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Montana Politics

Reject 47 North’s Absolutely Questionable Poll on Medical Marijuana

Polls are funny things. While they ostensibly exist to measure public opinion, their real function is often to shape perceptions, especially when paid for by interest groups. It would appear that the latest poll conducted by 47 North Communications (headed up by former Rehberg staffer Dustin Frost and former GOP disenfranchiser in chief Jake Eaton) might not be anything more than a transparent attempt to shape legislation rather than find the truth.

Their latest poll examines attitudes held by Montanans about medical marijuana, and while I’m not a pollster or a mathematician, and this might be the least interesting post I ever write,  I simply don’t trust this poll and neither should you.

The first thing to keep in mind is that the motives of those seeking the poll are suspect. The Safe Community Safe Kids people didn’t like the first polling that came out and so they went fishing for a poll to bolster their argument in the public’s eye. An e-mail conversation with Cherrie Brady from Safe Community Safe Kids confirms that the organization was raising money to get polling results favorable to their side in order to sway the public debate.

It seems like they found an outfit willing to provide the “expensive”results they were willing to pay for, as the poll raises a number of concerns:

1. The results are hard to accept on face value.  While the poll contends that 32% of respondents were either “neutral” or “undecided” about whether medical marijuana had a positive or negative impact on their communities, 97% had an opinion on whether or not the Legislature should repeal the medical marijuana law. That absolutely defies credibility and make no sense at all.

I guess it’s possible that the survey only proceeded to ask those with opinions about medical marijuana how they felt about repeal, but a) the survey questions don’t reflect that and b) if so, the number of respondents would be dramatically reduced, hugely skewing the margin of error for later questions and reliability of the survey.

2. Perhaps most obviously, the demographics make no sense. Fewer than three  weeks ago, 47 North polled 400 Montanans about upcoming political races and came up with this demographic breakdown:

  • 46% Republicans
  • 36% Democrats
  • 14% Independents

For this marijuana poll, the numbers look entirely different:

  • 30% Republicans
  • 26% Democrats
  • 41% Independents

I’m not sure what happened to the other 3% in this latest poll, but I’m quite certain that the political makeup of the state didn’t undergo a sea change in three weeks. Think about the impact of those numbers. If the latter poll accurately reflects Montana, there’s no way the political poll can be right, with its huge oversampling of Republicans. If the first poll is right in its demographics, there’s no way we can trust the marijuana results. The most likely scenario seems to be that 47 North changed their demographic numbers because they were so obviously wrong for the Tester-Rehberg poll.

Either way, there is absolutely no way to claim that these polls have a margin of error at 4.65%.

I don’t know what 47 North is doing, but these polls are bunk. I suspect with more time to look at the results, more errors would become apparent.

Let’s be honest. 47 North has some preexisting credibility problems and the two polls they have conducted for conservative media and organizations don’t do anything to dispel those concerns. I hope the media at large will look carefully at these poll results (and any from 47 North) before printing them. Let’s not let 47 North become Montana’s own Rasmussen.

If you appreciate an independent voice holding Montana politicians accountable and informing voters, and you can throw a few dollars a month our way, we would certainly appreciate it.

About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba has been writing about Montana politics since 2005 and teaching high school English since 2000. He's a former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.
His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.
In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.


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