it as a good thing. And there, like here, it appears there is a disconnect between politicians touting and encouraging population growth with locals who say it needs to slow down. 

“It’s odd that at a time when incumbents, particularly in an election year in Texas, continue to talk about the virtue of growth and taking credit for that, that we are now seeing a plurality of Texans having doubts about the impact of that growth,” James Henson, a political science professor at the University of Texas at Austin, told Bloomberg News.

Meanwhile, in Montana, recent surveys reflect an even more negative view of the rapid influx of new residents. And our politicians? They continue to lure more people here, to work remotely no less, through the state’s “Come Home Montana” marketing campaign. 

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