A reality based independent journal of observation & analysis, serving the Flathead Valley & Montana since 2006. © James Conner.

27 October 2016

Kalispell westside bypass

After a ribbon cutting ceremony, and the usual pork praising speeches by politicians claiming credit for bringing so much money and asphalt to Kalispell, the just completed northern section will open to traffic. Expect better weather than today, and expect a lot of law enforcement activity.


Adjusting the new traffic lights at the Three Mile bridge just before sunset on 25 October.

…read the rest


26 October 2016

Should the MSU and Mason-Dixon polls be averaged?

That’s a judgment call. At Flathead Memo, the judgment is No. Averaging can make sense when the polls to be averaged:

  1. Sampled the same population.
  2. Occurred during approximately the same time frame.
  3. Asked the functional equivalent of the same question.

If those three tests are met, averaging is a valid procedure, provided the average is weighted by sample size.

The MSU and Mason-Dixon meet only two of the three tests. As noted earlier today, the polls did not sample the same population. Averaging polls that do not sample the same populations amounts to averaging apples and oranges, and yields fruit salad, not additional clarity.


MSU Poll sampled “adult Montanans,” not registered or likely voters

That’s a big deal. It greatly diminishes the value of the just released poll for predicting the results of the 2016 general election on 8 November.

The MSU Poll, a tradition at Montana State University’s campus in Billings, is conducted by students, who make the telephone interviews, with faculty supervision. Here’s how the poll was conducted:

This report summarizes the results of a statewide random sample telephone survey of 590 adult Montanans. 70% of the survey respondents were contacted via cellphone and 30% were contacted via landlines. The sample was acquired from Marketing Systems Group. The poll was conducted from October 3-10, 2016.

By contrast, the Mason-Dixon poll, commissioned by Montana’s Lee Newspapers, sampled 1,003 likely voters during the 10–12 October window.

Although both polls sampled Montanans, they did not sample the same population of Montanans. Only 60 percent of the population sampled by MSU would have passed a likely voters screen set at the 71.4 percent turnout rate for the Presidential election in 2012. Mason-Dixon only polled likely voters. Mason-Dixon’s approach provides a much more accurate read on the election, but also requires making many more telephone calls. Mason-Dixon has the resources to make the extra calls. MSU’s pollsters probably do not.

Here’s how the population breakdown looks graphically:

Each of the shorter bars is a subset of the bars above it.

And here’s how the MSU and Mason-Dixon polls compare on the elections for Governor and Montana’s only seat in the U.S. House of Representatives:


The high number of undecided/no responses in the MSU poll may be the result of calling people not registered to vote.

The MSU Poll’s margin of error is one point wider than the Mason-Dixon’s MOE. That’s not a big deal, or even a little one. In a one-off poll such as this, how the sample was weighted — if it was weighted — to correct for the sampled population’s deviations from the true population demographic is likely to have a much more profound effect than the MOE.

How, then, should readers evaluate the MSU Poll? With wide error bars, and an understanding that it did not sample the same population as the Mason-Dixon poll.



25 October 2016

The Blacktail Mountain ski hill likely will be
represented by Republicans Olszewski and Skees

House District 11 (map) and Senate District 6 (map) may be the most conservative legislative districts in the Flathead. HD-11 is home to the yacht club at Somers and the ski hill on Blacktail Mountain, as well as to some of the most expensive real estate in Montana. It’s also home to two legislative candidates whose last names include the ski sound, and who are not above using their highway signs to deliver a pun.

Republican Derek Skees, who represented old HD-4 in Whitefish during the 2011 legislative session, is running for HD-11, now represented by Al Olszewski, a very conservative surgeon. Olszewski is running for SD-6, which comprises HDs 11 and 12. Skees’ Democratic opponent is Eileen Bech; Olszewski’s is Polson insurance agent Rolf Harmsen, who is not running an active campaign (C-5 campaign finance report).


Highway sized political signs in Kalispell, across Highway 93 west of the Buffalo Hill golf course.



24 October 2016

Gianforte’s campaign self-funding nears Meg Whitman levels

Former eBay billionaire Meg Whitman spent $144 million of her own money in 2010 trying to buy the California election for governor. That’s $8.3 per registered voter; $9.1 adjusted for inflation. Her loss to Jerry Brown left her poorer but still rich, and perhaps wiser.

Bozeman businessman and right wing philanthropist Greg Gianforte, another rich Republican trying to buy an election, just donated another two million dollars to his campaign, reports Montana Democratic spokesman Jason Pitt, bringing his self funding total to $5.3 million. That’s $7.8 per registered voter, 86 percent as much as Whitman spent on an inflation adjusted basis.


It’s not uncommon for candidates to use their own money to prime the funding pump. But Gianforte’s and Whitman’s level of self-funding is staggering. The United States now has 200 million registered voters. If Donald Trump self-funded his campaign at $7.8 per registered voter, his pockets would be $1.6 billion shallower (if they were ever that deep).

That level of self-funding occurs when a candidate fails to catch fire with the voters and cannot raise the money he needs, and/or when a candidate is lazy but greedy. Gianforte’s level of self funding is legal, but it’s unseemly, it’s greedy, and it corrodes democracy.


Strategic GOP voting could hurt Montana Dems in future elections

Montana’s Republicans, who believe that Libertarians candidates are sucking votes away from Republicans in statewide elections, may have a rare opportunity to saddle their Democratic counterparts with a equally exasperating leftist third party option — if Republicans can bring themselves to vote for Green Party Presidential candidate Jill Stein.

If Stein receives five percent of the votes received by the winning candidate for governor, the Green Party will be able to nominate its candidates by primary election instead of by petition:

…read the rest


23 October 2016

Politicians will claim credit for Kalispell bypass
in a praise the pork ceremony on 28 October

It’s ribbon cutting time again. The northern, and final, segment of the westside Kalispell bypass will open Friday afternoon, but before it does, Gov. Steve Bullock, Sen. Jon Tester, Rep. Ryan Zinke, a stand-in for Sen. Steve Daines, local politicians, and Montana Department of Transportation officials, will speak. Here’s the official announcement:

The Kalispell Bypass Ribbon Cutting Ceremony is set for Friday, October 28th. The new bypass will open to traffic shortly after 1:00 P.M. Those wishing to attend the Ribbon Cutting Ceremony, park north of the bridge deck over Reserve Loop Drive on the new bypass. The public should watch for parking attendants at both the Northbound on-ramp and Southbound off-ramp to guide and assist with parking. Early arrival is encouraged as the shuttle vans running to the south end to witness the start of the procession will depart promptly at 1:05 P.M.

I suspect the road could be opened sooner, but opening it without a pork praising ceremony featuring “See what a beautiful road I built for you” speeches by the politicians who brought home the bacon would violate every norm of American politics; actually, every norm of politics all over the world.

This is a wonderful opportunity for favorable publicity for Gov. Steve Bullock, who is in a tight election and who can use all the favorable publicity he can get. Will he fly to Kalispell, the smart and safe mode of travel, or will he drive, the slow and less safe mode of travel, to underscore the importance of the event and project? Will Greg Gianforte attend to cheer him, or to crash the party? Will October rain dampen the festivities?

Honk if you’re going to attend. And, if you’re a politician, attend to honk.



22 October 2016

Judge McKeon, trapping ban initiative, voter registration update

Five years ago, Judge McKeon rejected a plea bargain for being too lenient. Montana District Court Judge John McKeon is catching almighty hell for not jailing a man convicted of incest with his daughter. If McKeon’s name sounds familiar to Flathead residents, it should. McKeon was the judge who rejected the plea bargain former State Senator Greg Barkus (R-Kalispell) negotiated with the prosecution. Barkus, readers will remember, crashed his speedboat into the rocks south of Bigfork late at night after a spirited dinner with Rep. Denny Rehberg, badly injuring, indeed almost killing, many on board. Barkus pleaded no contest to a charge of criminal endangerment in exchange for no jail time. At the sentencing hearing McKeon rejected the deal, saying Barkus needed a harder slap on the wrist. Barkus, on track to run for governor, accepted the harder slap, derailing his political career. Now, McKeon may have derailed his own judicial career.

Initiative to ban trapping on public land appears doomed. According to the Mason-Dixon poll conducted 10–12 October, I-177 is losing badly. Only 24 percent support the initiative, while 63 percent oppose it, and 13 percent are undecided. Be sure to read the story in the Missoulian.

In an effort to gain support, the authors of the initiative chose not to ban trapping on private land, but that gambit clearly failed. The fundamental case against trapping is moral: it’s a cruel practice that inflicts needless and terrible pain on animals, and leads to human depravity. If trapping is immoral on public lands, it’s also immoral on private lands. Trying to buy off the opposition by limiting the ban to public lands was a moral compromise, although I-177’s authors did not (and do not) so regard it.

The pro-trapping argument is cultural. Trapping is a way of life dating back to the days of Jim Bridger. To this day, some associate it with the romance of the old west and consider trappers some of the last truly free men in Montana. As long as that mythology endures, attempts to ban trapping will fail.

Voter registration update. At the close of business yesterday, 679,344 Montanans had registered to vote. That 2,274 fewer than in 2012. Absentee ballots were sent to 313,284 voters, 46.1 percent of the total registered.

Registration drives in Cascade, Flathead, Gallatin, Missoula, and Yellowstone Counties have added thousands to the registration rolls since the 2016 primary election in June. The Bullock and (probably) the Gianforte campaigns have, or should have, detailed, geo-referenced, data on the new registrees, and a clear sense of whether the new registrees lean Democratic or Republican. You can download my working spreadsheet for 2016 registration. It includes general election registration numbers for 2004–2014.



21 October 2016

Why so few public election polls in Montana in 2016?

Between Labor Day and 21 October 2012, five polls examining the gubernatorial election in Montana were publicly available. Another four were released before election day. Flathead Memo published a graph of this poll on 5 November 2012, the day before the election, and a graph of the polls in the election for U.S. Senator.


Download spreadsheet

Four years later, only one publicly available poll of the contest for governor is available, the Mason-Dixon poll commissioned by the Lee Newspapers, which are still still reporting the results. Has only one poll been conducted? Or have numerous polls been conducted, but their results kept secret from the public?

…read the rest


20 October 2016

Trump screams “we was robbed” before the election concludes

Donald Trump will accept the verdict of the voters if he wins, but refuse to accept their verdict if he loses. Meanwhile, following a reality show’s script, he’ll keep us in suspense until the polls close. He’s behaving like a junta leader in a banana republic.

That he’s temperamentally and morally unfit to serve in any public office should be clear to every voter by now. The odds he’ll win are a bit lower than the odds the cow will jump over the moon on the first try.

Even if he refuses to concede the election when he has clearly lost, or challenges the legitimacy of the election, rhetorically or legally or both, the voters will accept the outcome.

But beginning 9 November, both parties must find a way to address the concerns and grievances of the millions of voters who felt so abandoned, so disrespected, and so demoralized, that they suppressed their better judgment in order to use Trump to send a message to the establishment. Unless those concerns and grievances are addressed, the election of 2020 may be dominated by another strongman who promises that he alone can fix what’s wrong with America. That’s a fix we must avoid.


Bullock only Democrat to find good news in Lee’s Mason-Dixon poll

The Mason-Dixon poll commissioned by the Lee Newspapers has made this a demoralizing week for Montana’s Democrats. Trump leads Clinton decisively, Bullock is in a very tight election, Melissa Romano trails Elsie Arntzen for OPI, Sandefur is dead even with Juras, Denise Juneau is in the toaster, and Jesse Laslovich may be in the toaster. The poll’s findings on the contests for Secretary of State and Attorney General have not been released yet.

…read the rest


19 October 2019

Return to blogging

Return to blogging. We had to stand down a couple of days because of the demands of unfriendly microbes, but should be back to normal level blogging tomorrow. This evening, logistics permitting, we’ll live Tweet the final Clinton-Trump debate.


16 October 2016

Montanans don’t much like Trump — but they’ll vote for him anyway

Montanans don’t think all that well of Donald Trump, but that’s not going to stop a plurality of them from voting for him; because, reports the Missoulian, citing a new Mason-Dixon poll commissioned by the newspaper, Montanans like Hillary Clinton even less.

The results, in the table below (but be sure to read the original story), are consistent with fivethirtyeight.com’s latest projection for Montana. Fivethirtyeight’s projection is not based in any measure on the Mason-Dixon poll; thus it provides an independent check on the Mason-Dixon survey.


…read the rest