By Martin Kidston
The Center for Western Priorities has a message for political candidates in Montana and across much of the West this season: stay away from extreme views regarding public lands, energy and access to the outdoors.
On Monday, the Center of Western Priorities released the latest poll in its 2016 Winning the West Campaign. The poll, conducted in Montana, follows similar surveys taken by Purple Strategies in Colorado and Nevada.
While partisan differences could be found on some issues regarding energy, Montanans were generally aligned in their desire to protect public lands and access. A majority of state voters would be less likely to support a candidate who seeks to sell public lands, or one who prioritizes oil and gas production over a balanced energy solutions that includes wind and solar.
“Candidates seeking voter support in Montana are wise to find a common-sense view that balances conservation, economic use and public enjoyment of our lands,” said Jennifer Rokala, executive director of the Center for Western Priorities. “Candidates should consider steering clear of extreme proposals at either end of the political spectrum.”
Asked if there was too much public land, 75 percent of Montana voters disagreed, including 85 percent of Democrats, 69 percent of Independents and 71 percent of Republicans.
Nearly 67 percent of all voters view public lands, water and wildlife in Montana as important issues. Nearly 81 percent of voters would be more likely to support a candidate who proposes to protect access to the outdoors while 9 percent would be less likely.
“The results hold across partisan lines,” Brian Gottlieb, managing director of Purple Strategies, said in a morning press conference. “On public land and access, what we’ve determined is there’s a strong public-lands platform centered upon access, economic impacts and preservation.”
By 59 to 17 percent margin, the survey also found that voters would favor a Democratic candidate who opposes transferring national public lands to the state over a Republican candidate with opposing viewpoints.
The survey also found that Republican candidates should ovoid supporting an extreme public-lands agenda, such as that adopted during the recent militia uprising in Oregon, just as Democrats should tread cautiously when opposing fracking.
Generally speaking, the survey found that while voters saw wind and solar energy as the future, they still preferred a candidate who proposes a balanced approach to energy.
“There are win-wins for both Republicans and Democrats,” Gottlieb said. “Protecting access to outdoor spaces for hunting, hiking and fishing – that’s a green light for both Republican and Democratic candidates.”
In all three Winning the West Campaign polls, the survey found that voters care deeply about access to the outdoors and public lands, and generally opposed extreme viewpoints.
Gottlieb said the results are intended to educate candidates and their campaigns about issues important to Western voters, particular swing voters in so-called purple states across the Rocky Mountain West.
“The takeaway for candidates is they have a real opportunity to gain support based on their commitment to Montana’s outdoor economy and the positions they take on how public lands should be used and protected,” said Gottlieb. “Candidates who are pro-outdoors can win the state’s outdoors voting bloc in November.”
The poll included 600 telephone interviews of likely voters in Montana between June 11-15. Respondents were randomly selected from a voter file. The margin of error is +/-4.0 percent.
Contact reporter Martin Kidston at firstname.lastname@example.org