UM Big Sky Poll: Montanans Identify Barriers, Opportunities for Civic Engagement

June 15, 2020

MISSOULA – The University of Montana’s Big Sky Poll recently conducted a yearlong investigation with more than 940 participants to understand how and why individuals participate in public policymaking.

More than 40% of participants were young people in Montana, including the unique perspective of Native American youth in the state. Funded by the Headwaters Foundation, the research found:

  • Time is one of the most significant barriers to voting.
  • 17% met with someone in the state Legislature within the last 12 months.
  • 28% would only attend a public meeting in their town.
  • Only 20% of participants would be willing to travel anywhere in the state to participate in civic engagement activities.
  • 77% have never considered running for elected office.

Participants also suggested approaches to increase their engagement:

  • 61% would attend a public meeting or legislative hearing if it was hosted on Facebook Live or a similar format.
  • More than 70% of participants said they would be more likely to vote if the State of Montana sent out a voter information guide for general and primary elections.
  • Approximately 51% of participants stated they would be more likely to vote in mail-in-only elections.
  • More than 70% of participants would vote if a mailed reminder was sent.

The poll is directed by Sara Rinfret, a professor and chair of UM’s Department of Public Administration and Policy, and Justin Angle, a UM associate professor of marketing.

“The results offer valuable insights into why individuals participate, offering our state lessons on pathways forward to increase participation,” Rinfret said.

The survey was commissioned with support from the Headwaters Foundation. Use of these findings requires attribution to UM Big Sky Poll. Full results from this research are available on the UM Big Sky Poll website at http://www.umt.edu/bigskypoll/. More research from this project will be released in July to evaluate the impact of COVID-19 on public participation in Montana.

Rinfret said the Big Sky Poll is an example of the experiential learning opportunities for students available at UM. The poll is a fellowship opportunity for the Master of Public Administration, law and Master of Science in Business Analytics degree programs.

More information on the Big Sky Poll is online at http://www.umt.edu/bigskypoll/

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Contact: Dr. Sara Rinfret, professor and chair, UM Department of Public Administration and Policy, 406-243-4702, sara.rinfret@umontana.edu.