AUGUSTA, Maine — The polling trends in Maine governor’s race remain stable with Democrat Mike Michaud holding an edge over his opponents, according to a recent poll commissioned by the Bangor Daily News.
The poll, conducted by Ipsos Public Affairs from Oct. 6 to 12 — the week of the first gubernatorial debates — showed Michaud with 42 percent support among likely voters. Gov. Paul LePage, a Republican, polled at 36 percent, while independent Eliot Cutler received 16 percent support.
On Question 1, a referendum on whether the state should ban the use of bait, dogs and traps in bear hunting, 49 percent of likely voters said they’d vote against the ban, while 43 percent said they’d support it.
The BDN/Ipsos poll was conducted online and surveyed Mainers about statewide races, Question 1 and other topics. The poll’s sample size was 1,004 residents, including 903 registered voters and 540 likely voters ages 18 and older. The questions regarding who respondents would vote for are reported using the responses only of likely voters.
The precision of the online polls is measured using a credibility interval. For ballot questions such as elections and referendums, this figure functions essentially the same way as a traditional margin of error. The credibility intervals are 3.5 percentage points for the entire sample, 3.8 percentage points for registered voters and 4.8 percentage points for likely voters.
Ipsos is the world’s third-largest research agency and a leader in online polling. It is the pollster of choice for Reuters, and was among the most accurate polling outfits during the 2012 and 2008 presidential elections. Their sample is drawn from a variety of online sources, including large panels of respondents reached via email and others reached via non-panel sources such as websites and apps.
The BDN/Ipsos survey was the firm’s first foray into polling statewide races in Maine.
For months, polls have generally depicted a tight race between the two majority party candidates, most often with Michaud eking out a slim lead within the margin of error. However, LePage has taken the edge in a handful of recent surveys, including those released last week by Pan Atlantic SMS and Rasmussen — and one released Tuesday by Critical Insights, which had LePage at 39 percent, Michaud at 36 percent and Cutler at 21 percent.
A series of polls conducted by YouGov for CBS and the New York Times are the only other online surveys to have been conducted in Maine this election cycle. The most recent one, conducted between Sept. 20 and Oct. 1, showed Michaud ahead by 2 percentage points.
The BDN/Ipsos poll shows Michaud with a larger lead than have others. However, Ipsos pollster Julia Clark said the number of polls and the frequency with which they tell the same story paint an indisputable picture of the current shape of the race — one confirmed by the BDN/Ipsos survey.
“The Democratic candidate has a lead in enough polls that it seems real,” she said. “It doesn’t seem to be a factor of different kinds of polling, or a race that’s so close the results are going back and forth. … It’s a very stable picture.”
Clark said Michaud’s lead is buttressed by a favorability rating of 63 percent among registered voters, compared with LePage’s, at 42 percent. Clark said that generally, a favorability below 40 percent is a death knell for any politician’s chances at winning an election, putting LePage “right near the tipping point.”
In other words, LePage’s unpopularity — 58 percent of registered voters said they had an unfavorable view of the governor — may cost him the election. The governor is known for his brash, blunt tendencies and off-color comments that have drawn criticism from political opponents. Both Michaud and Cutler have portrayed LePage as an “embarrassment” for the state, though LePage has said it’s his record, not his words, that matters to voters.
Cutler’s favorability is slightly higher than Michaud’s, at 65 percent, although the independent’s likability advantage didn’t seem to do him any favors in the three-way race.
However, in a head-to-head race with the governor, Cutler, like Michaud, would win handily. In a two-way race with LePage, Cutler picks up a whopping 33 percentage points to beat the LePage 49-38. If Michaud faced LePage one on one, he would win 50-41.
The partisan makeup of each candidate’s support is not surprising: Michaud and LePage are each getting about 70 percent of support from registered voters who identify with their respective parties. Cutler and Michaud are each winning about one-third of the state’s independents, while LePage is receiving about 23 percent of that bloc’s support.
While several bond initiatives will meet their fates on Election Day, a referendum about bear-hunting techniques has dominated the conversation about this year’s ballot initiatives.
Question 1 will ask voters whether they want to ban the use of bait, dogs and traps in recreational bear hunting. A well-funded campaign spearheaded by the U.S. Humane Society has argued those techniques are cruel, while a coalition of sportsmen and state wildlife officials have said they are the only proven way to control Maine’s bear population.
Nearly half — 49 percent — of likely voters in the BDN/Ipsos poll said they intended to vote “No” on Question 1, while 43 percent said they would support the ban and 7 percent said they didn’t know or refused to answer.
Registered Democrats are more likely to vote “Yes,” with 56 percent saying they supported the proposed ban, while 61 percent of registered Republicans said they opposed it.
U.S. Sen. Susan Collins is widely regarded as the most popular politician in Maine, a sentiment reflected in the number of likely voters who said they planned to fill in the dot next to her name on their ballots.
The poll indicates Collins would trounce Shenna Bellows by a margin of 25 percent, 56-31. The Republican is buoyed by bipartisan voter support, winning not only 84 percent of registered Republicans but 50 percent of independents and 34 percent of registered Democrats. Bellows received the support of 56 percent of her own party, 21 percent of independents and just 4 percent of GOP voters.
Erick Bennett, a registered Republican who had announced his intention to run for the Senate as an independent but did not qualify for placement on the ballot, drew the support of 4 percent of likely voters.
The BDN/Ipsos survey did not poll on Maine’s two U.S. House district races due to difficulty obtaining a large enough sample size to accurately forecast the outcome.
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.