AUGUSTA – Most Maine voters think the national media attention that Gov. Paul LePage has drawn in his first four months in office has been bad for the state — including many people who support the work he has done.

And most believe he made the wrong decision in taking down a mural depicting Maine workers in the headquarters of the Department of Labor.

That’s according to a poll commissioned by MaineToday Media to assess how Mainers feel about the job the Republican governor has done since his inauguration on Jan. 5. LePage was elected in November with about 38 percent of the vote.

The poll was conducted from April 25 to May 2 by Pan Atlantic SMS Group, a Portland-based firm owned by Patrick and Victoria Murphy. Victoria Murphy is a former Maine Democratic Party chair. The firm does independent marketing and research.

About 56 percent of the respondents said they have an unfavorable opinion of LePage; about 39 percent said they have a favorable opinion of him. About 5 percent said they do not know.

In October, a similar poll by Pan Atlantic SMS Group showed that about 47.5 percent of voters had an unfavorable opinion of LePage and about 41.3 percent had a favorable opinion. About 11 percent said they were unsure.

“I just don’t think he looks at the big picture of what reforms he wants to make, how they’re going to affect things overall, or that the comments he makes, how that makes us look as a state,” said Bambi Ulrickson, 34, an independent voter from Freeport who participated in the poll.

LePage, who earned a reputation for making blunt comments on the campaign trail, continued on the same path once in office. He made national headlines for telling NAACP officials they could “kiss my butt” and joking that the only damage the chemical bisphenol-A would do is cause some women to grow “little beards.”

“It’s one of those things that you are taught in school early — think before you speak,” Ulrickson said. “I think he needs to re-take the lesson.”

Patrick Murphy said LePage’s approval rating has been hurt by high-profile controversies. He also noted that approval ratings for politicians across the country are suffering because of the stagnant economy.

Others respondents in the poll — part of the solid core of supporters that LePage has proven to have — said they like his brash style.

“I am just thrilled to have a governor that is not afraid to act upon something,” said Nelson Peters, 39, a Republican from Lewiston. “He’s sort of out of the box. Now granted, we’re kind of paying for that with some of his choice of words, but it would be nice if we could have the best of both worlds.”

Brent Littlefield, the governor’s senior political adviser, dismissed the relevance of the polling results.

“Hearing these results reminds me of a poll from the same organization before Paul LePage’s primary (in June), where they indicated he would only receive 10.3 percent of the vote, and he won with 37.4 percent of the vote,” Littlefield said.

While Littlefield is unpaid for his work as LePage’s adviser, he does earn income for his affiliation with a new political group called Maine People Before Politics, which recently commissioned a poll. He said that poll showed that a large number of Mainers support LePage’s policies.

In the Pan Atlantic poll, about 55 percent of the respondents said LePage has done a poor or very poor job. About 21 percent said he has done a good or excellent job. About 22 percent said he has done an average job during his first four months in office.

Democratic and independent voters were more likely to say that LePage has done a poor job. Republicans were more likely to say that he has done a good or excellent job. Nearly a third of Republicans said he has done an average job.

While it’s natural that Democrats oppose or disapprove of LePage, Patrick Murphy said, the feelings of independent voters serve as an important bellwether.

“He’s not currying favor with a lot of independents, and independents make up about a third of the voting bloc,” Murphy said. “They’re very significant and they’re very important, and he’s not holding them.”

About 60 percent of the respondents from the 1st District — generally southern Maine — said LePage has done a poor job, compared with about 50 percent from the 2nd District.

Women were more likely than men to say that LePage has done a poor job — about 64 percent to 46 percent.

Debbie Bradburn, 52, a Republican from York who responded to the poll, said she is a teacher, and as she nears retirement she isn’t pleased with LePage’s budget proposal to require teachers to pay more of their salary into the state’s retirement system.

“I want our state to be able to attract the best teachers they can, and if he is not going to support the retirement system or other educational benefits that have been promised, then I think our education system is going to get hurt badly by that,” she said.

While the poll results show differences based on respondents’ political party, geography and gender, Murphy said there wasn’t much variation in the governor’s approval numbers based on age or income.

About 35 percent of those polled said they voted for the governor last fall; about 76 percent of those respondents said they would do it again. About 11 percent said they would not, and about 13 percent said they were unsure.

Just 17.5 percent of respondents said LePage has moved the state forward, compared with about 39.7 percent who said he has moved it backward and 35 percent who said the state is in the same place. About 7.7 percent said it was too soon to tell or they were unsure.

Shawn Morgan, 40, a Republican poll respondent from Bridgton, said he would like to see gas prices go down and the economy improve.

“I hope (LePage) doesn’t only go for supporting the big, big businesses,” he said. “I mean, it’s us little guys that are helping him out.”

About 65 percent of respondents said they disapprove of the governor’s decision to remove the mural from the Department of Labor headquarters in Augusta. About 21 percent said they approve. About 6 percent said they were unaware of the issue, and about 8 percent said they were unsure of how they felt about it.

“Let’s just deal with what needs to be dealt with right now, and that is jobs,” said Carol Boden, 53, an independent respondent from Bethel. “I am not seeing any movement toward generating jobs in this state. I’ve not seen any actions yet that I think are implementing job growth.”

Littlefield, LePage’s adviser, said the mural issue was a “media-generated event,” and that LePage has spent the “vast majority of his time” focusing on creating jobs, governing and solving problems.

About 70 percent of all respondents said the national attention LePage has drawn to Maine has been bad for the state. Just 19 percent said it has been good. About 11 percent said they were unsure.

“He’s too mouthy (and has) no respect for anybody,” said Clarence Rossignol, 69, a Democrat from Caribou who responded to the poll.

Even among Republicans, about 45 percent said the attention has been bad. About 87 percent of Democrats and 76 percent of independent voters said the attention has been bad.

Peters, the Republican from Lewiston, said he’s happy with the way things have gone so far under LePage, particularly his welfare reform efforts. But Peters said he didn’t approve of LePage’s choice of words when he said in January that NAACP officials could “kiss my butt.”

“You can’t be saying that. Really, in any professional job, you or I, we can’t go to work and do that either,” Peters said.

Erica Gallant, 29, an independent respondent from Auburn, said she likes the fact that LePage is willing to be aggressive and get media attention; she just thinks he has been misdirected so far.

“I just think he’s being aggressive about the wrong things,” she said. “I don’t mind being in the national news, but when it’s because we are taking down a mural, come on.”

 

MaineToday Media State House Writer Rebekah Metzler can be contacted at 620-7016 or at:

[email protected]