Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon, left, and incumbent Sen. Susan Collins participate in a debate at the Holiday Inn By The Bay, Friday, Sept. 11, 2020 in Portland, Maine. Credit: Brianna Soukup / Portland Press Herald

AUGUSTA, Maine — House Speaker Sara Gideon has just a one-point lead on U.S. Sen. Susan Collins in a new Bangor Daily News-Digital Research poll released on Tuesday showing a narrower result than many previous polls as early absentee voting kicks off.

Gideon came in with 44 percent of the vote compared to 43 percent for Collins, the poll found. Unenrolled candidate Lisa Savage, a teacher and former Green party activist from Solon, had 2 percent while Bar Harbor businessman Max Linn had 1 percent. The poll, conducted by the Portland-based Digital Research Insights for the Bangor Daily News, surveyed 466 likely voters between Sept. 25 and Oct. 4. The margin of error is 4.4 percent.

The results are closer than those in the last BDN poll conducted in August, when Gideon had a five-point lead among likely voters, though both are within the margin of error from each other. The poll also showed fewer undecided voters, with eight percent of voters saying they were still making up their minds down from 14 percent in August.

Gideon has led in all independent public polling this year, with the margins varying widely. The latest poll moves the average among independent polling since the start of July to a 4.5-point lead for the Freeport Democrat.

The four-way race will use ranked-choice voting if no candidate achieves more than 50 percent of the vote in the first round. The poll’s sample of Savage and Linn supporters were too small to draw meaningful conclusions about who their second-choice picks might be, however.

The poll continued to show fundamentals leaning toward Democrats, though Collins far outperformed other Republicans. In the presidential race, former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee, led President Donald Trump statewide by 11 points, while Reps. Chellie Pinrgee of the 1st District and Jared Golden of the 2nd District led their races by wide margins.

The poll is the first public survey in Maine to be fully conducted in the aftermath of the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, whose passing brought the Supreme Court back to the forefront of Maine’s U.S. Senate race. Collins broke with her party in opposing a replacement for Ginsburg before the election, citing procedural grounds as Republicans blocked a justice in a similar situation in 2016.

However, it looks to have made little impact on the race. Just over half of voters said Collins’ opposition to confirming a Supreme Court justice would have no effect on their vote. Around a quarter of Democrats and voters not affiliated with either major party said the decision made them more likely to vote for Collins.

Gideon’s favorability numbers remained ahead of Collins, but only slightly, with 42 percent of voters holding a positive opinion of her while 37 percent of voters held a negative opinion. For Collins, 38 percent held a positive opinion while 49 percent held a negative opinion.

Collins’ net favorability, however, still exceeded Trump’s. While 39 percent of likely Maine voters held a positive opinion of the president, 55 percent held a negative opinion, the survey found. Collins performed slightly worse than the president among Republicans, but better among Democrats and unaffiliated voters.

On whether voters were likely to see each of the candidates as principled, focused on the needs of people like me, and too tied to special interests or extreme elements of their parties, Collins’ numbers improved slightly, though not by a statistically significant margin.

Gideon’s numbers also dropped slightly, though she continued to lead Collins in terms of the overall share of voters thinking she was principled and focused on their needs. Fewer voters thought she was too tied to special interests or extreme elements compared to the incumbent.

Voting is already underway in Maine, with the first round of absentee ballots sent out last Friday and in-person absentee voting available in most towns.

This poll of 500 registered Maine voters — 466 of them likely voters — was paid for by the Bangor Daily News and conducted between the dates of Sept. 25 and Oct. 4 by Digital Research/Critical Insights, a Portland-based firm. You can view the questions and full breakdown of the political portion of the poll for all voters here and for likely voters here.

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