Polls not creating the confusion that would benefit Cutler and LePage

The latest poll release, showing Michaud ahead of LePage by six percentage points among likely voters (and thirteen points among registered voters), likely will get Michaud supporters excited.

Now, no one should get too up or too down from a single poll.

Still, this poll and others suggests the confusing conditions of 2010 haven’t transpired. And the poll should encourage the Michaud camp to redouble its efforts to turn out the vote.

In a poll conducted by Ipsos for the Bangor Daily News, 42% of 504 likely voters supported Michaud, with 36% preferring LePage and 16% Cutler. The poll was conducted October 6-12 and the credibility interval for the likely voters sample was 4.8 percentage points.

Among registered voters, 43% supported Michaud, 30% LePage and 19% Cutler. The credibility interval for this group of 903 registered voters was 3.7 percentage points.

If Cutler wasn’t on the ballot, more of his voters would support Michaud rather than LePage. That pattern is especially pronounced among registered voters (35% would choose LePage and 53% Michaud), as compared to likely voters (41% would pick LePage and 50% Michaud).

Other recent polls have varied from ties between Michaud and LePage, to smaller leads for Michaud as well as leads for LePage between six and one percentage points.

Taken together, the Ipsos poll is one more among recent polls that don’t create the confusion that would help Cutler and LePage.

Recall what happened in 2010 when it looked like Mitchell was not going to be able to defeat LePage.

Except for one poll in which Mitchell had a one point lead, LePage led in every 2010 poll.

[You can see the full set of 2010 polls here.]

But in the four polls during the first two weeks of October 2010, LePage’s leads were not large. They ranged between one and five points.

Then, starting in mid-October 2010, Mitchell declined and Cutler increased so that they were tied or close to tied. In the last two, Cutler moved ahead of Mitchell.

Those late 2010 polls can be seen in the graph further down the page where the blue and yellow dots are very close together. (Lines for Mitchell and Cutler didn’t converge for awhile because the method used to graph polls builds in a lag so as to mute the impact of very new data.)

Those polls can also be seen in the chart just below. In these same polls, LePage’s lead grew, moving up to twelve points.

Last four public polls in the 2010 Maine governor's race. Source: HuffPost Pollster

Last four public polls in the 2010 Maine governor’s race. Source: HuffPost Pollster

Cutler’s late poll surge created a state of confusion about which candidate could beat LePage, ultimately moving numerous Mitchell supporters to join early Cutler supporters in voting for the independent candidate in order to try to prevent a LePage victory.

Graph of polls in the 2010 Maine governors race. Source: HuffPost Pollster

Graph of polls in the 2010 Maine governors race. Source: HuffPost Pollster

Anti-LePage voters were unsure what to do. A certain degree of confusion, even chaos existed.

Numerous Mitchell voters jumped ship, moving to Cutler. Some even tried to get back absentee ballots cast for Mitchell. They were voting strategically, choosing a candidate who they thought would be most likely to beat their least liked candidate.

Cutler benefited from that movement because it propelled him to a strong second place finish, not far behind LePage. The final vote was 37.6% for LePage, 35.9% for Cutler, 18.8% for Mitchell and 5% for Moody.

LePage ultimately won because his opposition remained split, as voters who opposed him and who were willing to vote strategically had already voted or were unsure what to do.

Right now the polls look quite different, so thus far the 2010 dynamic is not being repeated.

Looking at the polls as a whole, Michaud, unlike Mitchell, hasn’t fallen and is nowhere near where Cutler is polling.

Not only have 2014 polls not showed that movement, a poll with a Michaud likely voter lead lead of six points over LePage directly contradicts that pattern.

The gap between likely voters and registered voters makes a strong turnout operation essential.

A thirteen point lead for Michaud among registered voters is big, whether considered on its own or in relation to the six point lead among likely voters.

Getting unlikely voters to vote is clearly something the Michaud campaign wants to do. That might sound, well, unlikely, but, given the efforts Democrats have put into understanding how to do so, it’s certainly within the realm of the possible.

Now, of course, it’s always possible a single poll is off. Michaud has had leads of 6 and even 7 percentage points among likely voters, but not for awhile.

As I’ve said numerous times, never take a single poll too seriously. The trend is your friend.

But even putting this particular poll aside, the pattern of 2014 doesn’t, at this point, look like the confusion of 2010. And that makes splitting the anti-LePage vote less likely.

What will happen in 2014? Since polls are snapshots, they don’t predict what happens later. Right now it continues to look like a close race between Michaud and LePage.

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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.