For the first time in Maine history, voters are poised to split the state’s four Electoral College votes between the top two candidates running for the White House.
Republican Donald Trump has a commanding 15-point lead in the state’s northern and more rural 2nd District, while his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton has an even bigger 21-point lead in the state’s more urban and southern 1st District, according to a new Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram poll.
Clinton leads Trump statewide by four points, with 40 percent of those surveyed saying they will vote for her while 36 percent said they favor Trump. Another 12 percent said they will vote for Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson and 3 percent favor the Green Party’s Jill Stein. The remainder said they will vote for someone else or are undecided.
With only seven weeks remaining before the election, only 59 percent of voters said they definitely know who they’ll vote for, up only eight points from the newspaper’s poll in June, when 51 percent of voters said they had made up their minds.
Andrew Smith, director of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center, which conducted the poll, said voter indecision is high for mid-September, when about 70 percent of voters normally say they’ve made up their minds. Smith said the low commitment level reflects the unpopularity of both of the top candidates.
The poll found that only 37 percent of likely voters view Clinton favorably, compared to 36 percent in June, while only 32 percent view Trump favorably, compared to 28 percent in June.
“You’ve got two very unpopular candidates and people are voting against candidates rather than supporting people,” Smith said. “Voters truly are unsure about who they are going to support.”
‘CLOWN PUFFER FISH’ VS. ‘PIRANHA’
Comparing the two major parties, 77 percent of registered Democrats said they had made their decision, while only 61 percent of the state’s registered Republicans have, the poll found.
The newspaper data showed that in June, Clinton had a slightly larger lead over Trump, with 42 percent supporting her compared to Trump’s 35 percent – statewide.
Some poll respondents, such as Peggy Coolong of Houlton, say they are so dissatisfied with their choices for president that they will leave that part of the ballot blank in November.
“I just can’t vote for them,” said Coolong, a 76-year-old widow who calls herself “a pure independent.”
“I do not think that Hillary is trustworthy and I feel very strongly that Mr. Trump probably is going to lose his temper, understandably, but at the wrong time and get us into trouble,” Coolong said.
She said the entire presidential campaign cycle has been so disappointing to her that she’s tuned it out entirely.
“I just got fed up and stopped watching, it’s just too frustrating,” Coolong said. “The political climate is so polluted it’s like a tsunami going across the United States and it’s inhabited by a clown puffer fish and a piranha who are followed around by meatheads – half-conscious people who can’t stop talking about it.”
If the results of the poll, which included both landline and cellphones and surveyed 513 likely voters statewide, hold up, Clinton would win the state overall with just over 40 percent of the vote. However, Trump would win the 2nd District and with it one of the state’s four Electoral College votes. The poll’s margin of error is 4 percent statewide and about 6 percent for each of the two congressional districts, because of smaller sample sizes.
The poll also suggests that Clinton is doing better on both ends of the economic spectrum, with support from 47 percent of respondents from households earning less than $30,000 a year, and 52 percent of respondents in households earning over $200,000 a year. But she and Trump are in a dead heat with middle-income Mainers, each winning the support of 38 percent of households earning between $30,000 and $60,000 a year.
The candidates also tie with 35 percent of households earning between $60,000 and $100,000.
Clinton fares better with women, with 47 percent saying they support her over Trump’s 28 percent, while Trump fares better with men, 44 percent to Clinton’s 32 percent.
When it comes to voter age, Clinton captures 49 percent of those over 65, compared to Trump’s 34 percent. Voters aged 35 to 49 also favor Clinton by about 8 points, and voters aged 18 to 34 favor Clinton slightly, giving her a 3-point lead. But 25 percent of that younger age group say they will vote for the Libertarian, Johnson.
The largest age group surveyed, those 50 to 65, are more evenly split, with 40 percent saying they will vote for Trump and 38 percent saying they will vote for Clinton.
Filter poll results by key demographics:
ELECTORAL SPLIT WOULD BE FIRST
Maine and Nebraska are the only states that don’t award Electoral College votes on a winner-take-all basis. Maine instead awards two votes for the statewide winner and one vote for the winner of each congressional district.
The state has never split its Electoral College votes before, and the possibility adds intrigue to Maine’s overall relevance in a race that appears to be tightening at the national level. Still, political scientists in Maine seem to agree it is unlikely the state will become a deciding factor in the national race.
Michael Franz, an associate professor of government and chair of the government and legal studies department at Bowdoin College, said how Clinton and Trump perform in the first presidential debate Monday could influence how much attention Maine gets from the candidates or their surrogates in the last few weeks before the election.
He said a strong debate performance for Trump would be a wild card that could tilt things more in his favor, especially among voters who are still undecided. “What she has in substance she misses in style, which is sort of the reverse for him,” Franz said. “He doesn’t have to be polished on policy – he just has to get the zingers in and do it well.”
The Maine polling data generally reflect other state and national polls showing a close race, with either Clinton or Trump holding narrow leads. Other polls in Maine also suggest that Trump is running ahead of Clinton in Maine’s 2nd District.
‘SOMETHING IS HAPPENING’
Brian Duff, a political scientist at the University of New England in Biddeford, said Trump’s lead in Maine’s 2nd District is likely real, given that the trend is being replicated in multiple polls.
Duff said the poll results show Trump, like blunt-speaking Maine Gov. Paul LePage – a Trump supporter – has struck a chord with voters living in economically downtrodden parts of rural America, a lot like the towns of Maine’s 2nd District.
“These are the people who are the heart and soul of LePage’s support,” Duff said. “He is one of the most unusual governors in the nation and now it seems they are going to really change their habits in voting in the presidential election and it tells you something is happening in politics that is really resonating up there. It’s reflecting what we’ve noticed elsewhere, which is that white people without a college education, especially men, are really having a positive reaction to the Trump campaign.”
Smith, the polling center director at UNH, said anti-establishment sentiment is resonating with voters much as it did in 1980, when Republican Ronald Reagan, a political outsider at the time, took the presidency from incumbent Democrat Jimmy Carter.
“It’s there because people look at the establishment right now in national politics, and we’ve got the economy still not really doing well, especially for people who don’t have college degrees,” Smith said. “The U.S. military’s prestige – the country’s prestige – in the rest of the world is declining, our influence is declining, we’ve got terrorism going on, we’ve got riots in the streets in a number of places so people are uneasy,”
“And the people in the political establishments are having a difficult time to say they have the answers,” he said. “Because then (the question is), ‘Why haven’t you fixed it?'”
It’s a sentiment that rings true with voters like Matt Chateauvert, 32, of Kennebunk. Chateauvert is a locked-in Trump voter – even though he thinks Trump is likely to lose in a landslide.
“He’s is completely different than anything I have ever seen before,” Chateauvert said. “Hillary is the epitome of the system, or, ‘the Man,’ so to speak. We’ve had her and her ilk running the show for the last 30 years.”
But other poll respondents said they see Trump as reckless and even less trustworthy than Clinton.
Paula Jenne of Harpswell said she will vote for Clinton “by default.” Jenne, 67, said she’s long followed Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ political career and was an ardent supporter of his, but when it became apparent he would not be the Democratic nominee she made up her mind she would vote for Clinton.
Jenne said she associates Trump with “the politics of hate and I don’t agree with any of his stances on anything including his characterization of the United States.” But Jenne said she didn’t view her vote for Clinton simply as a vote against Trump. “It’s just she best represents what I would like to see in the next president,” Jenne said.
In Winslow, Clinton voter Brittany Parent, 26, said she hears a lot from Trump supporters in her work as a cosmetologist but she’s sticking with Clinton. Parent said she would definitely vote but she is less than enthusiastic about Clinton.
“I’m an independent, so I would vote for a Republican, but Donald Trump is not it,” Parent said. She said Clinton was qualified to be president and has the experience to lead the United States and that was the biggest reason she was supporting the Democrat.
She said other Clinton supporters she knows are also less than enthusiastic. “They definitely will vote for Hillary, but nobody is happy about it,” Parent said. “You know this could be the first female president and it just doesn’t feel good.”
Favorability ratings: Donald Trump
Favorability ratings: Hillary Clinton
FOR SOME, STRONG FEELINGS
Ann Morris of Rockland said she’s been a strong supporter of Clinton, and while she liked Sanders, too, she believes Clinton has the experience and demeanor to work with Congress and represent the United States on the global stage effectively. Morris, 72, said she feared Trump would be a disastrous president. “I just cannot imagine him being polite to a foreign dignitary – he’s not polite.”
Morris said she would have considered voting for a Republican had Ohio Gov. John Kasich won his party’s nomination. “Just because he’s a good guy – but there is no way ever that I would consider voting for Donald Trump,” Morris said.
That’s not the case for Freeport voter Andrew Arsenault, who described himself as undecided except on one point.
“I decided I’m not going to vote for Hillary, let’s put it that way,” he said. Arsenault said he voted for Trump in Maine’s Republican primary but was unsure if he would support him in November.
“It will be between Trump and the Libertarian, I’ve narrowed it down to those two,” Arsenault said, adding that he wouldn’t commit to a candidate until about a week before the voting on Nov. 8.
“Something could go wacky,” he said. “I like to leave my options open.”
In other findings, the newspaper’s poll shows that Maine’s senior U.S. Sen. Susan Collins remains broadly popular and is viewed in a favorable light by 64 percent, a decline of 9 points from her 73 percent approval rating in June. The reduction may be a result of an Aug. 8 column in The Washington Post, in which Collins announced that she would not support either Trump or Clinton and offered a blistering critique of Trump’s conduct as a candidate.
Maine’s junior U.S. Sen. Angus King, an independent and former two-term governor, also remains popular among Maine voters, although his favorability rating also dipped from 69 percent in June to 63 percent in September.
Maine Gov. Paul LePage saw a slight improvement in his favorability ratings from June with 40 percent of those surveyed saying they saw LePage in a favorable light, compared to 36 percent in June. Fifty-two percent said they disapproved of LePage’s job performance, which is also an improvement from June when 59 percent said they disapproved of it.