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Mainers Don’t Have a Second Choice; Impact of Ranked Choice is Negligible

Poll Asks About Ginsburg Replacement and the Collins Vote

A new poll of registered Maine voters released today by Colby College revealed that both of the high-profile statewide races are extremely tight.  The poll, which was developed and fielded by Colby College, was conducted September 17-23 and included 847 voters who said they would “definitely” or “likely” vote in the 2020 general election. Some 301 were contacted through landlines or mobile phones, while 546 were reached online. The margin of error is 3.4 percent.

When asked about their first choice for the United States Senate, 45 percent backed the current speaker of the Maine House of Representatives, Democrat Sara Gideon, with 41 percent supporting her Republican opponent, four-term incumbent United States Senator Susan Collins. Some 5 percent support Max Linn, an independent, and 3 percent backed Lisa Savage, also an independent. Six percent of the respondents said they were undecided.

“Our findings show an exceedingly tight race, with very little movement,” said Dan Shea, Colby College Government Department chair and lead researcher on the project. “Our data suggests it’s probably a bit closer than some of the other recent polls have been predicting. The percentage of undecided voters has been cut in half, but Gideon and Collins have netted about the same number of those voters. It’s a very tight race.”

It’s Up to the Undecideds

With an eye toward the potential impact of ranked-choice voting, the poll also asked respondents about their second choice for Senate. The total number of respondents who picked a minor party candidate as their first choice was 74, or just 8 percent of those surveyed. However, their second choice was mostly scattered, with Gideon and Collins each netting about two percentage points.

According to Nicholas Jacobs, one of the Colby faculty working on the poll, two things stand out from this ranked-choice process. “First, a large number of Gideon and Collin’s supporters don’t report having a second choice, even when given the option,” said Jacobs. “Second, Gideon and Collins both pick up about the same number of supporters on the second round, so no clear pattern emerges. The race stays just as tight after the ranked-choice is factored in, so it will likely come down to how the remaining 6 percent of undecided voters ultimately cast their ballot.” 

Jacobs further noted that the small number of voters for Linn and Savage makes predicting their second and third choices risky.  “I hate to say it, but how these voters will affect the final outcome is anyone’s guess. We have reason to suspect how they might move, but the sample is too small to know with any degree of certainty.” 

Comfortable Lead By Biden

The Colby poll showed that Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden holds a comfortable statewide lead: 50 to 39 percent.  However, in the Second Congressional District, the poll finds more or less a dead heat, with Biden netting 46 percent of the vote and President Donald Trump with 43 percent. 

“It’s certainly not a surprise that the president’s team is investing in the Second CD,” said Shea. “There are a number of scenarios where one electoral vote could decide the presidency. Here again, it’s going to be a nail biter.”

Hold On, Susan

Even though Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died as the poll was being conducted, the Colby team was able to insert a question on her replacement mid-way through the process, which was answered by 440 respondents. The poll asked if they thought Susan Collins should vote on a nominee as soon as possible or wait until either Donald Trump or Joe Biden is sworn into office.

Responses to the question found that 58 percent felt Collins should wait, 35 percent said she should vote as soon as possible, and 7 percent were unsure.

There was dramatic partisan difference, with some 92 percent of Democrats saying she should wait, and 60 percent of independents saying the same. Just 24 percent of Republicans said Collins should wait until either Trump or Biden takes office in January. Conversely, 70 percent of Republicans said Collins should vote as soon as possible.

According to Professor Shea, Collins’s exact position on this issue is a bit unclear. “She issued a statement a week ago saying the Senate should not take up the issue until after the election, and on Tuesday suggested she would not vote for a nominee before the election,” he said. “However, no official statement has been issued on whether she would consider voting right after the election.”

Shea added that a lot of Mainers think the senator works a bit too hard to be on both sides of controversial issues. “Is she too calculating, too strategic?” asked Shea. “On this issue, she runs the risk of damaging her brand as a moderate and losing independents and swing Democrats. But the other key consideration is whether Maine’s Trump loyalists will stick with her if she abstains until January.”

Additional Findings

A full 76 percent of respondents reported that they thought the Senate race was “very negative” or “somewhat negative.”

The survey asked respondents how they intended to vote overall in down-ballot races. Some 40 percent said they would be picking mostly Democratic candidates, 33 noted they would be selecting Republican candidates, and 21 percent said it would be mixed.

As to how Mainers intend to cast their ballot, 58 percent said they intended to vote in person, 36 percent said by absentee ballot through the mail, and 6 percent were undecided. A full 80 percent reported they were “very” or “somewhat” sure that the election process in Maine would be fair and safe, but that figure drops to 54 percent when considering the security of elections nation-wide.

The poll also explored a set of issues related to the Coronavirus pandemic. Asked to rate the president’s handling of the crisis, 35 percent would give him an “A” or “B,” with 48 percent assigning him an “F.” As for Maine Governor Janel Mills, 59 percent would give her an “A” or “B” and just 14 percent graded her with an “F.”

Full results, including cross-tabulations with key political and demographic categories, can be found at colby.edu/government/2020-polling.

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