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Big Sky Connection - Based on trends in a new poll, voters in rural Montana are not satisfied with the state of the economy and the role they play in it. Montana is expected to be a battleground state in next year's election. Comments from Celinda Lake, president, Lake Research Partners; and Dee Davis, president, Center for Rural Strategies.

Click on the image above for the audio. Around 49% of Montana voters lean Republican while 30% are Democrats. The remainder identify as independent, according to the Pew Research Center. (Adobe Stock)

Mark Moran

November 9, 2023 - A new poll shows Montana's rural voters are concerned with rising transportation and energy costs, higher health-care expenses, and a lack of good-paying jobs - as they look toward next year's election.

Montana is among a handful of battleground states that could turn the vote in high-profile races next year.

In addition to the pocketbook issues common among other rural states, Montanans are also concerned about their environment and want a say in how it is cared for.

The new poll by the Center for Rural Strategies and Lake Research Partners asked people in rural America how they feel about their role in the economy and the perception of modern politics.

Lake Research President Celinda Lake said political polarization among rural voters is increasing, and has influenced perceptions of the economy.

"They don't think the economy is working well for them, and Republicans are really pessimistic about the economy," said Lake. "Democrats are more optimistic, but even they are split. There is a lot of polarization that started very early, and it's because people aren't hearing the kind of dialogue that would be useful in rural areas."

Lake added that job creation, prescription drug prices and food costs are also extremely important - but she said finding local solutions to these problems is critical to rural Montana voters.

Rural Americans as a whole listed freedom and family as the two values they hold most dear.

The poll shows many people in rural Montana identify themselves by the work they do.

Many of those technical or manual-labor jobs have been replaced by technology or moved overseas - and have shaped how rural Americans feel about the economy.

But Center for Rural Strategies President Dee Davis said the survey found close to 40% of rural, blue-collar voters could be swayed by targeted policy proposals and messaging.

"Talk to people not in the short-term, 'I'm going to tell you this to get your vote tomorrow,' way," said Davis, "but in a longer kind of way to create a discourse about the future of rural America and have people participate in that."

Looking toward next year's election, the poll shows former President Donald Trump with an 18% lead over President Joe Biden among rural Americans.

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