HELENA – A poll by CBS News gives U.S. Sen. Jon Tester a two-point lead over his Republican challenger, Matt Rosendale, in the state’s marquee race this fall, 47 percent to 45 percent.
But the online poll also has an error margin of plus-or-minus 5.2 percent, meaning the race is a statistical dead heat.
The poll of 543 registered voters was conducted over four days last week, and is the first independent poll on Montana’s U.S. Senate race to be released this fall.
Rosendale’s campaign publicized the poll, which was released Sunday, saying it shows him within “striking distance of defeating Jon Tester.”
Tester campaign spokesman Chris Meagher said the Tester camp “always knew this was going to be a tough race,” but remains confident that Montanans will re-elect Tester.
The poll asked registered voters who they would support, if the election were held today. Forty-seven percent said Tester, 45 percent said Rosendale, 3 percent said “someone else” and 5 percent said they’re not sure.
The poll did not give voters a choice of Libertarian Rick Breckenridge, who is on the ballot.
Seventy-two percent of those polled said they definitely planned to vote in the November mid-term elections, and 87 percent said they had either decided already who to support or that they probably wouldn’t change their mind.
Tester also had a 53 percent approval rating among those polled – the same approval rating as President Trump.
David Parker, a political scientist at Montana State University and analyst for MTN News, said Monday that if he were Tester, he’d be “cautiously optimistic” about the race, despite its closeness.
Parker noted that the poll showed a higher enthusiasm among Democrats than Republicans about voting, that Tester has a relatively good approval rating, and that he has strong marks for
However, Parker also noted that Tester was trailing among those who said they are independents – a group Tester needs to win, if he is going to win the election. Parker said the group of self-described independents in the poll is pretty small, meaning the margin of error is higher.
“This poll confirms a couple of things: The race is going to be close; we always knew it would be close,” Parker said. “But, it really is about that enthusiasm gap, that could affect turnout. If more Democrats come out (than usual), than do Republicans, it’s clear what’s going to happen.”
Other results of the poll included:
- Eighty-four percent of self-identified Democrats said they will “definitely” vote while 67 percent of Republicans said the same.
- Ninety-nine percent of Democrats said they will be voting for Tester; 83 percent of Republicans said they will be voting for Rosendale. Among self-identified Independents, 49 percent said they would favor Rosendale; 40 percent said they are for Tester.
- Thirty-six percent said their vote this fall in the Senate race is about supporting the president, 30 percent said it’s about opposing him, and 34 percent said Trump is not a factor in their vote.
- Fifty-three percent said they are dissatisfied with the direction of the country.
- Only 10 percent said that Republican policies in Congress have helped their health-care coverage, while 50 percent said the changes have had no impact and 29 percent said the changes had hurt health-care coverage.
At the same time, 57 percent of Montanans said they disapprove of the Affordable Care Act, the 2010 health-care reform law also known as “Obamacare.”
- Forty-one percent of those surveyed said that Tester is better than Rosendale on health care, while 36 percent said Rosendale is better on that issue. However, Rosendale scored higher than Tester on the issues of immigration, crime and gun policy.
- Only 17 percent of Montanans said that laws on gun sales should be less strict, while 41 percent said they should be stricter and 41 percent said they should remain the same.
- Forty-six percent of those surveyed said they are Republicans or lean Republican; 38 percent said they are Democrats are lean Democratic. Also, 44 percent described them conservative, 27 percent as liberal and 25 percent as “moderate.”
MTN News is conducting its own poll this month, examining state races and issues, and will have the results in early October.