What’s most important about the new poll for ME-2 is not that Democrat Jared Golden and Republican Bruce Poliquin are neck and neck.
Sure, that is important, both on its own terms and because the competitiveness of the race will help Golden bring in money and rally his supporters. It will attract national attention.
But there are more critical numbers regarding the dynamics of the race.
First, what is the basic story about the matchup?
The poll of 400 people, which was conducted July 25-30, found that Poliquin had a 1 point lead before ranked choice reallocations were made.
After the ranked choice rounds, Golden had a 1 point lead, with a final result of Golden at 51% to Poliquin with 49%.
All four candidates on the ballot — Golden, Poliquin, Tiffany Bond, and Will Hoar — were included in the poll.
These results are within the margin of error but comport with three national analysts’ determinations that the race is a tossup.
Second, what does the poll find about how the candidates are seen?
Here there are two key aspects — Poliquin’s job approval ratings and the candidates’ favorabiities.
Poliquin’s job approval numbers are, in a word, awful.
Only 33% viewed Poliquin’s job performance positively while 58% viewed it negatively.
Those ratings are both extremely poor and far outside the margin of error of 4.9 percentage points.
Incumbents with a 33% positive job approval tend to be in electoral trouble.
Moreover, it’s hard to change people’s negative assessments. The data are inadequate to define why people rate Poliquin’s job performance so low but if it’s because of his votes for very unpopular policies such as the Trump tax and ACA repeal, those votes are set in stone.
Results on how favorably the candidates were seen suggest advantages for Golden but a nasty race ahead.
Poliquin is underwater on favorabilities, with 42% viewing him favorably and 44% unfavorably.
In contrast, Golden’s favorabiities are net positive, with 30% viewing him favorably and 10% unfavorably.
It’s a bad sign for an incumbent when he or she is seen more unfavorably than favorably.
The large percentage of people not giving an opinion on Golden suggests opportunities for him to increase the number of people who see him favorably — after all, he’s already highly competitive in the election matchup and he has a very positive personal story.
But it also suggests that Poliquin’s campaign will go after Golden hard and try to define him in highly negative terms.
The question is how well Golden’s campaign can prevent this from happening by offering their own picture of Golden and pushing back on Poliquin’s attacks. To some extent, that depends on their financial resources but it also depends on the energy and savvy of the Golden campaign and their ability to attract and marshal volunteers to knock doors and make phone calls.
ME-2 voters will also react and may reject how Poliquin defines Golden, a former combat Marine who argues he represents a new generation of leadership that supports (among other things) jobs, fair taxes, health care for all, and opportunity for everyone.
Poliquin certainly could win the race, but this poll should not give him and his backers any solace.