Colby Poll Shows Maine Democrats in the Lead, for Now

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By Laura Meader
Contact: George Sopko ([email protected]) 207-859-4346
July 28, 2020

The current speaker of the Maine House of Representatives, Democrat Sara Gideon, holds a five-point lead against her Republican opponent, four-term incumbent United States Senator Susan Collins, according to a poll conducted by researchers at Colby College. The new survey found that 44 percent of likely voters would support Gideon, 39 percent would vote for Collins, 12 percent were unsure, and 6 percent planned to support a minor-party candidate.

Likewise, presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden holds a 12 percent lead over Donald Trump (50 percent to 38 percent) in Maine, with 7 percent undecided. However, in the Second Congressional District, the gap is much closer, with Biden netting 45 percent and Trump receiving 42 percent of the vote.

The Colby poll also found that in the Second Congressional District, 44 percent of respondents said they would back Democratic incumbent U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, while 33 percent said they would vote for Republican Dale Crafts. Seventeen percent were undecided, and 5 percent said they would vote for a minor-party candidate.

“We zeroed-in on likely voters instead of registered voters, and that’s important,” said Dan Shea, Colby College Government Department chair and lead researcher on the project. “These are solid numbers for the Democrats, and the results are definitely good news for Gideon, Biden, and Golden because polls of just registered voters can sometimes over-inflate Democratic turnout. At the same time, there are a ton of undecided voters, which is key for Collins and Crafts.”

The poll, which was developed and fielded by Colby College, was conducted July 18-24 and included 888 voters who said they would “definitely” or “likely” vote in the 2020 general election. Some 300 were contacted through landlines or mobile phones, while 588 were reached online. The margin of error is 3.9 percent.

Approval Ratings and Questions About Being a Centrist

The Colby survey found that Collins received a 42-percent approval rating, compared with 45 percent for Gideon. Consistent with previous polls, Collins has lower support among young voters, women, and those living in larger towns/cities. Only 24 percent of voters under the age of 35 gave Collins a favorable rating, while just 39 percent of women approved of the senator. For women under 50 that figure was 36 percent. Some 73 percent of Republicans gave her a favorable rating, a figure that drops to 42 percent for independents.

The survey asked voters who expressed support for Gideon if that decision was a vote “against Collins” or a vote “for Gideon.” The split was roughly even, with 39 percent saying it was a vote against Collins and 42 percent saying it was a vote in favor of Gideon. About 18 percent said a “mix of both.”

One of the biggest issues in the Senate race is the extent to which voters perceive Collins as a centrist. The Colby survey explored this issue and found that 15 percent felt Collins is “not tied to either party and is independent-minded;” 46 percent said she “sides with Republicans but is somewhat independent-minded,” and 39 percent indicated “she nearly always sides with Republicans and is not independent-minded.” That last figure climbs to 48 percent for voters under the age of 35.

“Moderation has been key to the senator’s image for more than two decades,” noted Professor Shea. “If that perception is gone, voters will fall back on their partisanship or attitudes toward the top of the ticket. When combined with the President’s low approval rating across the state, that spells trouble for Susan.”

Shea did note, however, that Trump stood a good chance of once again winning in the Second Congressional District. “That’s a toss-up, and by visiting the state, relaxing fishing restrictions, and opening a big campaign operation in Maine, they are making a play to win the Second District.”

The Care Factor and Mail-In Ballots

In her last two reelections, Collins netted well over 60 percent of the vote. A few years ago she was viewed as one of the nation’s most popular senators, with approval ratings nearing 70 percent. So what has changed?

The Colby poll used an open-ended question that allowed respondents to say, in their own words, why they intended to vote against Collins. While analyzing these comments will take some time, Professor Shea and his Colby colleagues Assistant Professors Carrie LeVan and Nick Jacobs noted a clear trend: A lot of voters believe she no longer represents their interests and is too close to Donald Trump. In other words, she’s guilty by association.

The survey also asked voters whether they were open to mail-in ballots. No clear pattern emerged, with 21 percent saying the state should make a permanent shift to mail-in voting, 33 percent indicating it made sense for just this election given the pandemic, and 36 percent saying the state should never move to mail-in voting. Ten percent were undecided. The foremost concern about mail-in voting was the potential for voter fraud.

Full results, including cross-tabulations with key political and demographic categories, can be found online here