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

Flathead Memo index page for 16–31 October 2016


31 October 2016

Montana Cowgirl’s average of secret polls

This morning, Montana Cowgirl released a new average of polls for Montana’s gubernatorial election:

Bullock 48.1
Gianforte 41.5
Dunlap 3.8
Undecided 6.6

Which polls have been averaged? And how? That’s Cowgirl’s little secret:

This average includes a collection of polls from various candidates and groups as well as the two public polls that came out recently. The privately done polls were not commissioned for the purpose of making them public, but rather for strategic information. I can’t publish these internal numbers individually because I was told the results on the condition that I not release this information. However, I feel it’s okay to release an average. And anyone that doubts the Cowgirl Polling Average, do so at your peril because the polls being conducted privately are from some of the best pollsters in the country.

An hour ago, I left the following comment at Cowgirl’s blog:

It may be that the average of these secret polls is right on the money. But because they are secret polls, readers are being asked to accept the average on a “trust me, I’m right,” basis. We do not know how many polls have been averaged, when the polls were taken, the size of the samples, the composition of the sampled populations, the methodology, the names of the pollsters, the wording of the questions, or who paid for the polling. That’s vital information for evaluating the average.

Like Nate Silver, Sam Wang, and others, I only trust the averages of polls that have been made public. I urge the readers of this blog to think long and hard before placing any faith in this blog’s average of secret surveys.

In my judgement, Cowgirl’s average of secret polls is the Bullock campaign’s attempt to manipulate public opinion in Montana.



29 October 2016

Burning your ballot to keep your hands clean is a bad choice

In some democracies — Australia, for example — voting is a mandatory obligation of citizenship. The Aussie ballot is secret, thus voters cannot be penalized for casting a blank ballot, but just as Australians cannot opt out of paying taxes and performing other obligations of citizenship, they cannot opt out of voting without suffering a sanction.

No mandatory voting obligation exists in the United States. It is therefore legal not to vote, and no excuse need be provided for not doing one’s democratic duty.

Those who are eligible to vote, but choose not to cast ballots, may think they are keeping their hands clean by not using their vote to bless an unworthy candidate. Or they may think they are denying scoundrels political legitimacy. But by not voting, by refusing to make a choice, they are saying that all of the choices are acceptable, and that no one choice is less acceptable than any other choice. Which is nonsense.

There is no legal penalty for opting out — but there is a moral penalty. Because not voting is a backhanded blessing of the election, those who chose not to vote lose the moral right to complain about the outcome of the election. That won’t stop them from complaining, or from asserting that not voting makes them more moral than those who stoop to voting. But it will, and should, stop others from listening to them or taking them seriously.

Elections seldom offer easy choices. All candidates have flaws. All ballot issues have drawbacks. But George Wallace’s assertion that “there’s not a dime’s worth of difference between the major parties” was not true in 1968, and is not true now. There are differences, significant differences. Electing Donald Trump or Greg Gianforte results in one kind of nation or state. Electing Hillary Clinton or Steve Bullock results in another, very different, kind of nation or state. Denying that denies reality. Refusing to vote is a selfish, misguided, abdication of one’s civic obligation to chose how and by whom we are led.

If you’ve burned your ballot, hike on down to the elections office and get another ballot. There’s still time to do the right thing.



28 October 2016

The Bundy bunch acquittals, and arrests of pipeline protesters

Yesterday, a jury in Portland, OR, acquitted brothers Ammon and Ryan Bundy and five of their companions of federal charges they conspired to impede federal officials in the performance of their duties. One thousand miles to the east, near Cannon Ball, ND, opponents of the Dakota Access pipeline who were illegally encamped on private land, were removed from that land by force after they refused to leave peacefully. At least 140 were arrested, and firearms were discharged. Contrary to what some pipeline protesters are claiming, the events were unrelated.

Government fails to prove conspiracy against Bundy bunch. Jurors in the case are beginning to talk. One, a business student, sent the Oregonian a long email saying that prosecutors failed to prove that the alleged conspiracy existed. He believes that prosecutors erred by choosing to charge the Malheur occupiers with the crime offering the harshest sentence instead of with crimes for which there was sufficient evidence for a conviction. And, he says, the judge’s instructions to the jury prevented the jurors from convicting for a lessor offense. Bundy’s attorneys deserve credit for presenting a convincing defense. The federal prosecutors deserve scrutiny for failing to convict people who clearly were guilty of unlawfully occupying the wildlife refuge.

After the acquittals were announced, Bundy’s defense attorney attempted to have his client released from custody. An argument between the attorney and the judge (who seems to have an imperious disposition) ensued. Several U.S. Marshals suddenly surrounded the attorney, threw him to the floor, and tased him. That outrage is right out of a movie about a violent and corrupt court in a third world dictatorship. There needs to be a house cleaning in Oregon’s federal judiciary and law enforcement organizations.

Equally disturbing is the nutball argument that the jurors, all white, acquitted the Bundy bunch, also white, in an act of racial solidarity. Virtually everyone involved in the Malheur occupation — the occupiers, the displaced federal workers, law enforcement officers, residents of Burns — were white. Race was not an issue in the occupation, the arrests, the trial, and the acquittals.

The 141 anti-pipeline protesters who were arrested wanted to be arrested. Most of the opponents of the Dakota Access pipeline are encamped on federal land near Cannon Ball, ND. A few, however, chose to occupy private land through which the pipeline is being laid. They were trying to physically halt the construction of the pipeline. They were trespassing, and knew they were trespassing. Yesterday, after refusing to peacefully break their camp and retreat to the encampment on federal land, they were removed by local and state law enforcement officers wearing riot gear.

There were no serious injuries, but according to one report, a woman protester fired three pistol rounds at law enforcement officers, fortunately not hitting anyone.

Authorities said protesters set fire to four large pieces of construction equipment. At least two cars were also burned.

Aaron Johnson, 50, a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux in South Dakota, said he and other protesters weren’t happy with the day’s outcome. “I came here for peace and prayer,” he said. “When somebody sets something on fire, that’s not peace and prayer.” [Billings Gazette]

The protesters also blocked public roads, set piles of tires afire, and adamantly refused to follow lawful commands. They wanted to be arrested. I believe they also wanted to provoke violent arrests.

As far as I’m concerned, these people are self-indulgent, intellectually lazy, thugs. They’re self-righteous, not righteous. And they’re prone to violence. They belong in the slammer.



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