Where Montana Voted Red, Blue
The more than 468,000 Montanans who cast ballots in November 2023 by and large leaned Republican — electing two GOP candidates to represent Montana in the U.S. House and handing the GOP a historic supermajority in the state Legislature.
As is typically the case in Montana, though, the state’s political geography is more complex than a simple horizon- to-horizon field of red. In several pockets across the state, voters leaned toward Democrats — or threw a plurality of support behind independent U.S. House candidate Gary Buchanan. Elsewhere, Montanans split their votes in ways that defy simple partisan classification by re-electing incumbent Montana Supreme Court justices, adding digital privacy protections to the state Constitution and rejecting a measure mandating life-sustaining care for newborns with terminal health conditions.
In Montana’s newly drawn first congressional district, which spans western Montana from Bozeman to Libby, Republican Ryan Zinke won a four-point victory over Democratic candidate Monica Tranel.
A “jelly donut” pattern of urban-rural political divides characterized voters’ choices across the western district, with deep-blue Democrat- leaning urban cores surrounded by more sparsely populated Republican-leaning territory.
Urban and some suburban precincts in Bozeman, Missoula, Butte, Anaconda, Hamilton, Big Sky and Whitefish skewed Democratic, as did precincts in and around Browning on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. In addition to picking up rural precincts across the district, Republican Zinke won town and city centers in Kalispell, Libby, Deer Lodge and Dillon (one central Dillon precinct, however, reported a 143-143 vote tie).
In the eastern Montana congressional district, incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Matt Rosendale won an easy 35-point victory against Democrat Penny Ronning and independent challenger Gary Buchanan, who split the vote opposing Rosendale’s re-election. While Rosendale won 57 percent of the vote overall, Ronning and Buchanan won 20 percent and 22 percent respectively — too few votes combined to topple the incumbent.
Rosendale won the vast majority of precincts across the district, including much of the Billings area and all of Great Falls and Havre. Exceptions to Republican dominance in the race were portions of the Rocky Boy’s, Fort Belknap, Fort Peck, Crow and Northern Cheyenne reservations, as well as urban precincts in Helena, Livingston, Red Lodge and central Billings.
Ronning and Buchanan split that left-leaning territory. Ronning picked up narrow margins over Buchanan in downtown Billings and commanding margins in Democrat- leaning tribal communities, while Buchanan won one central Billings precinct and dominant margins in central Helena.
In Montana Supreme Court races, incumbent Justice Jim Rice, who trounced opponent Bill D’Alton by 55 percentage points statewide, won handily across the state. The hotly contested race between incumbent Justice Ingrid Gustafson and challenger Jim Brown, who was endorsed by the state Republican Party in the nominally nonpartisan race, produced a more complex picture.
While Brown won most Republican-leaning rural areas, Gustafson picked up precinct-level victories in urban cores across the state, including central Kalispell, Polson, Great Falls, Dillon and Havre precincts that tilted Republican in explicitly partisan U.S. House races. Gustafson also held Brown to narrow margins of victory in many rural precincts. She won by eight percentage points overall. Of the two policy measures on the November ballot, digital privacy initiative Constitutional Amendment 48 also won handily across the state. The other, Legislative Referendum 131, the “Montana Born-Alive Infant Protection Act,” failed by five percentage points. LR-131 won supportive margins in many rural precincts, including some tribal communities, but faced large “no” vote margins in and around Missoula, Butte, Bozeman and Helena.
The measure also lost narrowly in scattered rural precincts. In the only precinct in Treasure County east of Billings, for example, it was voted down by a 16-vote margin, with 201 votes against to 185 votes for.