Sara Gideon, Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, prepares to hand in her absentee ballot at Town Hall, Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020, in Freeport. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

House Speaker Sara Gideon led Sen. Susan Collins by seven points in a new poll released Thursday after a run of surveys showing a tighter race between the Democratic challenger and the Republican incumbent with voting underway less than three weeks until Election Day.

The poll from Portland-based Pan Atlantic Research surveyed 600 likely voters between Oct. 2 and Oct. 6. The margin of error was 4.5 percent. The results were weighted to match Maine’s expected voting population based on Congressional District, age, education and gender.

Gideon led with 47 percent of the vote compared to 40 percent for Collins. Lisa Savage, a former Green party candidate running as an independent, came in at 5 percent with conservative-leaning independent Max Linn at 2 percent. Six percent of voters were undecided. It is among the best results for Gideon this fall. The Democrat has led Collins by an average of 4.5 points in independent polling since July.

The two major-party candidates had about equal support among their parties, but the poll found independents breaking toward the Democrat, with 46 percent saying they would support Gideon compared to 34 percent for Collins. The House speaker also maintained stronger favorability numbers than Collins, with 51 percent of voters holding a “very” or “somewhat” favorable opinion of her compared to 44 percent for the incumbent.

The Senate race will use ranked-choice voting if no candidate finishes with more than 50 percent of the vote after the initial tally. The poll found that Linn and Savage supporters were most likely to rank the other third-party candidate second, though 31 percent of Savage supporters said they would put Gideon second while only 12 percent said they would rank Collins second.

Democrats were cruising in both of Maine’s congressional races, with U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree of the 1st District leading physician Jay Allen by a margin of 55 percent to 35 percent. In the 2nd District, Rep. Jared Golden led former state Rep. Dale Crafts, 60 percent to 33 percent. Echoing a trend seen in previous polls, Golden, a freshman Democrat from Lewiston, attracted strong cross-party support, with 68 percent of independents and 22 percent of Republicans saying they supported him.

Former Vice President Joe Biden had a narrower but strong lead statewide, with 50 percent support compared to 40 percent for President Donald Trump. Biden led narrowly in the 2nd District, with 46 percent compared to 43 percent for Trump, who won the district by 10 points in 2016. Polling has shown them virtually tied there this year.

Voters disapproved of Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, with 59 percent of voters rating his performance as “poor” or “very poor.” In contrast, 68 percent of respondents rated Gov. Janet Mills’ handling of the pandemic as “good” or “very good.” Mainers most commonly named the virus, health care and jobs as the political issues they saw as most important.