Thursday, December 5, 2013
AUGUSTA — A new poll commissioned by a political news blog shows Republican Dean Scontras closing the gap with Democratic Congresswoman Chellie Pingree in the race for Maine’s 1st District. It also shows Republican gubernatorial nominee Paul LePage and Democrat Libby Mitchell virtually tied in the race for the Blaine House.
According to poll results posted by Pine Tree Politics, Pingree leads Scontras 46 percent to 38 percent, with about 16 percent of respondents undecided, according to the poll conducted by the Maine Center for Public Opinion, a Portland-based firm. The sample size was 346 in the 1st Congressional District and 679 statewide, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.76 percent, according to the Pine Tree Politics. The poll used human callers and took place over four days, from Oct. 4-7.
The statewide poll results showed LePage leading the five-candidate field with about 30 percent to Mitchell’s 29 percent. Independent candidate Eliot Cutler had support from about 11 percent of respondents, independent Shawn Moody had about 5 percent and independent Kevin Scott had about two percent.
About 24 percent of respondents in the statewide poll were still undecided in the gubernatorial race. Election Day is Nov. 2.
Matt Gagnon, a Republican who works for the National Republican Senatorial Committee and runs the website, paid for the poll along with two other colleagues at the website.
The results for the gubernatorial race in the new poll are very similar to The Maine Poll published by MaineToday Media. But the results for the 1st Congressional District show a 12-point boost for Scontras and an 8-point drop for Pingree.
“Certainly we are encouraged by what appears to be a closing gap,” Scontras said. “You can never put a ton of credence into any (poll), but certainly we are encouraged by this one.”
Scontras added that he’s observed a strong anti-incumbency sentiment from voters around the district, which mirrors national trends.
“I don’t know how pro-Scontras it is, as it is anti-incumbency,” he said. “So let’s not get confused with, my message is so great, I’m closing a 20-point gap, this is, as anyone will tell you, this is as bizarre a year as anyone’s ever seen.”
Willy Ritch, spokesman for the Pingree campaign, said the only poll that matters is on Election Day.
“I’d say this poll is inconsistent with every other poll we’ve seen, but it’s not surprising that a poll conducted for a conservative website paints a rosier picture for a conservative candidate,” he said. “Regardless of what any of the polls show, Chellie continues to work hard every day.”
The poll, only the second ever for Mark Smith at the Maine Center for Public Opinion, used unusual methodology to try and reflect the likely Republican enthusiasm gap in the upcoming election.
“I wanted him to capture what a likely voter is really going to be this year,” said Gagnon, who has done contract work with both Scontras and Jason Levesque, the Republican running in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District. “(Smith) looked at the primary, he looked at the 2009 referendum vote and then some previous election cycles as well, and came up with a formula that I think came out with a very good indication of who is actually going to be coming out to vote.”
Smith said he used state voting records to determine how many Republicans, Democrats, Greens and Unenrolled voters turned out in Maine’s 35 state senate districts for the past two elections.
“I took an average of those two numbers from each district — from the primary and the 2009 election — and used that as an adjustment factor, essentially,” he said. “We used that to determine if we should poll a couple more Republicans or a couple more Democrats or whatever the case might be. I took a snapshot of how many registered voters are in that district, what percentage are Republicans, Democrats and Unenrolled, and used that divided into our quota for that district.”
Smith is a computer software developer and his first ever poll was earlier this spring, commissioned by Republican Peter Mills during the primary campaign. The poll showed Mills winning the nomination. Smith, a former Mills staffer, said he evaluated where he went wrong in that poll and is confident in his new methodology.
But a couple of Maine political scientists were skeptical about trying to build a Republican enthusiasm gap into a poll and end up with accurate results.
“You obviously want to take into account this Republican enthusiasm gap in this election cycle and I can understand the motivation behind that,” said Mark Brewer, a political science professor at the University of Maine at Orono. “But anytime you are oversampling a group like that intentionally, I am kind of leery of those results. It’s hard to say what’s going on here.”
Brewer said it’s hard to say if the shift in poll numbers is a result of the methodology or recent controversy surrounding Pingree.
Michael Franz, a political science professor at Bowdoin College, said the polling technique was a bit complicated and could result in skewed data.
“It’s possible, because you are making a couple of assumptions based off of previous elections about the turn out numbers for Republicans or for Democrats in certain areas of the state, that may or may not be accurate in this election,” he said. “Neither of those were general elections. So the turnout numbers are going to be a little different in a high-profile election like this.”
Smith and Gagnon declined to release the results of their poll for Maine’s 2nd Congressional District race, because they said they under-sampled some key areas because of some poll staffing issues.
“I actually had eight employees the first night that were committed to work and I had set them up with phones and they were ready to go and for whatever reason they decided not to work and we were not able to meet that 1,000 voter goal that we had set,” Smith said. “In terms of the gubernatorial race, I felt comfortable with the results, but there were certain pockets around the 2nd District where (the smaller sample size) may have moved things a little bit one way or another.”
Gagnon and Smith said they will be re-polling the 2nd District race early next week. Critical Insights and MaineToday Media will publish the results of their latest poll on Thursday.