Why do Maine Republicans like Collins now so much more than they liked Snowe before?

The latest poll from Public Policy Polling, which included data on the 2014 governor’s race, also included findings about Mainers’ views toward Senator Collins.

Susan Collins l Photo credit: Troy R. Bennett l BDN

Besides having very strong approval ratings overall — 61% — her approval is quite similar across parties.

63% Democrats approve of the job Collins is doing, as do 61% of Republicans. (58% of Independents approve.)

Collins, like her former colleague, Olympia Snowe, is a center-right Republican, different from the increasingly strongly conservative profile of the national Republican party.

(For an analysis of the two in their party’s context, see this piece I co-authored about them several years ago.)

Yet, before Snowe declined to run for re-election, her public opinion profile was a bit different.

Olympia Snowe. Photo credit: Troy R. Bennett l BDN

One element that was not different was Snowe’s overall approval rating.

In March 2011, 60% of Mainers surveyed approved of Sen. Snowe, a figure indistinguishable from Collins’ 61%.

However, Snowe’s approval among Republicans was quite a bit lower than Collins’. Only 47% of Republicans approved of Snowe.

Snowe, like Collins, had higher approval ratings from Democrats than from her own party.

But the gap between these was much greater. 67% of Democrats approved of Snowe, creating a 20 percentage point gap in party approval. Collins has only a 2 percentage point gap.

In fact, disapproval among Republicans may have contributed to Snowe deciding not to run again, a decision that led to Republicans losing the Senate seat. As the Bangor Daily News reported at the time:

Although popular among many Mainers — including a substantial portion of Democrats, according to recent polls — Snowe has been criticized by some in the GOP for her willingness to cross party lines.

She was booed by some attending a Republican caucus in Bangor earlier this month. Her long-shot challengers in the Senate race, Republican Scott D’Amboise and recent independent Andrew Ian Dodge, have criticized her voting record and questioned her fiscal conservatism. And calls for “Snowe removal” have been popular among some Maine tea party members.

Granted, Collins does generate some discomfort from Republicans today. PPP reports:

Only 38% of Republican voters think she actually belongs in their party compared to 26% who think she should be an independent and 22% who believe she should be a Democrat.

Yet her approval ratings from Republicans remain robust.

Why the difference?

Has Susan Collins been more politically agile in appealing both to Democrats and Republicans? If so, is that task easier now, a time when the tea party faction is fading?

Is Sen. Collins more conservative than was Sen. Snowe?

Or is Collins’ continued high approval ratings among Maine Republicans in part because they do not want to risk losing another Senate seat?

I don’t have sufficient evidence to say, but will continue to think about this.

In the meantime, I’d like to hear what you think.

Please comment below.

Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.