A version of this article was originally published in The Daily Brief, our Maine politics newsletter. Sign up here for daily news and insight from politics editor Michael Shepherd.
When it comes to polls, Maine Democrats have been in a dream scenario in the last week, especially when you think back to the situation they faced in a spring marked by rising costs and plummeting approval in a midterm year for President Joe Biden.
Those are still factors in the November elections, but Democrats seem to have bounced back in a big way since then. In the past week, two polls showed Gov. Janet Mills with double-digit leads on former Gov. Paul LePage. The second one, from the University of New Hampshire, showed Rep. Jared Golden of Maine’s 2nd District with a similarly sized lead on former Rep. Bruce Poliquin, belying the general thought in Maine political circles that both races were tight.
To be clear, they still could be. Polls are only intended to tell you what is happening at the time they are taken. Election forecasters like FiveThirtyEight use them alongside reams of other data to develop probabilities of winning. Right now, Mills sits at a 92 percent bet with Golden at 64 percent. The latter is a lower chance than the site thought Hillary Clinton had in 2016, due in large part to the conservative lean of the 2nd District.
Recent events have many of us scrutinizing polls more than ever before. The presidential election was marked by the highest polling error since 1980 and U.S. Sen. Susan Collins won her race comfortably despite trailing Democrat Sara Gideon in every public poll. Collins’ deficits in those polls were typically narrow.
Golden held some polling leads in the 20s before beating Republican Dale Crafts by just six percentage points. These surveys clearly did not see late movement in the race toward one candidate or the other, but national Republicans had written off the seat well before Election Day in a signal that they did not think they could move the needle enough.
Late breaks are something to watch again this time around, with undecided voters in last week’s Emerson College survey trending toward LePage. But this is a different position for the former governor, who polled as the favorite in both 2010 and 2014. Mills beat Republican Shawn Moody four years ago after a race with scant polling that ended up being right on. The direction is against LePage and he has never been the underdog in a general election.
Since 2020, we have tried to check in with party insiders on internal poll figures. We do not publish specific results as a rule, but it serves as a sanity check. One outside Democratic group that polled the 2nd District in May and September reported a single-digit gain over that period for Mills and a steady lead for Golden. Republicans think LePage’s supporters now may be harder to poll and think that race is within the margin of error.
Skepticism around these results is healthy. Debates in the gubernatorial race start on Tuesday. Democrats should be happy with their position but non-complacent, while Republicans are under the gun to chip away over the next few weeks.