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Poll Shows Close Race Between Tester, Sheehy

New polling results released Wednesday, March 6, show Democratic Sen. Jon Tester with a narrow, but statistically insignificant, lead over Republican Tim Sheehy in a theoretical matchup eight months before Election Day, and also that Gov. Greg Gianforte has a neutral approval rating as he starts his re-election bid.

The Emerson College Polling/ The Hill poll also shows former President Donald Trump with a wide lead over President Joe Biden in what is almost certain to be the presidential matchup, and signals that a subset of Montana voters is considering voting for both Trump and Tester come November.

The poll was conducted Feb. 26 through March 2 via text message-to-web and email polling, along with an online survey of voters. The sample includes 1,000 registered Montana voters weighted based on turnout and voter registration data, along with voters’ gender, age, party, race and education, though one-tenth of respondents also said they did not vote in 2020. Fifty-seven of those who did not vote four years ago are in the 18-29 age range.

The poll is the first Emerson College has released on Montana since last October, and thus the first to include candidates that have formally filed for the election.

Tester leads Sheehy 44 percent to 42 percent, with 14 percent undecided in the latest poll. In October, with a smaller sample size and larger margin of error, Tester led Sheehy 39 percent to 35 percent, indicating more undecided voters have made up their minds in the months since.

But looking into the crosstabs, the poll shows Tester leads among independent voters by 10 percent and that about 14 percent of Republican respondents to the poll said they would support Tester over Sheehy. It shows only about 7 percent of Democratic respondents would support Sheehy.

A similar share of people (14 percent) said they would vote for both Trump and Tester, while only 2% of Biden voters said they would support Sheehy in November. Biden and Trump are the presumptive presidential nominees for their parties; Tester does not have a primary challenger, while former Public Service Commissioner Brad Johnson is also running in the Republican primary against Sheehy.

About 56 percent of people polled said they would support Trump in November, compared to 35 percent who said they would support Biden and 9 percent who said they were still undecided. Trump leads Biden among independents by nearly 13 percentage points and by 90 percentage points among Republicans. Biden leads Trump among Democrats by 78 percent, according to the poll data.

Biden’s approval rating is also far underwater, with 62 percent of respondents saying they disapprove of the job he is doing as president, compared to 28 percent who approved in the poll. Among independents, Biden’s favorability rating is nearly 36 percentage points underwater in Montana.

Emerson College Polling Executive Director Spencer Kimball said the support for Trump mirrors the 57 percent of the vote he took home in 2020, while Biden’s support is down from the 41 percent of the vote he received that year. Kimball said Trump’s lead over Biden mirrors the gap by which Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in Montana in 2016.

The poll found that 68 percent of respondents, including 42 percent of Democrats and 69 percent of independents, see Biden’s age as an issue when considering voting for him. And half of respondents said Trump’s criminal indictments make them worried about voting for him, including 19 percent of Republicans and 55 percent of independents.

The poll also looked into Gianforte’s approval rating, the top issues Montana voters are thinking about heading into the election, and asked respondents hypothetical questions about which type of values they would support in a candidate if faced with choosing one over another.

Gianforte’s approval rating is neutral — 37 percent approved and disapproved of the job he was doing running Montana — but 41 percent of respondents said they think Montana is on the wrong track, compared to 31 percent who said it is on the right track.

Sixteen percent of Republicans disapproved of Gianforte’s performance, while 12 percent of Democrats approved of it. Among independents, 33 percent said they approved of the job the governor was doing, while 38 percent said they disapproved.

Forty-two percent of women said they disapproved of Gianforte’s performance, compared to 31 percent who approved, while among men, 45 percent approve and 32 percent disapprove, per the poll.

On the direction the state is headed, 31 percent of Republicans and 38 percent of independents said they felt the state was on the wrong track, along with 61 percent of Democrats. Just 24 percent of independents said the state is on the right track, along with 43 percent of Republicans and 22 percent of Democrats.

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