Maine Congressional Districts

Source: 2011 American Community Survey, 1-Year Estimates

October 2, 2012

Politically, poll reveals differences in Maine districts

The liberal south and coast vs. the more conservative north is a divide that could again be key in the election.

By John Richardson
Staff Writer

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The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram poll was conducted by Critical Insights, a Portland-based opinion research firm.

It follows a similar poll conducted in June and was designed to measure trends in opinions and voter sentiments and track the rise and fall of candidates and campaigns. In both cases, the polls produced more than 100 pages of data tables which the Press Herald analyzed to produce articles, print and online graphics and to guide coverage of the elections.

For the latest poll, Critical Insights called 618 likely voters around the state from Sept. 12 through Sept. 16. It used random landlines and cellphones and conducted live personal interviews. An additional 100 women were polled to provide deeper data on women's perspectives on key issues.

The results were statistically weighted to reflect the demographics of the state's voting population. Results were weighted by gender, age, region of residence and political affiliation.

The poll has a margin of error of 4 percentage points for results based on the entire sample, with larger margins for subgroups such as independent voters or older voters.


SUNDAY: Key poll results in the election for president, the U.S. Senate, Congress and the same-sex marriage referendum.

MONDAY: The same-sex marriage poll results and returns from the 2009 repeal referendum suggest where the battlegrounds lie across Maine.

TUESDAY: Sharp distinctions that reflect “the two Maines” concept emerge from poll results in the 1st and 2nd congressional districts.

Maine's Congressional Districts

Click on the map to see the latest income, poverty and education data for each of Maine's congressional districts.

Source: 2011 American Community Survey, 1-Year Estimates

Decades ago, Maine had a singular identity and the Piscataqua River was a clear barrier separating the Boston metropolitan area from Maine's more industrial economy and traditional, rural culture. Portland had more in common with Augusta or Bangor than with Portsmouth, N.H.

Change accelerated in southern Maine in the 1980s, with people and service-sector employers moving up into southern and coastal Maine.

"Southern Maine was starting to look like the outer edges of the Boston metro area and northern Maine was still kind of traditional," Palmer said. "There was a sense that southern Maine was kind of going off in another direction and northern Maine wasn't going with it."

While southern Maine developed, northern Maine saw its industrial base decline. Paper mills and pulp mills closed or scaled way back, and the fisheries that supported the Downeast region declined or collapsed.

Without the same influx of outsiders, the 2nd District remained more traditional and socially conservative. Seventy percent of 2nd District residents were born in Maine, compared with 58 percent of 1st District residents, according to the census.

Barringer said he and others started talking about the Two Maines to focus attention on the need for an economic development plan for the entire state. While political leaders have tried, it's clear the divide has grown, Barringer said.

"In the absence of real serious policy attention to those questions, it was going to persist and deepen, and that has happened," he said.

Many voters themselves are quick to point out the differences.

Jane Russo of Saco is in many ways a typical 1st District voter. The 50-year-old mother of two doesn't consider herself very liberal, but she supports the same-sex marriage proposal and plans to vote for Obama.

Russo objected to Romney's comments about 47 percent of Americans who don't pay taxes and are dependent on government programs. "Included in the 47 percent are an awful lot of people who do work and work hard, but maybe they don't have the education and skills to have a job to get by on," she said.

Russo also said she learned first-hand about the more conservative culture of the 2nd District when she lived in Somerset County for 12 years. She was once told she should not get a management job because she was a woman, Russo said.

"I was taking the job away from a man who needed it to support his family," she said. "This was said right to my face."

John Wilkinson, a conservative voter in the Aroostook County town of Littleton, supports Romney and opposes same-sex marriage. He said he feels at home in the quieter, more rural and traditional 2nd District.

"Southern Maine is as blue as the state is long and northern Maine is all red. You could draw a Mason Dixon line right across Bangor," he said.

Wilkinson said he believes southern Maine is more liberal because of the number of people there who are dependent on the government for assistance.

"I think there's a lot of people (in southern Maine) that feel if the government is going to give me a handout, I'll take it," he said. "Up here, we're going to work for what we need. We're going to get our hands dirty."

It is clearly harder work to earn a living in Maine's 2nd District, where the median household income is $39,938, more than $13,000 less than the median household earns in the 1st District.

But census data show that a higher percentage of 2nd District residents have incomes below the poverty line and rely on cash assistance, food stamps and MaineCare.

And, while the 2nd District is clearly more conservative than the first, it is by no means a Republican stronghold, according to the poll.

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