October 2, 2012

Marriage warriors study lay of the land

Vote tallies from 2009 may show them where in Maine their strength lies. Or 2012 could surprise them.

By SUSAN M. COVER Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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Louis Burnham, 80, a parking enforcement supervisor in Boothbay Harbor, says he’s “from the old school” on the issue of same-sex marriage.

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Vicki Reinecke, 57, says she feels there’s been a change since 2009 in how same-sex marriage is viewed in Boothbay Harbor.

Photos by John Ewing/Staff Photographer

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THE POLL AT A GLANCE

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.

ABOUT THIS SERIES

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

TODAY: 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.

David Farmer, spokesman for Mainers United for Marriage, said turnout could go as high as 75 percent.

The second difference is that voters in presidential years tend to be younger and more progressive.

"It gives us what we believe is an advantage in the predictability and nature of the electorate," Farmer said. "We are working everywhere."

Farmer said gay-marriage supporters expect roughly 180,000 more people to vote this time than voted in 2009. Between gathering signatures for the referendum, one-on-one conversations, phone calls and forums, Farmer said, they have seen growing support for gay marriage in Maine.

A poll commissioned by the Portland Press Herald and released Sunday shows 57 percent of Maine voters expressing support for gay marriage, 36 percent opposed and 7 percent undecided.

That's unchanged from a similar poll done for the newspaper by Critical Insights in June, but indicates a higher level of support than two other recent polls, which pegged proponents at 53 percent and 52 percent.

A closer look at the poll numbers shows that in the 1st Congressional District, 66 percent support same-sex marriage and 27 percent do not, with the rest undecided. In the more rural 2nd Congressional District, support is 48 percent and opposition stands at 46 percent, according to Critical Insights, the firm that conducted the poll.

Conley said opponents of gay marriage are confident that the polls exaggerate support because people don't like to talk about the issue. Their internal polls show 8 to 10 percent undecided, and they hope to sway that group with television ads set to begin airing early this month.

Ron Schmidt, associate professor of political science at the University of Southern Maine, said both sides are likely to see a surge in voters, so the key will be which camp does a better job getting people to the polls.

With an open U.S. Senate seat and a strong performance by President Obama expected, he said, the election is likely to tip in favor of gay-marriage supporters.

"The possibility that the Senate seat could be claimed by someone likely to caucus with Democrats (independent Angus King) and the likelihood of the incumbent Democratic president winning will be a boost to marriage equality supporters," he said.

Maine is one of four states that will vote on gay marriage Nov. 6. Maryland and Washington voters will consider upholding laws passed by their legislatures and signed by their Democratic governors, and Minnesota is considering a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.

For some, the focus of this election should be the economy, not a social issue.

Dawn Gilbert, who owns Heads of the Harbor beauty salon in Boothbay Harbor, has been active in Republican politics for decades. She supports gay rights, but not gay marriage, and is worried about the economy.

"I think there's a lot of split people on this issue," said Gilbert, 69. "To me, it shouldn't be an issue. I'm not for gay marriage. I just think the word marriage shouldn't be in there."

Across town, Tim Lewis, 60, owner of the Mid-Town Motel, said he supports gay marriage. "I don't see anything wrong with it," he said as he stood in the office of the motel his father built in 1955. "It's not my style, but I'm for equal rights." 

Staff Writer Susan Cover can be reached at 621-5643 or at:

scover@mainetoday.com

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