No, Gov. LePage is not popular

BDN photo by Gabor Degre

BDN photo by Gabor Degre

Perhaps it’s because Gov. LePage was just sworn in for his second term (and, by the way, congratulations), but there’s been an odd tendency for some newspaper articles to refer to the governor as popular.

It’s odd because “popular,” while somewhat vague, implies that at least a majority support and/or like someone or something.

It’s also odd because newspaper articles are supposed to have a basis in facts.

And there are no facts showing LePage is popular, at least when it comes to all typical metrics.

There is no poll showing LePage’s job approval is above 50%. The best number any poll gave him during the campaign was 49%.

There is no poll showing that LePage is liked by more than 50% of Mainers. The best number in any poll during the campaign was 47%. (Both of these came from a poll published by the Press Herald).

And LePage was not supported by a majority of Maine voters in 2014.

Yes, I know Gov. LePage got more votes than any other gubernatorial candidate in Maine. But winning a large plurality of 48% from an electorate with strong turnout, even in a three-way race, is not usually how one defines “popular.”

In 2012, Angus King managed to win a solid majority of 53% in a multi-candidate race where there was a higher turnout than 2014, and he has had significantly higher approval ratings than LePage. King won his second term as Maine governor in 1998 with 59% of the vote, again in a multi-candidate race. According to normal metrics, King is popular.

When compared to others holding public office in Maine, in 2014 nearly all got a higher percentage of the vote than LePage. Bangor’s state representatives all did significantly better than LePage, with Rep. Adam Frey receiving 54%, Rep. Tori Kornfield 56%, Rep. John Schneck 56% and Rep. Adam Goode a whopping 68%. Sen. Geoff Gratwick won with 53% of the vote.

So it’s odd that the Bangor Daily News said:

At times, LePage was thought the most polarizing person in Maine. It’s now arguable he’s the most popular. [source]

and also

He’s popular. He’s engaging. [source]

By the way, I’m not the only one who wonders about this.

Lance Dutson, a GOP campaign strategist and former head of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, wrote in response to the first of the above quotes:

To be clear: what Paul LePage did this year was nothing short of amazing. He overcame some of the most brutal and pointed press bias anyone in Maine has ever seen. He ran a solid campaign and didn’t give his detractors the unforced errors they were counting on.

That being said, to me the idea that Paul LePage is ‘arguably the most popular’ person in Maine is beyond ludicrous. In fact, it’s quantifiably ludicrous: Angus King, Susan Collins, and Mike Michaud all have consistent approval ratings anywhere from 10 to 30 percent higher than LePage. And Susan Collins won her election – among the exact same voters that gave LePage 48% support – with 68% support. And those are just political folks, throw in Stephen King or any of the handful of pop culture figures in Maine, and you’ve got a very long list of people that are more popular than LePage. [source]

Dutson asks why this claim is being made, writing, “Is this just sloppy rhetoric, or is it indicative of a shift in how the Maine newspapers are going to cover LePage’s second term?”

I wonder as well.

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.