This is the third installment of a several-part series on results of the MTN-MSU poll on 2018 electoral races in Montana
HELENA – Montana voters are deadlocked over a ballot initiative to extend Medicaid coverage for low-income adults and fund it with higher tobacco taxes – but a sizable chunk of voters remains undecided, according to a Montana Television Network-Montana State University poll.
The poll, conducted by mail in late September and early October, said 41.4 percent of registered Montana voters SUPPORT Initiative 185, 40.8 percent oppose it and 17.3 percent are unsure.
But the poll said two other ballot measures had substantial support, with advantages of nearly 2-to-1 or better: Initiative 186, which creates new water regulations for any new hard-rock mine cleanups, and the 6-Mill property tax levy to help fund Montana’s university system.
Among poll respondents, 50.6 percent said they favored I-186, nearly 29 percent said they opposed it and almost 20 percent said they are unsure.
On the 6-Mill Levy, which is on the ballot as Legislative Referendum 128, nearly 54 percent of those polled said they favored it, 21.6 percent opposed it and 22.6 percent were undecided.
Yet the outcome on all three measures may depend the direction of undecided voters, said MTN Political Analyst David Parker – and that could be bad news for I-185 and, perhaps I-186 as well, he added.
Both I-185 and I-185 are asking voters to change the law and the status quo, in ways that could be considered complex and multifaceted, and if there’s confusion or doubt, the undecideds will break toward voting no, or not at all, he told MTN News.
“These are complicated; people have to take time to understand the issue,” Parker said Wednesday. “The most likely result is a lot of folks are just going to opt out, and you’re going to see massive ballot roll-off, when you get down to these initiatives.”
Even though I-186 had a 20-point lead in the poll, it had 20 percent saying they don’t know, making the race likely a lot closer than it appears, he said.
But on the 6-Mill Levy, a “yes” vote is for the status quo, making it more likely to pass, Parker added. The 6-Mill Levy has been in effect for decades and comes up for a vote every 10 years.
Also, Parker noted that both I-185 and I-185 face well-funded opposition, which has been spending heavily on broadcast ads, mailers and other advertising mediums – including a health does since the poll was conducted.
The MTN-MSU poll was mailed to 10,215 registered voters in mid-September; about 2,000 ballots were returned by Oct. 6. It has a margin of plus-or-minus 2 percent.
I-185, if passed, would raise tobacco taxes by an estimated $72 million a year, including a $2-per-pack increase on cigarettes. The measure also would make permanent Montana’s Medicaid expansion, which provides government-funded health coverage for about 100,000 low-income adults.
Part of the money raised by I-185 would help fund the state’s share of the cost of Medicaid expansion; the federal government will pay 90% of expansion’s approximate $500 million to $600 million-a-year cost.
Two tobacco firms have raised or spent $17.5 million to oppose I-185, while health-care groups, led by Montana hospitals, have anted up about $7.7 million to support the measure.
Mining firms and the Montana Mining Association have raised or spent about $4.5 million to defeat I-186, including $2.5 million in the past three weeks. The supporters of I-186, led by Trout Unlimited, have raised or spent about $1.4 million.
I-186, if passed, would forbid the state from permitting any new hard-rock mine if its cleanup plan requires perpetual treatment of polluted water from the mine site.
Other details from the poll on the initiatives include:
• Those who identified as Democrats strongly support all three measures. About 70 percent of Democrats said they back I-185, 75 percent said they support I-186 and almost 78% said they support the 6-Mill Levy.
Those who identify as Republicans oppose both I-185 and I-185, but support the 6-Mill Levy, by a lesser margin. About 56 percent of Republicans said they are against I-185, 43 percent said they don’t like I-186 and 39 percent of them said they support the 6-Mill Levy, while 30 percent are against it and 28 percent are undecided.
• Women voters favor all three measures, but the margin is the closest on I-185: About 45 percent favored it, while 33 percent were against and 21 percent were undecided.
As a group, men support I-186 and the 6-Mill Levy, but opposed I-185, by a margin of 48 percent to 37.5 percent.
• The 6-Mill Levy had support from all age groups and voters from all levels of education.
On I-185, the initiative had more support among voters 49 and younger and people with at least four years of college. Just the opposite was true for voters 50 and older and those with less than a four-year college degree in education.
On I-186, supporters outnumbered the opponents among people of all age groups and all levels of education. However, the percentage of undecideds was also fairly steady, ranging anywhere from 15 percent to 24 percent – except among those with graduate college degree, who were at 13 percent undecided.
Tomorrow: Poll results on various issues and approval ratings for top elected officials