Colby College has completed a survey of 888 likely Maine voters on a range of questions, including the presidential race and the hotly contested U.S. Senate race in Maine.
The survey was conducted last week and has a margin of error of 3.9 percent. Mal Leary spoke with Colby College government professor Dan Shea about some of the key findings.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
Shea: We have Joe Biden winning, at least statewide, by 11 points at this point, but only by 3 points in the 2nd Congressional District. So that’s within the margin of error. I think the president’s team’s efforts to visit the state, to open an operation to expand fishing grounds, all play for voters in the 2nd District and it may work. It’s going to be tight up there. My guess is that it’ll be a nail-biter in the 2nd District this time, just like four years ago.
Leary: And how does the presidential race interplay with the Senate race, which is probably more closely watched in our state than the presidential race right now? All the polling so far shows a very close race between Democrat Sara Gideon and Republican Susan Collins, even though there are two independents in the race as well.
One of the important differences about our poll this time and what might be different than other polls that are being conducted is we really zeroed in on likely voters. It’s not just registered voters, but we talked to people on the phone and online that are very likely to come out in the election. And when we did that we find that Sen. Collins is at 39% reelect and Sara Gideon at 44%. So there’s a 5 point split there. That’s a bit of a number, right? So it’s fair to say that Sara Gideon is winning the race at this point. Sen. Collins is a strong campaigner. She has done a lot for the state. She’s not done. There’s a long way to go — nearly 100 days. That’s another race I think that will come down to the wire.
Actually, I think if you look at our data, the key it seems to be for Gideon and her campaign will be turning out younger voters. What we find is that the senator’s support among those under 50 is really quite soft. On the other hand, Gideon is getting a lot of help from voters under 50. And if we overlay gender on top of that it’s really significant. Sen. Collins, right now — there are a lot who are undecided, but right now — only 27% of women under 50 have said they’ll vote for Sen. Collins. It’s 55% for Sara Gideon. So those are tough numbers for the senator. But as I said, turnout is going to be really important in this race.
And we have to bring in ranked-choice voting here, because those two independents could have a marginal impact if the race tightens up even more.
Yes, I suspect in a really tight race with a few minor party candidates that it will come down to, once again, ranked-choice voting. That there won’t be a clear majority winner. How that will shake down is anybody’s guess at this point. My suspicion is that as this race becomes really tight and high-profile in the coming months, there’ll be a lot of voters that move to the two major party candidates. But even so, it could come down to tabulating those second and third choices.
What also appears to be pretty soft for Collins is her longtime brand, if you will, of being independent-minded. You’ve got some questions in this survey that show that people no longer look upon her as being that independent-minded.
So here’s one of the great questions about this race. Sen. Collins was reelected six years ago with 69% of the vote. Shenna Bellows was a strong candidate, maybe not super well funded, but a strong candidate, strong state legislator. What’s happened? So we spent a lot of time in the survey trying to tease out what’s going on. And one of the questions we asked is the extent to which the respondent sees the senator as independent and open minded. And here again, we see some really important differences based upon age. 50% of voters or respondents under 45 believe the senator always sides with Republicans and is not independent minded. That that drops to about 30-35% for older voters, but anyone under 50 in the state does not see her as a maverick, as a centrist, as independent minded — I should say half of them don’t. And that’s quite a hit to her brand as a centrist, as a moderate. Conversely, only about 10% of the voters overall, maybe 15% of voters overall think she is truly an independent sort of senator, not linked to any either the parties.