Poll Shows Montana Voters Remain Highly Supportive of Conservation Initiatives

14th-annual Conservation in the West poll shows increased concern among voters about the effects of climate change, environment

By Micah Drew
A bicyclist ascends Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park on June 19, 2021. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

A new poll confirms that support for conservation policies remains strong among Montanans, while an overwhelming majority of voters are increasingly worried about the future of public lands, climate change, and clean air and water.

That’s according to Colorado College’s 14th-annual State of the Rockies Project Conservation in the West Poll, which was released Feb. 14 and surveyed the views of Montanans and voters in seven other western states — Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming. The bipartisan survey was conducted by Republican pollster Lori Weigel of New Bridge Strategy and Democratic pollster Dave Metz of Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates.

Results from the poll show overall support for conservation initiatives across the West, with many stances crossing state, partisan and demographic lines.

“Most things we poll on are so skewed by partisanship you’d think people are on different planets,” Weigel said during a press briefing. “This is not one of them.”

With 2024 being a major election year, pollsters asked voters how they view conservation issues around clean air, clean water, public lands and wildlife compared to other key issues like the economy, healthcare and education. Across the spectrum, 85% of voters said conservation-related issues were an important factor in deciding to support an elected official. In Montana, 87% of voters responded that conservation issues help influence their voting patterns, with 40% responding that environmental issues are a primary factor informing their vote.

On specific policy proposals, Montanans overwhelmingly favored pro-conservation initiatives, including requiring oil and gas companies pay for clean-up and land restoration costs (93%); conserving 30% of land and waters in America by the year 2030 (74%); creating new national parks, monuments, wildlife refuges and protected tribal lands (81%); and managing public lands to preserve night skies free of light pollution to better see the stars (87%).

Voters across the political spectrum — 64% of Republican voters and 81% of Democratic voters — said more emphasis should be placed on conserving wildlife migration routes, such as by providing wildlife crossings over or under highways and limiting new development, as opposed to prioritizing economic development. Across all western states, 70% of voters said they would prefer their members of Congress emphasize protecting clean water, air quality and public lands over maximizing energy production — the highest level of support found in the poll’s history, and the first time prioritizing conservation received majority support from Republican voters (52%).  

“There may be a lot that divides voters across the country, but in Montana, there is nearly universal consensus in favor of conservation,” Katrina Miller-Stevens, director of the State of the Rockies Project, stated in a press release. “Not only do voters prefer conservation when asked how public lands and water should be utilized, but issues involving water, air, land and wildlife are top of mind when they make their voting decisions.”

Montanans’ concern over the effects of climate change has continued to increase in recent years, with a majority of voters considering the changing climate a top area of concern. Comparing poll results from the last two presidential election years, the percentage of Montanans who consider climate change a serious issue has climbed 18% since 2016, and 10% since 2020.

Looking back over the last 10 years, 64.2% of Montanans have noticed significant effects of climate change in the state, up from 54.9% in 2020. The levels of concern over climate change for all states surveyed are at an all-time high over the poll’s history.

Here are some more takeaways from the 2024 Conservation in the West Poll:

  • 67% of Montanans feel worried about the future of the environment.
  • 63% of Montanans think loss of fish and wildlife habitat is a serious problem, compared to 7.9% who don’t.
  • 84% of all Western voters think children aren’t spending enough time outdoors.
  • 33% of Montanans have visited national public lands more than 20 times in the last year — more than any other state surveyed.
  • Yellowstone National Park and Glacier National Park were two of the top natural areas poll respondents from all states said they had visited and loved.  
  • 56% of Montanans think the Endangered Species Act, passed 50 years ago, has been a good thing, compared to 18% who believe it’s done more harm than good.
  • 47% of Montanans have donated money or volunteered to help nature or wildlife.
  • 65% of Montanans regularly seek out news on nature, wildlife or recreation.
  • 60.6% of Montanans think low water levels in rivers is a very or extremely serious problem, up from 34.4% in 2020.

The 2024 Colorado College Conservation in the West Poll surveyed at least 400 registered voters in each of the eight western states for a total sample size of 3,376 voters, which included an over-sample of Black and Native American voters. The survey was conducted between Jan. 4 and Jan. 21. The poll’s effective margin of error is +2.4% at the 95% confidence interval for the total sample, and, at most, +4.9% for each state. The poll is funded by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

The full survey and individual state surveys are available on the State of the Rockies website.

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