Montana’s Republican officials out of step with public on abortion and other issues - TAI News
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Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen arrives to testify during the House Homeland Security Committee hearing on Wednesday, January 10, 2024. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call via AP Images)

A new statewide poll shows that Montana’s Republican officials are on the wrong side of pivotal issues such as reproductive rights, rising property taxes, Medicaid expansion and siphoning public money for private schools. Nonetheless, Republican legislators maintain a slight edge in voter preference in that same poll.

Topping the results is a decisive answer from those surveyed on reproductive rights. Fifty-eight percent of respondents believe that abortion in the state should remain legal in most or all circumstances; only 9% favor a ban.

Abortion in Montana is now legal, but rests on a court interpretation of a stated right to privacy in the Montana Constitution. A coalition of groups is in the midst of a petition drive for a ballot initiative asking voters to approve a constitutional amendment ensuring abortion rights. The process leading up to that petition drive has been opposed every step of the way by Republican elected officials, especially Attorney General Austin Knudsen and Secretary of State Christi Jacobsen. Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte is also a strong opponent of abortion rights.

That abortion issue, however, is not at the top of voters’ minds, at least according to the poll. Fifty-five percent ranked it as important. Pocketbook issues scored higher, led by the issue pollsters labeled “cost of living and prices.”

Respondents were presented with a series of issues and asked to assign each to one of five levels of importance. Sixty-four percent of respondents assigned this issue to the highest category,and another 18% to the next highest, the most weight given to any of the 12 issues on the survey. But close behind were inflation, cost of housing, access to affordable health care, and property taxes, all economic issues.

The issue of property taxes was probed in greater depth in the survey and provides an interesting political angle. Respondents are not wrong about steep increases in housing prices; this month, the nation research firm Bankrate said the state leads the nation in this regard. Those steep increases have yielded a corresponding increase in residential property taxes, generating a backlash from taxpayers.

The poll asked respondents who was to blame for this. Twenty-nine percent of respondents blamed the state Legislature, while 28% said this is the governor’s fault. Significant blame also went to newcomers to the state driving up housing prices and to tax breaks to corporations. Meanwhile, not many respondents blamed local government and schools for the increases. These results more or less align with the facts of the matter. The primary cause of the unprecedented rise in property taxes has been legislative inaction after housing prices increased.

On other bellwether issues, 75% of respondents favor Medicaid expansion; 66% oppose legislation (already passed but challenged in the courts) to send public money to private schools. Nor do respondents believe the state is spending too much on schools, despite the concerns about property taxes. Sixty percent of respondents think schools don’t have enough money.

Despite an across-the-board misalignment with Republican priorities on the issues, there was still a tip in the poll toward Republican votes. Half of respondents said they are inclined to vote for Republican legislative candidates this year, 43% for a Democrat. The Legislature is now two-thirds Republican.

The poll is the work of Middle Fork Strategies, a progressive organization based in Montana, but conducted by the Washington, D.C.-based polling firm Searchlight Research. The pollsters surveyed 600 Montanans April 7-10 by telephone, both landline and cell. Respondents identified as 28% Democrat, 38% Republican and 34% independent. There was an even split by gender.

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The Montana Independent is a project of American Independent Media, a 501(c)(4) organization whose mission is to use journalism to educate the public, giving them the information they need about local and federal issues.