Eliot Cutler’s campaign has leaked a poll showing that Michaud and LePage are tied at 35%, with Cutler at 19%.
Now, internal polls should always be taken with a massive grain of salt. (Are grains of salt ever massive? Maybe that isn’t the best metaphor here.)
In any case, internal polls are never leaked unless a candidate’s campaign thinks they will be politically helpful. The public never gets to see the ones that the campaign deems unhelpful.
For the sake of argument, let’s take this one seriously and focus on what, if it’s accurate, it shows and doesn’t show about the race.
1. Michaud is the only gubernatorial candidate a majority sees favorably.
Cutler is in a decent position on his favorability rating, as it’s more positive (46%) than negative (37%). But he is second place on that metric and majority don’t see him positively.
Rep. Michaud’s high favorability rating (58%) explains why the Maine GOP falsely claimed the congressman’s campaign put out a video with crude rap lyrics about Sen. Collins. Republicans really want to pull down Michaud’s positive image.
Sen. Collins’ extremely high favorabilities — the best in the state — shows that the Michaud campaign would have to be the most incompetent people in Maine politics ever if it had put out that video (which it didn’t).
By the way, did anyone else notice that neither Collins nor her campaign weighed in on the video? But I digress.
2. LePage is the only candidate a majority see unfavorably.
Not only do 54% of Mainers see Gov. LePage unfavorably, the poll report notes that includes “an extremely high 45% ‘very unfavorable.'”
Normally an incumbent with a 54% unfavorable rating would be expected to lose.
That very high negative image, especially with the 45% seeing LePage very unfavorably, defines a key dynamic of the race.
Gov. LePage only has a chance of winning if the 54% who see him unfavorably are split or, for some reason, don’t vote.
So how split are the not-LePage voters?
3. Only 6% say LePage is their second choice.
With 35% of the vote, Gov. LePage is very close to his ceiling.
In contrast, Michaud has 19% — three times as much as LePage — who see him as their second choice. The poll doesn’t show who those 19% support now, although one would think there’s significant overlap between that 19% and the 19% who have Cutler as their preferred candidate.
Cutler, in third place, has the highest percentage of people who see him as their second choice (54%). This is a data point the Cutler campaign touts. However, the helpfulness of this for attracting those second choice voters is undermined by the overall shape of the race.
Regarding the poll positions of Michaud and LePage, this poll is a lot like the last three public polls, which had Michaud ahead of LePage by 4 points and 1 point and behind by one point.
Cutler is doing better in this poll, with 19% compared to 10%, 11% and 15%. But he’s still way back in third place with the top two candidates tied.
5. Cutler’s campaign says the poll shows that he has momentum, but they haven’t provided evidence showing that.
Now, you say, how could that be? You just said that the last three public polls had Cutler at 10%, 11% and 15% and now he’s at 19%.
We have no idea what this pollster showed previously and if it also presented “likely voters” as defined by the same methodology. What was its sample size and margin of error? (This poll has 400 individuals and a margin of error of 4.9%.) Without such information, one can’t say there was movement for Cutler.
It could be that, in their data, Sen. King’s endorsement made a difference. King has strong favorables in the poll, between Collins’ and Michaud’s. However, we don’t have any earlier internal data.
And, in any case, with a majority of voters seeing LePage unfavorably, these numbers do not give those not-LePage voters a reason, by itself, to back Cutler over Michaud.
6. The poll leaves out a key match-up — between Michaud and LePage.
One piece of data presented is the choice between Cutler and LePage. If this were to happen, Cutler would get 50%, while 40% would choose LePage, with 10% undecided.
Yet the pollster didn’t ask about what the race would look like without Cutler.
This suggests the Cutler campaign didn’t want this asked because they didn’t want to take the chance that it would show that Michaud would do better than Cutler in a two person race with LePage. Leaving it out doesn’t exactly show confidence that they think Cutler is the stronger in a two-person matchup.
In any case, this is just one more poll. As I always say, never pay too much attention to a single poll. To understand campaign dynamics, the trend is your friend.