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Colby Poll: Bernie Sanders Leads In Maine, Susan Collins And Sara Gideon In Dead Heat

Maine Public Illustration
Photos by Mark Vogelzang/Maine Public and J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press
Sara Gideon (left) and Susan Collins.

A survey of just over 1,000 Mainers conducted for Colby College indicates U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders holds the lead in the Maine Democratic presidential primary March 3. But the race is still far from over.

Sanders was supported by 25% of the poll respondents, with former South Bend Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg at 16%. They are the only two in the survey to meet the 15% requirement to get delegates.

Mike Bloomberg is not far behind, at 14%, and Joe Biden is at 12% in the survey. The other candidates were in single digits. Twelve percent of respondents say they have not decided how they will vote.

The survey also indicates the potential matchup of incumbent U.S. Sen. Susan Collins and Democratic challenger Sara Gideon would be a dead heat if the U.S. Senate race were held today. Gideon leads the race by one point, with the support of 43% of respondents to Collins’ 42%.

The survey has Gideon winning her primary in a landslide, with her opponents all in the single digits.

What surprises Dan Shea, chair of the government department at Colby College, is Collins’ loss of support among women voters in the survey. In previous surveys from a few years ago, she had been getting better than 60% support. But in this survey, more than 60% of women oppose her. Shea says Collins apparently has also lost support among independents over her vote to acquit President Donald Trump.

“About 40% of independent voters said it would make them less likely to vote for Sen. Collins, 13% said it would make them more likely to vote for Sen. Collins,” he says.

Shea says with the huge expenditures by the both campaigns and independent groups, the outcome of the election in the fall is likely to be a close race.

Shea spoke with Maine Public political correspondent Mal Leary about the results.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

Shea: Well, I would think it would be quite a surprise if Bernie doesn’t win Maine, right? So he did very well last time, but there’s a difference this time. As we all know, it’s not a caucus, it’s a primary. My guess is the numbers are about right. I think we had him at about 25%. And then Buttigieg and Michael Bloomberg about 14-15%. And former Vice President Joe Biden down at 12%. I think the numbers are probably going to hold about like that. I wouldn’t be surprised if Mayor Bloomberg moves up a bit.

I think the biggest surprise on the presidential polling results now is that the vice president is now in fourth place. I don’t know about you, but that was a that was a surprise to me here in Maine.

Leary: When those dropouts are added to the people who said they were undecided, it adds up to a pretty significant number that could move some of those numbers around.

Shea: I think that’s right. Again, I would be surprised if Bernie doesn’t win the state. But I think it’ll be real close in second and third place. But as to who will come in second or third, it’s up in the air. I know Michael Bloomberg is on the stage tonight — that could go either way. If he has a good night I wouldn’t be surprised if he moves up into second place in Maine, but Buttigieg is strong as well. Elizabeth Warren was it 9% in our poll — she’s still pushing hard. I think we could see something out of her. And, obviously, Amy Klobuchar is making a move a bit nationally. So maybe she’ll jump up a bit as well.

When you look at where the intense interest is among Mainers, it seems to be more on Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins than it is with the presidential race right now. What does that tell you about the Senate race? Are we going to see a situation as we saw in 2016 where something other than the presidential race is going to lead the voter turnout?

I think that’s possible. Mainers are focused on this Senate race, absolutely. I think the nation is focused on the Maine Senate race. It’ll be the most expensive Senate race in Maine history, for sure. There’s estimates now at $50 million regardless who the Democratic candidate is going to be. As you know, Sara Gideon jumped up really high in our poll. But regardless of who wins that primary in June, there’s going to be a lot of money coming into the state. It’s going to be a big race and Mainers are focused on it, absolutely.

One point just doesn’t seem to be a lead to me, it seems like they were tied.

Well, I think there are two ways to look at this data now. One is this horse race stuff. It’s fun to look at, it’s important, it can tell the rest of the world and can tell Mainers how close things are, whether it’s a long shot, it’s going to be tight. I don’t think we should put too much stock in the exact numbers. It’s a long way to go. The senator is a strong campaigner. She has done a lot for the state of Maine. She will campaign hard to keep her seat.

But there’s another story, it seems to me. And that’s a broader question of whether or not a Yankee Republican can survive in electoral politics these days. So Sen. Collins’ brand has been one of moderation, fiscally conservative and socially liberal. She’s pragmatic, she’s secular. That brand of moderate Republican doesn’t fit well with the rest of the Republican world, the larger national Republican world that is being led by President Donald Trump and U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell. So can someone like Susan Collins survive the nationalization of politics here in Maine? I think that’s the larger question. Again, not saying she’s going to lose, but I’m saying to me, when I look at this data, I wonder if she might be the last of her kind.

And what is most interesting about your observation is, if you look at the 1996 exit polls, she won that Senate seat from suburban women. And yet this survey is showing her disapproval among women at 65%, I believe.

Oh, yeah, there’s some real issues here. So the senator’s approval rating among all Mainers is 42%. That drops down to 36% among women, and even the bigger number, which I think is really important, is only 25% of women under 50 now have a favorable view Sen. Collins. She will not win reelection if she only has the support of 25% of women under 50.

Journalist Mal Leary spearheads Maine Public's news coverage of politics and government and is based at the State House.