Tuesday December 10, 2013 | 04:39 PM

The Portland-based polling firm Pan Atlantic SMS Group released its omnibus poll Tuesday. The survey reviewed a host of hot topics confronting state lawmakers, but its questions about the 2014 gubernatorial race are, predictably, generating the most discussion.

While political operatives are spinning and discrediting the other results -- or at least those that don't align with their interests -- one question perhaps best captures what the gubernatorial contest will come down to next year: More polls. 

The question is near the end of the survey. It asked: "Let’s assume that as Election Day, 2014 approaches, your preferred candidate for governor is polling significantly behind the other two major candidates. In those circumstances, would you consider voting for your second choice candidate in order to increase the likelihood of defeating Governor Paul LePage?"

The question was only asked of respondents who said they were leaning or planning to vote for Democratic candidate Mike Michaud or independent Eliot Cutler, but nearly 68 percent said, 'yes,' they would strategically cast votes to prevent a second term for LePage. Of course, those voters will be relying on polls to make such decisions.

There was a similar scenario in 2010, when a late surge by Cutler in the polls -- and a dropoff by Democrat Libby Mitchell -- is believed to have shifted the dynamic of the race. It was a late shift; polls in late September showed Cutler searching for the ballyhooed viability threshold, but not quite there. It wasn't until a pair of late surveys by Rasmussen that showed the independent gaining (Some questioned the results; others claimed Republican conspiracy since the late surge and the ensuing confusion among voters guaranteed the vote-splitting scenario feared by the anti-LePage set.). 

This isn't exactly deep analysis here, but the late surge is reason why there's so much energy surrounding these early polls. From the Michaud campaign's perspective, showing the Democrat as the early, steady, front-runner is key to avoiding a repeat of 2010. It's also the likely reason why LePage's political adviser, Brent Littlefield, emailed the media Tuesday to say that Michaud's support is dropping. Littlefield went on to discredit the SMS poll because the pollster has contributed to Democratic candidates and his wife is the former chairwoman of the Maine Democratic Party (Translation: The poll partially showing a shrinking Michaud lead is a "trend," but don't believe the poll because it was conducted by a partisan.).

Other highlights from the poll:

* 50.6 percent of respondents favor Medicaid expansion, while 45.3 percent oppose it. This would appear to be good news for Republicans since the margin of support is significantly lower than shown in previous surveys. Advocates for expansion claimed the SMS poll question was biased.

* 38.6 percent believe the state is headed in the right direction, the highest percentage since 2006; that view was largely supported by Republican respondents and those who said they had household incomes of more than $50,000; a majority of those making less than $50,000 didn't share that view.

* 59.8 percent of respondents disapproved of President Obama's job performance, a 7.3 percent increase in his disapproval rating since the last SMS poll conducted in March. 

* 74.3 percent opposed the partial shutdown of federal government.

* 50 percent, a majority, said government is involved in too many issues better decided by businesses or individuals.

* Seven out of 10 Republican respondents approve of Gov. LePage's job performance.

* 38.5 percent have a favorable few of Cutler (34.2 percent didn't know); 43 percent had a favorable view of LePage, while 55 percent had a favorable view of Michaud.

* LePage had a significant edge with respondents who claimed they were of French or French-Canadian decent.  

Pan Atlantic SMS Group 52nd Omnibus Poll Results

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Steve Mistler covers politics and government for the Portland Press Herald. He spends a lot of time in the hallways of the State House.

Steve can be reached at 791-6345 or smistler@pressherald.com.
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