The Maine governor’s race is a dead heat between Republican Gov. Paul LePage and Democratic U.S. Rep. Michael Michaud, according to a Critical Insights poll released on Tuesday.
The poll found 37 percent of likely voters support Michaud and 36 percent support LePage. Independent candidate Eliot Cutler trails with 18 percent.
According to the poll results, unenrolled voters are breaking for roughly even, though Michaud has a slight advantage. One-third of unenrolled voters said they support Michaud, 30 percent support LePage, 29 percent support Cutler and 8 percent don’t know. While Democrats and Republicans support their party’s candidates by large margins, Cutler’s support appears to be divided evenly between Republicans and Democrats – something other recent polls have confirmed.
LePage continues to poll well among men while Michaud polls well among women. Forty-six percent of male respondents said they support LePage and 42 percent said they support Michaud.
As for age brackets, Michaud’s support is strongest among voters aged 18-34 (41 percent) and voters older than 65 (46 percent). Conversely, LePage’s support is strongest among ages 45-64 (39 percent).
The most interesting demographic is by far geography. Although Michaud holds a 9 point advantage over LePage in Maine’s more liberal south, LePage enjoys 42 percent support in northern Maine — Michaud’s own congressional district. Only 36 percent of poll respondents in Michaud’s congressional district said they are supporting his gubernatorial candidacy.
On issues and attitudes, Mainers remain concerned with unemployment and the economy. Twenty-three and 22 percent of respondents, respectively, identified jobs and the economy as the most important issue. Less than ten percent said taxes, health care, and education were the most important issues.
More than half – 51 percent – said they expect the economy to remain the same in the next 12 months. One quarter said the economy would be better while 21 percent said worse.
Nationally, opinions of President Obama are sharply divided between Republicans and Democrats, and between Mainers in the south and north. Overall, 42 percent of respondents had an unfavorable view of the president, while 45 percent had a favorable view; 13 percent didn’t know.
In a sharp change from previous versions of the poll, more Mainers than ever believe the nation is on the wrong track. Forty-two percent said the nation is generally headed in the wrong direction, while only 18 percent said it was headed in the right direction and 40 percent had mixed feelings.
“Among the 18% of Maine voters who feel the country is headed in the right direction, reasons cited are centered on a belief that the economy is improving and also support for the President and the [Affordable Care Act],” the pollster wrote.
In real terms, roughly 5 respondents said the country is headed in the right direction because the ACA will work.
“Among the 42% who feel the country is on the wrong track, reasons cited focus on what is seen as a poor economy, government dysfunction, and also opposition to the President’s policies, particularly the ACA,” the pollsters wrote.
As for the state of Maine, 34 percent of respondents said Maine is headed in the wrong track, while 18 percent said the state is headed in the right direction and 48 percent didn’t know or had a mixed response. Both those who answered wrong track and those who answered right direction blame (or credit) Gov. Paul LePage.
LePage’s approval rating remains just shy of 40 percent. Almost half of respondents disapproved of his job performance and 12 percent did not know.
Brent Littlefield, LePage’s strategic adviser and campaign consultant, responded to the poll with the same cautious optimism he has offered for previous polls.
“The only poll that counts is on Election Day,” Littlefield said in a press release.
Littlefield said it is important to consider the polling average provided by Real Clear Politics. The RCP poll tracker combines all polling on a given race to paint an aggregate picture of what public opinion research says about political attitudes and preferences. According to the RCP average, LePage is ahead by one point.
More important, according to Littlefield, is the trend lines. “[O]nly one candidate has a trend line gaining voter support over time,” he said.
According to RCP polling archive, LePage’s support ebbed lowest in January of 2013, when just 34 percent of voters told a Democratic pollster they supported him. More than one year later, recent polls by Republican- and Democrat-leaning polling houses have measured LePage’s support near 40 percent.
In what has become a theme of debates around polls, Littlefield took issue with Critical Insights methodology. He said that the demographics used to weight the poll are not an accurate reflection of who will likely turn out to vote this November. Numerous national political observers have said the coming election could reflect 2010, with increased conservative and Republican turn out.
Littlefield also notes that in May of 2010 Critical Insights said that less than 10 percent of Republican primary voters would vote for LePage. “Less than a month later LePage went on to win the Primary election with nearly 40 percent of the primary vote,” he said.
The survey was conducted by Critical Insights, a nonpartisan Portland-based market research firm. The firm conducted 601 telephone interviews (including cell phones) from April 16 to April 23. The poll has a margin of error of +/- 4 percent. The sample was 32 percent Republican, 34 percent Democrat, 27 percent unenrolled/other, and 7 percent did not know or refused to answer.
This post will be updated.