The latest Big Sky Poll from the University of Montana just finished up a year-long investigation with nearly 1,000 respondents in an attempt to understand how and why individuals participate in civic engagement.

More than 40% of participants were young people in Montana, including the unique perspective of Native American youth in the state.

Sarah Rinfret is professor and chair of the UM Department of Public Administration and Policy, who conducted the poll, which was funded by the Headwaters Foundation.
“What we found was that some of the biggest barriers, which are unsurprising, were resources and time,” said Rinfret. “One of the interesting findings was that a significant number of respondents said that school issues were a factor, in that a lot of folks are working to pay for school, and that then alters the time they have to go engage in a public meeting, or going to a legislative meeting or even voting.”

Another factor was that few of the respondents have ever had any contact with policy makers.

“The other big finding was that 44 percent have attended a local public meeting in the last year, however, only 12 percent have met with someone in the state legislature,” she said. “That might be an area where we need to improve in terms of meeting with local officials.”

Rinfret said mail-in ballots were popular with those who responded to the latest civic engagement poll.

“I think some of the other interesting findings were that more than 60 percent would like to get the state voter guide for both primary and general elections, and to get a reminder in the mail of when and where to vote,” he said. “You have to keep in mind that this poll was conducted previous to the COVID outbreak, so we are going to re-poll this week to see if there are any changes. Yes, it is favored to vote by mail in terms of having paid postage and they’re able to just do it from home and mail in back in.”