LePage’s best poll depends on an enthusiasm gap that may not exist

A new Press-Herald poll continues to show that Cutler is far behind Michaud and LePage and has no momentum.

That’s one key takeaway from the poll, which has the best numbers for LePage in 2014. Overall, LePage is at 45%, Michaud 35% and Cutler 16%.

But there’s more to note:

Much of the gap between LePage and Michaud is due to having more Republicans in this poll compared to their last poll.

It’s perfectly normal to have different poll samples with divergent proportions of people from different partisan backgrounds, but the reason in this case bears scrutiny — differences in voter enthusiasm by party.

How could voter enthusiasm affect a poll number? Well, this is a poll of likely voters.

Election polls start with broader samples and then pare down the sample to likely voters. That’s necessary because not everyone polled will vote. So some voters who answer the poll questions are included among the likely voters and some are excluded.

If Republicans in a particular poll are classified as more enthusiastic, that affects the composition of the likely voter sample and the result.

And that’s exactly what happened. As the Press-Herald describes this:

The Republican enthusiasm is reflected in the who-will-win question and the polling sample. In the previous two Telegram polls, more Democrats than Republicans and independents participated. The split is more even in the new poll.

Thus a key question is whether there is, in fact, more enthusiasm among Republicans. If there isn’t, the likely voter sample and the results are off.

The Press-Herald suggests this enthusiasm gap could be due to the debates or to rural voters opposing the bear referendum being more likely to vote than the average Mainer.

So is there more enthusiasm among Republicans?

Maybe the debates mattered.

Enthusiasm has affected post-debate polls before.

After the first 2012 televised debate between Romney and Obama, the race looked better for Romney. Pundits said he had a debate bounce and it really changed the race. That turned out not to be.

What looked like a Romney debate bounce was largely due to the polls having more Republicans in polling samples because they were more enthusiastic about their candidate’s performance. Since they were more enthusiastic, they were more willing to do the poll and also to be classified as likely voters.

But this was also a short-lived phenomena, which faded in a few days as campaign news moved on to other matters.

So if there was a debate bounce that created enthusiasm for LePage and caused his supporters to be respond to a pollster, it’s likely it will fade as did Romney’s.

Even more, enthusiasm doesn’t affect turnout if unlikely voters votes, and that’s affected by a strong mobilization effort.

It’s even unclear if there really is an enthusiasm gap, given the very high rate of small donations for Michaud compared to LePage (and especially to Cutler). You can see this in the graph below, which was created by Emily Shaw and discussed in an excellent blog post.

From: Emily Shaw, Brunswick vs. Cape Elizabeth – and why campaign contribution numbers matter. October 25, 2014

From: Emily Shaw, Brunswick vs. Cape Elizabeth – and why campaign contribution numbers matter. October 25, 2014

As Emily Shaw also shows, rates of small contributions was roughly correlated with broader voter support in the New York Mayor’s race. She suggests this may be the case in Maine as well.

Another poll conducted later shows the race tied between Michaud and LePage with Cutler far behind.

While the poll presented by the Press Herald had 639 likely voters and was conducted between October 15-21, a poll from Public Policy Polling had 660 likely voters and was conducted between October 22-23.

This poll found 40% support for Michuad, 40% for LePage and 17% for Cutler.

While some claim PPP is skewed toward Democrats, this was certainly not true in October 2010 when they were the first poll to show Cutler leading Mitchell.

So what’s really going on? 

Whether there actually is an enthusiasm gap that affects turnout will affect the outcome.

The bear referendum could matter but is less likely to if people realize that it is losing handily.

But one thing is very clear: this is a very different situation for Cutler than in 2010.

At this point in the 2010 campaign, Cutler was ahead of Mitchell. Thus it made some sense for anti-LePage voters to move to him.

In 2014, Cutler has been stuck in third for a long time.

Either Michaud or LePage will live in the Blaine House for the next four years.

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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.