2014 Voter Survey Press Release

Poll says Public Lands Are Major Consideration for Voters

July 7, 2014

Contact: Kayde Kaiser:  406.321.1540

MISSOULA – A new public opinion survey says Treasure State residents consider conservation decisions as important as issues of the economy, health care and education.

The June 2014 survey of 500 registered voters in Montana was commissioned by the University of Montana’s Crown of the Continent and Greater Yellowstone Initiative (COCGYI) to garner better understanding of public land debates playing out in the Crown of the Continent and across Montana. Issues tested included Wilderness designation, privatization of public lands, and the impacts of public lands on various aspect of life for Montanans.

“It appears Montanans have a love affair with their public lands,” said Rick Graetz, Co-Director of the COCGYI. “There is clearly something going on here because I don’t think we could have said the same thing quite as powerfully forty or fifty years ago.”

The poll was conducted by Republican pollster Lori Weigel of Public Opinion Strategies and Democratic pollster Dave Metz of Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates.

The survey found that Montanans are more likely to support decisions that protect public lands and oppose decisions that limit access or develop them at the expense of conservation and recreation values. According to pollster Lori Weigel, that’s because Montanans have very strong personal connections to the outdoors.

“We found Montanans are most likely to point to nature and outdoor recreation as things they like best about the state and this tends to make them care more deeply about its management and stewardship,” said Weigel.

According to Weigel, that also explains why Montanans regardless of political affiliation, broadly ascribe positive benefits of public lands to nearly every aspect of life in Montana, including the economy.

“Three-in-five Montanans believe public land helps attract good jobs and employers to the state, and a majority believes Montana is uniquely qualified to attract new innovative companies due to the presence of public lands and the Montana lifestyle,” she said.

Other public sentiments expressed in the poll include that:

  • 66% of Montanans are opposed to the selling off of public lands to help reduce the budget deficit.
  • 71% support the Land and Water Conservation Fund
  • 67% support the North Fork Flathead Watershed Protection Act, 68% support the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act and a majority say Congress should take action on these proposals now instead of waiting.
  • 78% of Montanans are familiar with the Crown of the Continent
  • 70% of Montanans say private companies should not be allowed to develop public lands if it interferes with public access or enjoyment of the lands

The survey also tested Wilderness on the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act and found 78% of voters consider the state’s existing Wilderness areas to be a good thing for Montana. A majority of voters also support additional Wilderness acres, but such expansion is most likely to garner support if proposals are crafted locally with community input.

Graetz says those results are confirmation for him that Montanans generally like coming together over land use decisions.

“Montana has a great tradition, going back more than 100 years of folks from all political persuasions and interest coming together to bring back wildlife by protecting habitat when big game animals had all but disappeared from places like the Rocky Mountain Front, a key bit of geography in the Crown,” said Graetz. “It seems now Montanans are viewing not just wildlife conservation as important, but also the value of wild lands and open space for their quality of life and economic well-being.”

A summary of the results and the full survey is available on the 2014 Voter Survey webpage.