Voters casting midterm election ballots in Montana were divided over President Donald Trump’s performance, and it showed in the results: Republican Rep. Greg Gianforte embraced the president’s agenda and won, but four campaign appearances with Trump failed to help challenger Matt Rosendale unseat Democratic Sen. Jon Tester.
AP VoteCast, a wide-ranging survey of the American electorate, found that voters had mixed views of Trump: 52 percent said they approve of how he is handling his job as president, while 47 percent said they disapprove of Trump.
Voters split evenly on whether the country was on the right or wrong track.
Tester won a third term in a tight race; Trump traveled to the state four times to boost Rosendale’s campaign. In the race for the state’s sole House seat, Gianforte kept his job 16 months after winning a special election to finish the term of Ryan Zinke, who left to become Trump’s Interior secretary. Gianforte, best known nationally for assaulting a reporter last year, faced Democrat Kathleen Williams, a former state lawmaker who was one of a record number of women running for office nationwide.
Here’s a snapshot of who voted and why in Montana, based on preliminary results from AP VoteCast, an innovative nationwide survey of about 139,000 voters and nonvoters — including 2,667 voters and 252 nonvoters in the state of Montana — conducted for The Associated Press by NORC at the University of Chicago.
TOP ISSUE: HEALTH CARE
Health care was at the forefront of voters’ minds: about 3 in 10 named it as the most important issue facing the nation in this year’s midterm elections. About one-fifth of voters considered the economy paramount, while another fifth picked immigration. Just 1 in 10 voters named the environment, and fewer than that said foreign policy.
STATE OF THE ECONOMY
Montana voters have a positive view of the nation’s economic outlook. Two-thirds said the nation’s economy is good, compared with one-third who said it’s not.
Montana’s unemployment rate is 3.6 percent, a hair under the national rate of 3.7 percent, which is a five-decade low, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Jennifer Rager, 55, recalled that her stomach would twist in knots when she’d hear bad economic news during President Barack Obama’s administration, though the national economy gained 11.6 million jobs and the unemployment rate dropped to below the historical norm during his tenure.
Now, the Bozeman entrepreneur said her concierge business has gotten a boost from Trump’s tax cuts and that she just she feels safer since he became president.
“It just feels like he’s really trying to do a good job of protecting our country, you know?” Rager said Saturday as she volunteered at a rally for Trump in Belgrade, Montana. “I can’t wrap my head around why the other side is so unhappy and so terrified.”
For about one-third of Montana voters, Trump was not a factor they considered while casting their ballots. About one-third said a reason for their vote was to express support for Trump, and the final third said they voted to express opposition to Trump.
Voters in Montana had mixed views of Trump: 47 percent said they approve of his performance, while 52 percent said they disapprove.
“His rhetoric has divided the country and there’s chaos in the White House, and I’m tired of it,” said Norm Larsen, 69, of Helena. “I think we need strong checks and balances in the Congress.”
With Democrats winning the House, Larsen hopes they take a close look at Trump’s actions while in office.
“That may lead to some investigations,” he said.
RACE FOR SENATE
The votes of women and those 44 and under propelled Tester to victory. While Tester and Rosendale split among voters 45 and over and men, the senator racked up big margins among the young and women.
Among those 44 and under, Tester bested Rosendale by a 58-39 margin. Among women, Tester received 54 percent of their vote, compared to Rosendale’s 43 percent.
Voters with a college education were more likely to favor Tester. Likewise, voters without a college degree modestly supported him.
CONTROL OF CONGRESS
As Tuesday’s elections determined control of Congress in the final two years of Trump’s first term, roughly two-thirds of Montana voters said which party was in charge was very important as they considered their vote. Another 1 in 5 said it was somewhat important.
STAYING AT HOME
In Montana, about 8 in 10 registered voters who chose not to vote in the midterm election were younger than 45. A wide share of those who did not vote — about 9 in 10 — did not have a college degree. About as many nonvoters were Democrats as Republicans.